Alan Loney launches ‘open sesame’ by Michael Farrell

open sesame by Michael Farrell, Giramondo Publishing 2012

This is a transcript of Alan Loney’s launch speech delivered at Collected Works Bookshop Thursday 2 August 2012

it’s been many years since I read a lot of poetry – in the last few years I’ve read almost none at all – my job, for want of a better term, was not to read poetry, but to write it – for most of my adult life I have written something under the heading or impulse or intention of poetry almost every day – but since end March 2011 I have written almost no poetry at all – and between you & me, let it be & not be, our secret – it scares the hell out of, or into, me –

what am I, if not a poet – and if I am a poet, what am I to do next – it’s not an original question – famously, as they say, Martin Heidegger repeated Holderlin’s question : “What are poets for in a destitute time?” – but if all times are destitute, and ours by common consent is, “What is Michael Farrell for” – what is Alan Loney for – what is any of us for, whether we write, poetry or not – in any case, whatever it is I can say this evening about the poetry of Michael Farrell, I cannot claim to be much of a witness, especially if being such witness has anything to do with comparative assessments like “more (or less) than any other (or Australian) poet or poets, here or anywhere, at this or other time” – I have no such capability – nor interest, now that the truth is known –

what then, am I doing here, or what specifically, am I doing here – when other, avid readers & students of Michael Farrell’s poetry could be telling you what his latest book (O, hot off the press, freshly into your hands, sharply into your mind, is all about – what’s worse, I am of an earlier generation, and as my physical arteries are no doubt hardening, no doubt my intellectual arteries are also hardening – what possible posture or position could I legitimately assume in the face of the work, so hip, so sharp, so up-to-the-minute, so of our virtual time, as Michael Farrell’s poetry –

some years ago, in conversation with Robert Creeley, he used the term ‘register’ as a pointer to what the poet John Wieners  had said to him about the way he thought about writing – Wieners wanted, said Creeley, to see how much of an experience could be left out and still have the language of the poem active – in 1965, Creeley wrote of Wieners that there was “no one more accurate in the registration of his feelings” – almost 30 years later in 1996, Wieners wrote : “I will use the distractions of this world and erect a structure from them that will be of the poem. No matter how I go, or how ruined”. –and Creeley followed this with “His poems have nothing else in mind but their own fact”. It’s hard for me not to say the same about the poems of Michael Farrell – I don’t want to make too much of any supposed or posited relation between the poetries of Farrell & of Wieners, but the notion of ‘registration’ of experience is common to them both, and that the very notion of ‘registration’ comes to my reading of Michael’s books by way of my reading of me reading Creeley reading Wieners – which is one way of saying that in these matters, lineages matter –

nevertheless, ‘registration’ is what Creeley might say is a ‘curiously apt’ term for what Michael seems to be showing in the work, knowing all too clearly that I have no comparable relation to him as Robert Creeley had to John Wieners – I don’t know what Michael intends, how he understands his activity, I’ve not discussed these matters with him, I’ve not heard him talk about them, nor have I read anything he might have written about them – all I have to go on are the marks on the published page –

In 1994 American printer Peter Koch asked Canadian poet Robert Bringhurst to make a new translation of 6th century BC philosopher Parmenides – at line 3 of Bringhurst’s English he transmutes, transforms, transfigures the ancient Greek to this : “they ran with me straight up the track that passes through everyone’s voices” – I think that, among other things, Michael’s poetry walks that track and runs through everyone’s voices – and  the writing rarely, if ever, slides off into narrative – Bringhurst also writes that, for the ancient Chinese poets, “With them, the escape from narrative is complete” – narrative, telling stories, is absent from these poems unless one thinks that, from one line to another or even part of one line to another part, multiple narratives are at work, or snatches of narratives (plural), taking fragments that are usually parts of narratives and putting them, paratactically, alongside all the other fragments of which our world is construed – yet the poet, finding & losing himself in the writing, finding & losing himself in the Buddhistic ten thousand things of the world, sets about recording the experience, inside & outside of some notion of the self, and the experience is not only of things & events, but also of the words given to them and to us as if they too were simply things & events, with the self not only as agent, but also as something given to us, simply (and this ‘simply’ is one of the great terms Creeley has given to us, or if you’d prefer, to me) as something given in the world, as a plant, an animal, a chair, a supermarket –

in 1965, the year of Michael’s birth, my first teacher & mentor in poetry, George South, died, taking his life, here in Melbourne, and I decided then not only to be a poet for the rest of my life, but also, under the influence of the letters of John Keats, to be a great one – if it was good enough for him to come to that decision, maybe it was good enough for anyone whatsoever who wanted to write to do the same – but it was not until 1970-71, a year by which time Michael’s character or personality or whatever word we have for such things now, ‘by the time you are seven you are then who you are’, that the decisive event took place in my life that shifted my very English orientation to poetry to an American one – so I was 30 and ‘already fully formed’ when I first read the work of Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Denise Levertov, Gary Snyder, and Robert Duncan – and I then knew, more or less, what I was henceforth going to be doing as a poet –

at this point I want to read to you an early poem of mine, that came directly out of this sort of sea-change in how I thought about writing – this then is 1971 –

You lean on it[there’s no catch –

perhaps myself(& you brother
a kingfisher,or
shag

…………………staring out,far
…………………& within,me
…………………& Maui

…………………………………..scaling stale fish
…………………………………..for breakfast
eyes keened
looking for where
the bird will rise
…………………another catch
…………………………………..given tongue
…………………………………..gone
…………………………………..……….&
………………………………….no rest at all
of beginnings
no end
……….of ends,nothing finished(yep, that’s us

1

Gawain broke his pledge
& lived
saved by the fairy woman’s girdle

Odysseus found shelter
from Poseidon’s storm
& life
binding to his chest
the veil of Leucothoe the ocean-nymph

guy next door
in stolen panties
answers back the boss
keeps his job

…………………you do one

…………………………………….like

…………………………..take up a trade,me darling boy
……………………………….something to fall back on

……………………………………………..well

…………………………………..the postman
…………………………………..went down the path
…………………………………..to the house in
…………………………………..the trees,& the man
…………………………………..said thanks, I’m on
…………………………………..my own these days
…………………………………..the wife died 2
…………………………………..months ago, the kids
…………………………………..are all up north,i
…………………………………..was 43 years with
…………………………………..the power board
…………………………………..gave my life’s best
…………………………………..years to them
…………………………………..&                     (bastards
…………………………………..he wept

………..what’s incredible,is
………..Sisyphus turns,YES
………..& walks back
………..down the
………..hill
…………………………………..try fishing. . .

a year after,the
man said

……………….throwing them back,helps

chunks or bits of truncated narrative, not to tell a story, but to keep the image and the words that are put with it alive, or in John Wieners’ term, active – the different bits stem from different locations where various historical & mythological narratives have their sources – but the pages on which we write are now understood to be already choked with words, the culture, it used to be said, is the totality of what a people does – and this shift, from a set of words, things and practices that are valued more highly than the rest (religious rites & beliefs are among the sharpest examples, and for many others, the arts are ‘cultural’ in ways that peeling potatoes and hanging out with friends are not) – to an understanding that everything is there, is here, is what we are part of, and in which we are inevitably implicated – and the already-inscribed, inscripted page has in our time replaced the apparently empty one upon which we make our carefully delineated forms, hoping somehow that they will shine & shimmer like jewels on the page, as that too is capable of being seen as a kind of terra nullius –

open sesame is a spell, a magic trick designed to open the page or stage or screen to the beautiful & hideous cornucopia that is already there – heaven&hell in a paper bag – all the tv channels open at once, or the loquacious speed Martin Harrison wrote of, directed, not just at how fast the channels can be switched, but at how fast our attentiveness can keep up with them – I’m hopeless at it – in my early poems I took the poem on the page as a kind of music score, which told you what noises were to be sounded and when – since then, I feel that the white spaces between us, between words and other words, between the words & the chairs, have shrunk or disappeared, the gaps between one kind of writing & another have collapsed into a shredded heap of word-strips, sound-flickers, a winking on&off of content – the old Parmenidesian function of passing ‘thru everyone’s voices’ is given up for the more intimate task of registering those voices, not on the way thru, but as a way of being itself –

when Martin Harrison wrote of Farrell’s ‘loquacious speed’ he was writing of Michael’s 2002 book, ode ode – by the time of open sesame, the book opens on something like a theatre or screen of words & images that are not joined by narrative but which are nevertheless there alongside each other in a single multifarious plethora – where all the possible prepositional relationships of word & thing are operative – open sesame opens the door to the white noise of the empty & loaded page of whatever it is that can be recorded, and the need for speed is now given over to the simple fact that this and that are always & ever alongside each other – in the many voices, many words, many things, many people that we are –

but there is, as there always is, something else – experience, as we all know, is not perceptual alone – thruout this book, the poet as a feeling/thinking/laughing/hurting being is evident thruout – the wonderful et tu supermarket tells a long story quick about the pain – et tu is what Julius Caesar is said to have said to his friend Brutus as Brutus’s sword went into him – love & betrayal, value & expediency – all compacted into one bright dark experience – looking around the supermarket all the words on packaging & signage are split up simply by our angles of vision, and the promise of ecstatic consumerism dispersed – John Weiners said ‘I will use the distractions of this world and erect a structure from them that will be of the poem’ – which is a great way to elaborate a method, a method still relevant, still operative, ‘after all these years’ – but he followed this sentence with another – ‘No matter how I go, or how ruined’.  He knew the risks and had more than once paid the price of time spent in asylums. He knew the meaning of ‘ruined’ – and I want to say about Michael’s work what Creeley said about John Wieners’ work – ‘His poems had nothing else in mind but their own fact’ – personally, I have had, reading this book, to figure out how to read it, not how we should read it, but how I, at my time in life & in the grip of a freezing up not a freeing up of the writing, might read the work of Michael. I love this work, and I love the act & process of reading it, and I’m sure I’ll find out more about it as I continue to read – in this regard I can only express my great respect and gratitude for the chance to have my history rocked about as it has been. Thank you, and it is a great pleasure for me to declare the book, open sesame, duly, but never dully, opened. . .

– Alan Loney

—————————————————————————————–

Alan Loney’s 12th book of poems, conStellations, is due soon from Rubicon Press, Canada. He runs Electio Editions in Melbourne and is the president of Codex Australia. His latest prose work is The books to come, in paperback from Cuneiform Press, Texas. See http://electioeditions.blogspot.com and http://codexaustralia.com .

open sesame is available from Giramondo Publishing: http://www.giramondopublishing.com/open-sesame

One thought on “Alan Loney launches ‘open sesame’ by Michael Farrell

  1. Pingback: Issue 5: August – October 2012 Contents | Rochford Street Review

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