Hotel Hyperion by Lisa Gorton. Giramondo 2012.
It seems more than usually appropriate to refer to Lisa Gorton’s Hotel Hyperion as a ‘collection’ of poems. Not only is it clear that each of Gorton’s poems has been carefully selected and ordered for ‘display’ within the pages of the book, but the very idea of ‘collection’ is also one of Hotel Hyperion’s predominant themes. The book’s opening section, ‘Dreams and Artefacts’, is written after the Titanic Artefact Exhibition, hosted by the Melbourne Museum in 2010:
the interior, windowless, where perspex cases bear,
each to its single light, small relics ‒
a tortoiseshell comb, an ivory hand mirror,
a necklace pricked with pin’s head costume pearls
And the title sequence, ‘The Hotel Hyperion’, imagines ‘The Futures Museum’, a place which gathers, documents, and exhibits the history of space travel:
And because out-of-date technology
endears lost futures to us, among the screens they keep
a miniature Diorama ‒ a foot-square box that holds
Titan’s abandoned settlement,
its vaulted dome and gardens, built to scale
The preoccupation with collection extends to the structure of Gorton’s book. Its poems, like any grouping of objects curated for a museum or gallery, are assembled in such a way as to emphasise their interrelations. That is, both the new associations generated by their arrangement within a particular space, and the prior connections and histories that they share. Poems that address art, haunting, memory, dreams, space, feeling, and the future – all collected together on pages that are, in their own way, museum cabinets, whited-out versions of the brilliant windows of the Palais des congress, Montreal, depicted in close-up on the book’s front cover.
Hotel Hyperion is Gorton’s second full-length collection of poetry. It comprises twenty-nine poems, divided into five sections, and spread over forty-seven pages ‒ which makes it a slim volume. Its economy is rewarding, accentuating the intellectual and emotional intensity of the poetry. One of the book’s dominant tactics, repetition also has this effect. The return, again and again, of particular words and phrases (tens and tens of them) creates a feeling at once of circling back and widening out ‒ a more and more complex picture emerging with every poem. Back and forth between poems and across section divisions, repetitions build and complicate Gorton’s themes. In ‘V’, from the book’s second section, ‘The Storm Glass’:
The ambition of a miniaturist,
which fashions Mantegna’s Triumphs in pin-scale diorama ‒
trophies and armour, where
Caesar’s chariot by key-wound mechanism succeeds itself
upon the scene ‒ is framed in this
where crystals, by their wreckage
upon wreckage which is making, remake weather
as a succession of rooms…
A clock, upon which has been painted a miniature, mechanically rotating reproduction of Andrea Mantegna’s nine-part masterpiece, The Triumphs of Caesar, is viewed through the orb of Storm Glass ‒ ‘A sealed dome of glass where crystals,/ by an alchemy “more precise than precision”’ are used to forecast the weather (‘II’, ‘The Storm Glass’). The Storm Glass is already a familiar object, having been extensively described in the four poems immediately preceding ‘V’. The clock, too, has a counterpart recalled from the book’s first, Titanic-inspired section:
A clock without mechanism
adorns its first floor landing, hands stopped at that minute
history pours through.
Here, the first floor landing belongs to a staircase which is ‘not for climbing’, a ‘replica, reinvented from a photograph’ ‒ a foreshadowing of the miniaturist rendition of Mantegna’s Triumphs. And in the poem following ‘V’, we read of another clock, an ‘heirloom carriage clock of ormolu, stopped/ in its dome of glass’, an ‘emblem’ through which the memory of a childhood house ‘returns’:
The child in the window sits under their grown-up voices.
Outside a train tracks through the suburb
its vanishing point. On her lap, the Book of Reproductions
falls open at Mantegna ‒
Adding another layer of repetition, Mantegna’s series of paintings go on to give their name (though made singular) to the book’s last section (‘The Triumph of Casear’), and to its final poem. In that poem, Mantegna’s original brushstorkes are described as those ‘of a minaturist’‒ yet another echo ‒ and he himself is seen to copy the ‘trophies and armour’ of his own painting ‘from a stone frieze’ ‒ an even older record of Caesar’s triumphal procession following his victories in the Gallic Wars. And all of this without mentioning the repetition of the words ‘ambition’, ‘wreckage’, ‘mechanism’, ‘making’, ‘remake’, ‘weather’, ‘crystals’ and ‘rooms’ ‒ the majority of the verbs and nouns in the passage from ‘V’ quoted above ‒ all of which appear multiple other times throughout Hotel Hyperion, accreting their own histories of usage, and ultimately forming the tightly woven nexus of thoughts and images that make Gorton’s book itself a triumph.
At times, Hotel Hyperion reads less like a collection of discrete poems than a single, extended obsessive form. Remarkably, this does not narrow the breadth of vision of these poems, which remain a vivid and feeling testament to Gorton’s strength of imagination.
– Claire Nashar
Claire Nashar is a poet and writer from Sydney. She is currently the Guest Curator of the Australian Poetry Library http://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/
Hotel Hyperion is available from http://www.giramondopublishing.com/poetry/hotel-hyperion/