Flowing Lines and Hypnotic Melodies: Jean Kent launches ‘Bluewren Cantos’ by Mark Tredinnick

Jean Kent launched Mark Tredinnick’s Bluewren Cantos at the Newcastle Writers Festival on April 6th, 2014

blue wren cantosWhen Mark asked me to launch this new book, Bluewren Cantos, I took a very deep breath before I said ‘yes’. I had already been reading the book, so I knew it was an exceptional collection of poetry. I believe it is a book that will be written about with great excitement by critics and readers for a very long time, so whatever I say today to launch it will be just a brief wren-like twittering, compared with the chorus of praise with which it will undoubtedly be received as it goes out into the world.

Bluewren Cantos is not just ‘a book of poetry’ – although it is a very beautiful book, not only because of its contents, but also because it has been so elegantly produced by Pitt Street Poetry, with John and Linsay’s trademark care and thoughtfulness – no, what’s struck me again and again as I’ve been reading is that this is a ‘life of poetry’.

The stuff of poetry – words, visions, phrases, observations that stick in the mind or startle other thoughts, memories, associations, quotes from other poets … all these small starters for poems are what every living moment here feels suffused with.

In ‘The Wombat Vedas’, Mark writes

…………………………………….…….These lines are the roads I take into the world –
out and back into the Self – a shuffle
………………..performed with a pencil and a voice and their truth is how
They go, not where they start.

In fact, there is a feeling for me that the lines could start anywhere – in any moment, with any chance observation – so that longing and love, and meditations on the endless riffs on these within a multi-layered life, must lead, inevitably, to poetry.

Like the singing of birds, it all feels artlessly beautiful, but only because of the exceptional art, which keeps the music of what’s being said mesmerizing. Behind the flowing lines and hypnotic melodies, there is as much control of the rhythm and counterpoint and harmony as there is in any of the compositions by Bach or Mozart or Debussy, composers who compete with all the real birds in Mark’s Wingecarribie landscape.

Even before he began publishing poetry, Mark was renowned as a nature writer. His sensitivity to place and his ability to celebrate the Australian landscape are special joys in all his poems. The places are often so wonderfully recognizable – the Sculpture Garden at the NGA in Canberra, Margaret River in WA, the Southern Highlands: I know these places, and I love the way they lift off the pages of Mark’s book in as if they deserve to be treasured

There is also a deep spiritual possibility in this, as the poem ‘On Hammock Hill’ shows:

This is my devotion, then, to walk sometimes
…………………….with the dog through the schlerophyll

Cathedral of morning.

Often, Mark’s poems begin with nature – but invariably the solitary presence of the poet reaches out to another person – often a loved person – or, in an intimate connection, to the reader.

This is poetry like tightrope walking – a nonchalant, though thoughtful, ambling out into the world, which almost leads us into a transcendental state – only to be caught in a web of emotion and thought and connections to the daily reality of living.

I think this is beautifully illustrated by ‘Fight or Flight’, a poem about a butterfly flying into a spider’s web.

….Webs like soft targets stretch across
Every flight path and passage – traps
….So exquisitely laid you almost wish
You were small enough to spring them,
….For the terminal pleasure of being

So elegantly caught.

This could just as easily be a description of reading a Mark Tredinnick poem. So many ‘exquisitely laid’ webs, so much pleasure in being ‘elegantly caught’.

If all this sounds very serious, it is. But Mark’s poems are also full of contrarily playful paradoxes and wry humour. His tone may be debonair, well-dressed and conscious of manners and historical allegiances, but for all the hypnotic oratory, his voice is both questing and self-deprecating, and the earth he walks over is emphatically today’s.

This is a world of therapy and co-dependency and anxieties about what is happening to our planet – just to mention a very few current or topical concerns.

It is also a world of travel and work – and very notably and memorably – of family, of parents (as remembered from childhood, or ageing now) and children (those blessed ‘thieves of our time / love’s worst scoundrels’, taking the best and worst of us.

There are so many arresting images and lines in Mark’s poems, it is tempting to quote and quote … although where would I stop in any one poem? There is such a flow of words; one memorable moment just leads on to another.

Here is one, a description of ‘Sandhill Cranes’:

………………………………………………………..They carry their legs
Behind them like music stands they never learned
To fold, and they slash a loose graffiti
…………………………………………on the cloudbank as they come.

The book is called Bluewren Cantos, and there are so many beautiful poems about birds. For that alone, it would be a treasure.

When I first started reading Mark’s book, in a very hot January when cicadas were the most deafening choirs all around our house, the dollar birds who visit us each summer were also in residence.

I saw one at twilight on the same day I read Mark’s dollar bird poem, and it was one of those electric shock moments that can come when poetry connects absolutely with life.

This is the poem:
The Currency of Turquoise (P 87)

“What is the worth of the world?”
……………..Tim Lilburn ‘The Return to the Garden’

“I caught this morning morning’s minion …”
……………..Gerard Manley Hopkins, ‘The Windhover’

What is the world worth these days, do you suppose?
A dollarbird at a distance looks like nothing much at all:
A myna at Vipassana on the gatepost. But in flight later
He’s a peregrine falcon. The way of poetry never looked
So sleek: loneliness never travelled so fast. Wings raked
Back, her heart stenciled cheaply on both her sleeves,
Her colours running from scarlet tip to lapis tail, she free-
Falls in turquoise to the treeline, then pulls back hard
On the joystick, her bill slick with insect, and glides away,
As if the whole world were nothing more than a reject
Shop on a Saturday afternoon. But the world, in truth,
Is ten thousand expensive things heaven forgot to say.
And the dollarbird, at her semi-precious plunge, spruiks
Two of them for the price of one, and flies away for free.

Congratulations Mark! Apart from the excellence of the writing, what we have here is a BIG book, in a multitude of meanings of that word. It is an awe-inspiringly generous collection of poetry, abundant with language and vision and experience. I’m honoured to be launching it, and I wish it great success and the very many appreciative readers it deserves. May they be as enriched by reading it as I have been.

– Jean Kent


Bluewren Cantos is available from http://pittstreetpoetry.com/mark-tredinnick/

Jean Kent has published four collections of poetry. Her most recent is Travelling with the Wrong Phrasebooks (Pitt Street Poetry, 2012).

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Gossamer and Robust: Paul Summers reviews ‘Travelling with the Wrong Phrasebooks’ by Jean Kent

Travelling with the Wrong Phrasebooks by Jean Kent. Pitt Street Poetry 2012

The cover of the paper-back edition.

We learn to shy away from certain adjectives in the columns and rows of our review copy. Beautiful is one such, and it is only right that we demonstrate care in its overuse or in diminishing it to a passé superlative. However, I’m sat here with the limited-edition, hard-back version of Jean Kent’s new book, Travelling with the Wrong Phrasebooks and I’m finding it difficult not to employ it.

The book is, in every way, a sensory delight; from the incredibly high production values imbued in the embossed, sanguine, Indian-cloth cover, and for which Pitt Street Poetry should be congratulated, to Oliver Watts’ sparse yet captivating pencil drawings and that’s before we even hit upon the words.

Jean Kent’s poetry is both gentle and powerful. It is tender and brutal, gossamer and robust, like ‘an argument with air’. The palette of her reference shifts effortlessly between continents, between epochs and psychologies, from Rilke to The Animals. She is a poet ‘swinging on the ropes of curiosity and hunger, gifting us distilled studies on belonging and separateness, on trauma & repair. They are studies which are painterly in their detail, filmic in their exactness but always affording us with the luxury of space in which to think and share, to absorb the weight of meanings, ‘like the still spaces we enter when music moves us’.

It is a book borne in the historicism of Soviet-era Eastern European displacement & persecution, a time of gulags & mass graves, but it belongs very much to the present. It represents an act of understanding, of reflection and translation, of love and empathy, of our vicarious ownership of the trauma of others. There are also the beginnings of a sense of healing or reparation, of acquiring a fortitude and momentum to keep us moving forwards rather than being anchored into stasis by the dead-weight of our mutual ghosts.

                          …..There is a waft

of cooking kugelis from the kitchen –
a comfort of sour cream and potatoes so thick
it is a snowdrift over all the blood and damage,
the graves under the birches, the faces swept off,
snarled away to Siberia or foreign
safety…  There is a waft

of rotting apples and the woman’s incinerator,
disposing of everything no longer wanted.”

‘The Old Family House’

Wringing out innovative imagery from the mundane and familiar, Jean Kent is a genuine lexicon-whisperer taming language, creating for us a feast which is incredibly rich but never sickly.

This is a book of love and of loss, of empathy & compassion, of celebration and remembrance, of trauma and attempted reparation, of bewilderment & understanding. It is a struggle to learn the intricacies of a language not quite your own. Within its pages, Kent humbly summons the ghosts of bitter history and explores the rawness of their legacy on others without ever been moribund or hopeless, without ever falling into the traps of the saccharin or the sentimental. There is palpable sense of her ownership of these stories, however vicarious, and like the most compassionate of nurses she tends to the wounds of the narratives which have made us, and in this case, our lovers, who we are.

The streets of Paris and Lithuania are carefully animated into life, although her Australian home is never far away. She addresses, full-on, the tangle of past and present, of meme and gene, of the forgotten or denied, the familiar and the alien, and in doing so she has created a volume of intricate and moving correspondences from a place few of us are equipped to travel, let alone make sense of.

It does not attempt give us answers but is flawless in pursuing the inquiry.

So much gets lost
Between the words on one page with their scythes
And floating hats, the letters alive like the air in the forest
With gnats and bird swoops and antler hooks

And the words on the other, those cubes of ice
With small bodies trapped inside…
So much

Gets lost

‘My Father-in-law Translates a Lithuanian Poem’

Travelling with the Wrong Phrasebooks is a rare thing. It is a poetry book in which there are no low-points, no pauses for breath. It is a beautiful thing and I strongly recommend you get yourself a copy.

– Paul Summers


Note: Paul was reviewing the limited edition hard cover version of Travelling with the Wrong Phrasebooks. This edition consists of 276 signed and numbered copies, with drawings by Sydney artist Oliver Watts. It is a sewn cloth bound volume with a red/ silk bookmark ribbon.102pp. 230 x 145 mm. There is also a paper back version available. Both versions are available from Pitt Street Poetry http://pittstreetpoetry.com/emporium/

Paul Summers is a northumbrian poet who lives in Central Queensland. his poems have appeared widely in print for over two decades and has performed his work all over the world. A founding co-editor of the ‘leftfield’ UK magazines billy liar and liar republic, he has also written for tv, film, radio, theatre and collaborated many times with artists and musicians on mixed-media projects and public art.