Courageous and Compelling: Judith Beveridge launches ‘Signal Flare’ by Anthony Lawrence

Judith Beveridge launched Signal Flare by Anthony Lawrence (Puncher & Wattmann) at the Friend in Hand Hotel on 14th October 2013.

Anthony Lawrence

Anthony Lawrence reading at the launch of Signal Flare (Photo Robert Adamson).

I’m deeply honoured to be launching Anthony’s new book Signal Flare today. As is usual with Anthony’s work, there are great treasures and riches on every page. Anthony‘s poems reward you every time you go back to them. And I go back to Anthony’s poetry a great deal. Over the years I have found the poems to be inspiring, sustaining, provocative, awe-inspiring, far-reaching, beautiful, wildly imaginative, yet also very grounded in emotion.

What I’ve always admired about Anthony’s work is his ability to express powerful feelings through complexities of form and language. Anthony uses language as a form of revelation. In his poetry, language is substance; a means of generating realities and of extending and shaping consciousness. William Carlos Williams said: ‘It isn’t what [a poet] says that counts as a work of art, it’s what he makes.’

I know that when I read a poem by Anthony Lawrence I’m going to be taken somewhere transformative and unique. I know that something within me is going to be activated and enlarged. Wallace Stevens talked about the power of the imagination to transform reality. He is famous for saying that poetry ‘helped people live their lives’. By this I think he meant that poetry can change our perceptions and help us escape the numbness of habit and daily routine. We need the poet’s eye to explore, to celebrate, to make the familiar extraordinary and to make space for the inner life. Anthony’s ability to keep his readers, and also himself, in a state of wonder and amazement, is one of his great specialties.

Signal Flare, the new book, is riddled with wonder and amazement, yet it is also underpinned by an ability to obverse meticulously, and to go about its image-making as ‘primarily a discipline of rightness’ -(another phrase from Stevens). Let me list a few of these truth-to-feeling images:

….Sydney rock oysters
like ceramic fuse plates
sparking and shorting-out in the wash.

– ‘Lines in Absentia’

After the black rain squall
………of an argument has blown over
……………….we talk about how we
………are spirits with working mouths
a crazing of bones
………and a scribble of red and blue
……………….
electrical wiring
………heated by blood
from a four-chambered engine room.

– ‘Nocturne’

Blood, you gnarly old scholar
pouring over illuminated texts
an arterial wound brings up from stack
turn off your lamp and write your name
before you thumb the uncut pages
of my skin.

– ‘Signatures’

 Orb spiders lie cruciform on nets they have thrown.
They have a bladderwrack bulb for an abdomen
and graffiti stencils
above the poised, furred joinery of their legs.
They like to harvest blown pollen
which they keep in a sling below the sleeves
that house their fangs.
The netted shells of insects
are kept for their fine acoustic qualities
when stitched into mobiles
along with the lacework of dead leaves.

– ‘Orb Spiders

 The discordant, wrought-iron choir inside a storm
unmantles your resolves.
On nights like this
you dig a wick from its hollow
and carry cupped-flame from room to room.
In the clapped-out framework of a high window
the furred treble clef
of a spider in snared repose
is enough to keep you occupied
as the rain dies away like forced applause.

– ‘A Night at Home’

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You can see how the details have a sparkling precision and make us see things in an enlarged and energised way.

Something revolutionary occurs, I believe, when the poet, through exploration and invention, discovers the images and metaphors, the rhythms and sound patterns which open up and reveal a new set of meanings. Anthony’s poetry is remarkable for this. I’ve always enjoyed the way that Anthony integrates observation with thought and reflection, so that his poems are never just descriptive, but they open up vistas and perspectives, simultaneously linking and activating many assumptions and ideas.

Many poems in Signal Flare are meditations on nature, metaphysics, love, loss and mortality. These are Anthony’s prevailing themes, yet there is a more pronounced elegiac tone in this book, There are many poems of tenderness and compassion, and they sing with a generous voice. I’d like to read Moth Orchid, which expounds so simply yet movingly on loss

I’ve been trying to find the flower
that best defines you.
That it has to be unusual
in need of care
requiring an abundance of warmth and light
difficult to find and has a name
with the music of earth or air inside it…
the moth orchid comes to mind
and remains –
……..a flower that thrives
……………….at rare altitudes
one that’s been behind and above
the deaths of men who fell
while trying to claim it
from some distant, lofty place.
Have I said enough?
Has my definition gone
some way towards revealing you?
Let me say the flower’s name again:
the quiet vowels
the heavy consonants of grief.

In a poem, I always look at the poet’s ability to capture a number of extras, or windfalls. Anthony‘s poems are full of bonuses, because he pays painstaking attention to craft. He is able to garner much from his syntax, his rhythms, his lineation and his stylish and sure-footed metaphors. He is able to modulate his voice in ways that are both casual and intense.

I think with this volume, there’s no question that the level of astute attention that he as given to craft has gone up a notch: each line break has been carefully thought out, each move serves the poem. There are so many aspects which have been so expertly calibrated. Anthony often runs his sentences over many many lines, yet he never loses control; the branching or architecture, the flow of the sentences across the lines are simply masterful; he beautifully settles the weight and drift of the cadences in ways that are satisfying and surprising. Though his sentence constructions are often complex, his use of the line disencumbers any heaviness that might be produced by a build-up of phrases and clauses. A great part of the effect of Anthony’s poems is achieved through the balancing and positioning of the thoughts over the lines; each line will let a poem run out a little further on its syntax, shaping the pulse of thought: This is especially true of the very first poem in the book ‘Lines in Absentia’.

In Signal Flare Anthony’s voice is still seasoned with lyrical, dramatic and narrative impetus, but it’s also a book that is more graceful and enterprising, perhaps more of a book of mood, of memory, past and present. Though it startles with its agile, daring, off-centre imagination, it still has tenancy in the extrinsic world and has strong emotional coherence built from the layering of finely crafted lines. It is obvious that Signal Flare has a grandeur of language and thought that must surely have been hard-won. It also attests to Anthony’s courageous and compelling consciousness and his remarkable ability to work his material extensively and ambitiously.

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Judith Beveridge is the author of The Domesticity of Giraffes, Accidental Grace, Wolf Notes and Storm and Honey all of which have won major prizes. Her new collection, Devadatta’s Poems, will be published by Giramondo Publishing in 2014 and Brazilier Publishers are bringing out a new and selected volume, Hook and Eye, in 2014 for the US market. She is the poetry editor for Meanjin and teaches poetry writing at postgraduate level at the University of Sydney.

Signal Flare is available from http://puncherandwattmann.com/books/book/signal-flare

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3 thoughts on “Courageous and Compelling: Judith Beveridge launches ‘Signal Flare’ by Anthony Lawrence

  1. Pingback: Issue 10: December 2013 – February 2014 | Rochford Street Review

  2. Pingback: Anthony Lawrence – the blog post Southerly refused to publish. | Rochford Street Review

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