Goad Omen by Corey Wakeling. Giramondo Publishing 2013.
Goad Omen was launched in Melbourne at Collected Works Bookshop by Duncan Hose on 20th March 2013. Here is Duncan’s launch speech – and at Duncan’s direction “all potential typos” have been retained “to carry the sense of a live and faulty reading”.
When a’ was a hippy I always knew in the bush when I was going to see a snake; before I would see one, the simple phrase “ I’m going to see a snake” would sleether through my head. I b’now have a much more dependable source of this canny within the uncanny: every time I read a Corey Wakeling poem I know I’m going to see a snake. The same cold thrill, the same terrestrial community that is at the same time utterly alien.
W.C Fields used to say “I always keep a some brandy on me in case I see a snake – which I also keep handy.” Wakeling’s poetry serves the same purpose, not to send us to brandy, but to have something like having a triple AAA battery threwn at your head on call, to get a little charge, to be a little bit more awake, to make a little earthquake.
Corey and I shared a cell in Parkville Penitentiary for over two years. This is hardly important except that I’ve heard the bustard type. I have had the pleasure of listening to him practice his compositional principles. He types el rapido, and then like a dandy on a highwire he will stand very still, balanced on the line he has just written, with the weird vertigo of there being no skyline, no ground, and then he proceeds. He is a very exacting writer; his retreats – say deletions – are sudden, inexorable and not so rare. Like crossing der Alps I suppose he knows to take a few steps back to advance. & having said this I am now struck now by how alike Hannibal is to Corey.
Poetry as we know is a stunt occupation. The question is how does one go on, how to proceed? By poiesis: “I can’t go on I must go on.” Though he is the subject of Wakeling’s doctoral thesis I wouldn’t bother to look for the influence of Sam Beckett in Corey’s poetry, except for the tragicomic noise of this phrase: I can’t go on I must go on. This demands a continual return to the arche, the beginning of one’s cultural moment, not as the curse of homework but as the work of Eros.
Appetite is both cause and effect in Wakeling’s poetry; I wonder if we can say that this is a poetry of the appetitial. Like the blue whale I’m the one with the baleen, the clear jawed rakes, and Wakeling’s poems are like the promise of krill: swathes of continually spawning, beautifully articulated and luminescent little machines. And tasty.
Like a CyTwomply painting, Wakeling’s field poems are intensive communities of individually living lines, which suffer horizontal as well as vertical migrations of meaning, within discrete poems and across poems. Reading Goad Omen is a lot like seeing the Quattro Stagioni for the first time: one is both delighted and appalled that a mortal has almost been able to get the whole world into a single work.
I would put this next bit in a speech bubble. I remember Cakeling saying once:
A pyramid is just a Sign but the sphinx is the shit.
And there’s my point. Wakeling is walking poiesis: his whole being is a compositional principle. Hearing Corey’s poems one by one, here and there, one gets freshened by little squalls of intimacy. But we are also facing the most sophisticated kinds of evasions: in order to get at what might be true, and if we are concerned with achieving real presence, we understand that poetry has to lie incessantly to be immediate. This is a lot like when Frank O’Hara says to Bill Berkson, just before the epic “Biotherm”: “what is under your skin is under your skin.’” This is the visceral space of Wakeling’s poetry parlour and his hospitality.
These poems are written in community; they are poems that are reading poems, they are a response to other kinds of poems being written around the world and poems being written by his friends in Melbourne … they are goaded and they goad. They properly function among the unrestrained Babylonia of Australian poetry in particular … remembering that the curse of that town is that no-one could understand the language of any other, so didacticism disappears while music and tongue-sports take over.
The situation of Babylon belongs to love as well as language; in a crucial transmission one finds within language many languages, and the lover will say to the beloved “but what do you mean?” The story of Babylon is an undecided one: is the confusion of tongues a curse, or is it the institution of difference which makes the space for desire. I suspect it is both and this fractiousness is what we come to love about a goad omen.
This book is a generator of an Australian phantasmagoria: it has the spy for the rest of the world, functioning as an eccentric centre. Of course we can presume no single Australia, they are legion, a series of tricks of the time space caper:
left to pass time on this vile rock,
left to grab the roiling wheel as starboard the variorum abnegates
new variorum, floor to the still unrenovated floor
to the front bar of the Clyde.
I read in this the strange tiers of the history of the present, and the poem as time machine. The variational and mutational all exist as possibilities simultaneously through multiple authorships. “The Clyde” as you may know is a plain and functional boozer in Carlton. For years the front bar has been an exhibit of promised renovation in which we could read the pathos and bathos of terra nullius, settlement, abandonment and dust. What is underneath the Clyde is “country,” a kind of language we may have bothered to learn too late. The Clyde is now fully renovated, including faux renaissance tapestries in heavy gold frames and a blonde piano. Wakeling’s poem sits in the front bar of the Clyde in mythic time, as Prometheus “Left to pass time on this vile rock” and as a hapless member of the Pequod, the whale hunting ship of Moby Dick, the glorious allegory of capitalism, individualism and the destiny of the West. Wakeling’s poems constantly exploit this telescopy: the more local and the more obscure the wound, the more you may be sure that behind the scab is the gore of history and the bloody currency of the world.
In one version of space and time these are incredibly dense poems, and so thinking like an electron this leads me to believe they are incredibly spacious poems, if we think of the Earth’s supposed solid iron core as spacious. This from “That Part in Basquiat ..’”:
into the bed of nails, dropping into aeroplane carcass, dropping
like dead lead into wet lead, dropping like wet lead on to dead lead,
from lea to bed to lea to lead ad infinitum.
…………………………..Why is the queen a scallop …
Wakeling is adept at the matchless switch, turning attention from territory to territory, territory to face, face to phantasmagoria, death valley to shopping mall. While seeming to be an endless series of turning points or rivets , they remain always within the spinning and spoiling action of the trope, and in this way begin to give us a sense of the dreadful coherence of the world.
I love the shimmy in these poems, between clamour and control, dictatorship and free love. There is a kind of soft-shell megalomania, an appetite for the world itself with an indifference of bios and graphos. In the manner of a Forbes or an Ashbery, these poems seduce with the music of pseudo-logic which quickly marbles into the sur-real, in the sense of searching for the more real than real, the “over-real,” and this seems to be found in the action of words themselves: phrases flow on, tropes divide and multiply like bacteria, intoxicated by their advance, savouring their own conceits. There is never an et cetera in Wakeling’s poems, one can never presume what is to follow, one is never blasé about the trip; rather know that as the train jerks along Wakeling is just out the front, on the pointy end of the cow catcher, laying fresh track, often using bits of track that we have just travelled over.
Wakeling’s poetry is a private periodical of the exploitation of our vocabulary, a vocabulary not just of words but of forms, phrases, other poems and poet’s faces, cinematic moments, novels, paintings and the acute intellectual meningitis of popular culture. It is probable that the requisitioned vocabulary we find here will exceed that of all comers, and so we understand that this book does not advance alone but is part of a phantom phalanx of cultural texts from the last 4000 years or so. Remember the brutal pleasures of modernism? This force of exotic mercenaries does not ask for a literal codex like the dictionary but insists we acquaint ourselves with them as they come in their high contingency and baffling company. This also points us to the books textual profligacy, its reckless spending, casting about alms, an obscene generosity like that of Heliogabalus who would bury his guests in rose petals at dinner.
This from ‘The Bucking Bronco’:
Diabolical Bronco entertains. No more painters in the bloody eyes.
Refrain from context, red eyes. Visor brims tucked into the sneaky
afternoon. Pints of platinum. Entertainment.
How many horses power this metal conjuror jolting,
whinying by dint of hot chanting, displaced bartender
but a grateful grimace. Black Rock beach.
There are several of the striking things about this passage. One is that this is a poetry that is always potentially commenting upon its strategies of composition, since it is always appropriating and abandoning techniques and conceits. Now is always the moment of application. From this we have the curious fact that all of these poems are speaking in the present. Metaphysicians might say this is always the case, but Corey is careful to put this is place grammatically and through tenacious clause. We also read a pronounced smitten-ness for Melbourne, not as a nostalgic reproduction of a European city but as the idea of a city; a place that is invented and courts continual re-invention. This remythologising of place on a molecular level extends to the rest of Australia in the book, as a book, and it takes the baton of the notion of an Australian high modernism, and, uh, like a gargantuan terrier, proceeds to chew it up.
There is a good deal of poetry as anti-art , poems that are not recuperable as pleasurable doingys (a toady relative of the doily). These are poems that would come to your wedding with a horse’s tail in the lapel when you asked for carnations- they are gentleman ratbag poems. So we have some of the finest lyrical streaks lately written steamily mixed through some of the most outrageous trash humping we might ever hope to see in a poem.
I always get a sense of the collisional reading and listening to Wakeling’s work, the infraction of zygote and spermatozoa; the blending of genetic codes that is the protein history of the world is sensible in these living ciphers that are both keepers of secrets and nothing.
Far more than cryptomnesia these days, may it
be born then in the chrysalis
of remembrances, the good forgetting forgotten
running his hands through Akita fur
of acres of shivering fibrillating vice figures
of the iodine-poisoned anodised, glade lain in a country
Cryptomeria it’s a Japanese fir tree, something about pinecones and packed seeds and coronas of the sun. It’s a poem for the liver, it’s a poem for chickweed and we get to overhear in a sense what the earth would say to itself, what the earth has said to itself. I do love the way Corey’s poems return to things as the unwritten signatures of the world, without investing these things with the sentimentality of Romanticism or the piousness of the ecologic.
Coerey’s poetry minds me of the troubadour William IX, Duke of Aquitane, who is credited with inventing trobar clus, the close or closed song, a poetic style composed of complex metrics, intricate rhymes, and words chosen more for their sound than for their meaning. William writes: “I will put in it (my vers) more folly than wisdom, and one will find there mixed pêle-mêle love, joy and youth.”
But in love we now understand certain difficulty, and involvement with complexity, and also, why not, a measure of brotherly cruelty. What is most pleasing to me personally, and this has only come to my attention since being able to read Corey’s poems as a full collection, is the consistent note of liquorice contempt that underlies the flare of their feu d’esprit. There seems to be an unending rally against the torpitude of lazy linguistic citizenship, and against a certain conception of the poet who is not in love with language but is in love with their love of language. We might say that Wakeling is a lover of lovers of language, his work is involved with an impressive range of trouabdours, trobar trouvere, the searchers of songs. As he writes in “Current Affairs” “Each key is a glyph/ to the recombinant Song of the Dead.”
This is a game for connoisseurs of poetry and of words in which language is made to do its most incredible work, which, in the words of R. Howard Bloch, ‘denies the purchase of language on the world and represents a symbolic closure of language upon itself, its substitution for action and constitution as event.’ This is not an effort of exclusion or elitism, but a transmission of a kind of amorous nobility. Wakeling’s courtliness does not rely on patronage and ritual condescension: to enter one simply has to buy the book.
The buffalo on the cover, a custom illustration for the work, is the author, part North American praire sucker, a woolley heft that rears but is balanced by the strong feminine lines that make up the behind, capped with tiny clogs for a typographic charge. Wakeling’s book is an envoi for a larger, hungering territory called Wakeling’s poetry, a limitless baroque pantry of inter-special sweetmeats: it’s a dazzling experience for the omnivore and copraphage alike. So many things are here properly addressed: the relationship of seafood and communism, to pick a hasty example. All is served with frightening dexterity, strict tenderness and an occasional cudgelling.
I think we are all literally stunned. A good thing too. And so for lovers of the permanent gambol, prepare to be spoilt. Rotten. I hand over to you the millennial threat and the promise of CW’s Goad Omen.
– Duncan Hose
Duncan Hose is a poet, painter and academic scholar. His latest book of poems, One Under Bacchus (Gig Ryan’s launch speech https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2012/09/27/treading-the-lesser-known-path-gig-ryan-reviews-one-under-bacchus-by-duncan-hose/), was published in 2011 by Inken Publisch, who also released his first collection, Rathaus, in 2007. He has published poems in Cordite, Steamer, Jacket, Jacket 2, Island, Overland, Rabbit and The Sun Herald, and in 2013 he edited a special edition of Cordite on Ratbag Poetry, and the “Phantasmagoria” edition of Rabbit. His work is anthologised in Outcrop: radical Australian poetry of land (Black Rider Press 2013). In 2010 he was the recipient of the Newcastle Poetry Prize. Inken Publisch can be contacted at http://www.inkenpublisch.com/hoem.html
Goad Omen is available from http://www.giramondopublishing.com/poetry/goad-omen/
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