As a child attending a Catholic primary school in the western suburbs of Sydney my only exposure to poetry arrived via pop music and fiction. I don’t think I even knew there was such a thing as poetry but the words to California Girls and WonkaVite were never far from my lips. In fact, the six lines that begin ‘Those rolls of fat around your hips’ remain the only bits of verse I have ever committed to memory. This commitment to never straying far from the grid remained throughout my twenties where, as an undergraduate, the only poems I allowed myself to read came from The Norton Anthology.
One of the best things about talking to people in real life is that they will sometimes say things that can affect you in unpredictable ways. Comments deemed disposable on Twitter or Facebook turn out to have an almost spooky resonance when delivered in person. Conversely, the unexpected turn can take on the hue of the foreseen as Sydney poet Toby Fitch discovered at the launch of Vagabond’s new triptych of ‘rare objects’ chapbooks by John Tranter, Kate Lilley and a. j. carruthers.
In an English translation of a French transcription of a lecture delivered in 1973, Jacques Lacan proposes his ground-changing formulation: ‘Mathematization alone reaches a real’. For Lacan, what this means is that what we thought was fantasy and what we thought was knowledge are now entwined.
In a recent review of new collections by Corey Wakeling, Pam Brown and Lisa Gorton, Peter Kenneally identifies ‘a Justin Clemens appearance’ in Wakeling’s "Walk the Plank!". Pondering the inclusion, he writes:
Justin Clemens, in case you are wondering, is an academic, secretary of the Lacan Circle of Melbourne, and recently has published a book titled Psychoanalysis is an Antiphilosophy. Now that’s what I call an allusion.
Clemens is also a poet, and name-dropping has been ‘a thing’ in poetry ever since – and no doubt long before – Aurelius and Furius first dissed Catullus. Conversely, we’re all familiar with Pound’s advice to Eliot to replace the citation from the work of one of his contemporaries with a less-threatening classical reference. Elsewhere, poets work their poems so that they ‘tolerate a state of namelessness’, in the sense meant by Derrida. In “Unreading Kinsella: Dropping names and Revolutions of the Word in Syzygy,” Michael Brennan views the language of Kinsella’s text, with its resistance to simulation through the use of ‘enjambment, echolalia, coinings, parenthesizing and cacology’ (169), as that which unsettles, unnerves, even ‘unreads’ the reader (174).
In a discussion published recently in the Sydney Review of Books, the academic and writer Emmett Stinson argued that despite a number of recent assertions to the contrary, an Australian ‘cultural cringe’ persists. Although writers and academics such as Susan Johnson, Ken Gelder and Paul Salzman, and Nick Bryant have variously asserted that Australian culture is ‘enabled by cultural incorporation’ and is ‘punching above its weight in the arts and culture’, for Stinson, the only thing the new ‘literary internationalism’ has enabled is a situation in which the overseas reception of Australian fiction retroactively influences its Australian critical reception. The critical reception of such work, he argues, bears little relation to its literary worth. Of the two examples he mentions, ‘there is something deeply conservative about the aesthetics’.