Here’s a review of the recently launched Triptych Poets #1 from new Australian Publisher, Blemish Books. A big thanks to Patricia Prime for sending this through.
Triptych Poets: Ray Liversidge, Hilaire & Mary Mageau. Blemish Books, GPO Box 1803, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia. www.blemishbooks.com.au 2010. 76 pp. ISBN: 978-0-9807556-1-9 RRP: AUS$15
Reviewed by Patricia Prime
The poems in Triptych Poets are divided into three sections: Things to (and not to) do, Ray Liversidge, Things Mended, Hilaire and Moments in a Journey, Mary Mageau.
The poets of this collection show themselves impelled to experiment: the poems are vigorous and successfully innovative. Ray Liversidge’s energetic poetry teases the reader’s receptiveness: not only momentarily: with a found poem, a poem punctuated by slashes and a lengthy poem, “The divorce papers,” which is divided into eight parts. Here is part 4 “Envoi”:
In thy beauty is the dilemma of flutes
e e cummings
There are no love poems;
only lyrics on love gone,
or going, wrong. I know
no sonnets written in
celebrations of your beauty
(just blank verses of cruelty);
no lines to your eyes,
limericks to your lips,
similes to liken you to
one thing or another.
These days I find myself
Lip syncing to songs about
The days write themselves.
Hilaire inclines more than Liversidge to a frolic of words though. As with Liversidge, the playfulness is perfectly capable of serious resonance, mingling, as in “Listen and Repeat” darker suggestions with the idyllic:
Madame Fong ruled the language lab,
doubly exotic in crepe de Chine
and discreet jade jewellery.
Cupping a hand expectantly
around her petite and foreign ear,
a coquettish tilt to her head,
Ecoutez et repetez.
Clunk of tape machine.
Mary Mageau’s haibun and tanka prose presents patterns in prose and poetry which draw the reader into a reality in which nature, human nature, music, travel, history, Australia and convicts have their part to play. In “Winter Magic,” for example, the focus is on a child peering through a window at hoar-frost:
Ice shapes resembling small fir trees stretch across the glass, while delicate snow flowers sparkle around them. Lost in its beauty, I move through this crystal garden as my warm fingers trace up and down, leaving a smudged pathway . . .
This is the kind of childhood scene in which many of us will have participated.
As well as poetry, Liversidge has published a verse novel The Barrier Range. His poems in Triptych Poets are written in clear, narrative free-verse, and explore a corner store, relationships, a lawn mowing neighbour, a painting, familial faces and more. His poems are muscular – unfailingly terse, disarmingly simple, often funny, as we see in “Goya’s dog”:
You think is it swimming or sinking?
You obey the dog blindly and mimic
Its movements. And you? You dust
For animal prints, suggest the ‘lonely pooch’
Sleep outside its frame of reference.
There are triumphs too, clearly observed, sharp and small – “Care for nothing except poetry” (“Things to (and not to) do”). Liversidge is hungry for experience – “I’ll be poured out like used water. Then, like water, / which always finds its level, settle, recycle.” (“The baby and the bathwater”). He is unafraid to serenade us with “You found your touch just once. Once was enough, / Our paintings hang together – mine below, yours above.” (“The painting”). This is a poet who offers considerable honesty and a deal of expertise in his verse. His subject matter is traditional in all its rampant, unmitigated strength.
Hilaire hoes a different row. Her poetry has been widely published; she has published short stories, a novel and was awarded an Emerging Writer’s grant by the Australia Council. Her spare, delicately paced lyrics depict a poet with a vivid, exacting eye. Her lyrical gifts are considerable. Her poems linger in the mind and her images are tantalizing – “In truculent teenage, / ten bucks bribed us / to do less than our share, / saving the hankies till last.” (“Ironing for One”) and “stands padlocked and shuttered, / without a plaque, not for sale.” (“the house by the well”).
For me, the most successful of her poems “The Colonel’s Daughter’s House” epitomizes the inherent beauty of this poet’s work, a glimpse of the shifting unease she brings to her poetry:
It is six months since the ambulance
beat its slow retreat
from the colonel’s daughter’s house –
down the lane,
along the B road,
no siren just
a faint pulse of blue light
struggling against the sun.
Mary Mageau is an award-winning composer and writer. Her writings in the Japanese verse forms of haiku, tanka and haibun are included in several anthologies and journals.
Mageau is even more ambitious than the other two poets. Not just linguistically. Her haibun and tanka prose play with prose and poetry. She sees them as elements of equal force, recombining discourses from a myriad experiences and recollections. Life here is lived. Landscape, history, personal experiences, memories are this poets’ themes. All this is subsumed in her inventive approach to language, individual words, pacing and phrasing.
In “The Persistence of Memory” she recalls her father’s final words – “’take something before you leave, to remember us by.’” In “Point, Counterpoint” she teaches us about music:
On my desk lies the music for a fugue. Its opening line of single notes threads across the page. Played first by one hand then the other, accompanied by a variation of itself, multiple lines wave a texture of horizontal strands.
In the tanka prose piece “Home Again” she recollects a memory of childhood evoked by the familiar scent of jasmine:
a grey washed sky
on the wind
the fragrance of jasmine
from a woman’s perfume
Suddenly I’m in the bedroom of our family home standing at the window, enjoying the heady scent of five star jasmine that grows over our back fence, admiring the lace pattern of the curtains. In the next breath, just as I expect to hear my mother call, ‘It’s time for bed now,” I’m back in a bleak city fifty years away.
In “The Armistice Way (Parts 1 & 2)” the history of the “rugged Australian hinterlands” is explored. In Part 1, for example, she tells us how returning servicemen named their settlements after battlefields:
The scenery of these rugged Australian hinterlands lures us to Amiens Road and its string of villages. Baupaume, Pozieres, Passchendaele and Messines became returning soldiers’ settlements, each bearing the name of a French battlefield. Though these places were established in 1918, little remains of them today. Immigrants now cultivate the delicious stone fruit and grapes here for the region’s wineries.
It is obvious that this is a wrier of impressive agility and insight. You may delight in her juxtaposition of poetry and prose. You may drift through the strength of history, nature and human nature tumbling through the work. You may wonder where she is taking you on this journey. Mageau might reply, on a
ringing with resonance
of bell birds
The day ends with a late afternoon meditation. Time for our ‘walk about’ in nature to dream, touch, smell and capture a last haiku moment. Armed with notebooks and pens we set out, as a sliver of pink and gold widens on the rim of the horizon
each eucalypt wears
a golden halo
Our pace quickens as rich foliage deepens into shadow. The bush suddenly falls silent, the horizon flames into orange red, the open sky provides just enough light to guide us back safely.
(“A Poet’s Journey”)
All three poets in this collection beguile us with their insights. There is, I think, a journey here for anyone – for everyone. The paths are all clearly marked: Liversidge’s lives, Hilaire’s sweet lyrics and Mageau’s marbled truths.