Magic Logic by David Mortimer. Puncher and Wattman 2013.
Just before dad died I was leaning on the timber frame of an open doorway talking to him in the sunroom. He was to my left, seated on a couch reading and I was telling him about the William Blake Awards night. As we were talking, a rainbow landed on the rock wall to my right and dad interrupted me to point it out. It was just a segment of the arc on a single quarry rock but it carried the full spectrum of colours. Some months later after dad had passed on I remembered an older web post that mentioned David Mortimer’s book Magic Logic was available for review. Those two words coupled together seemed to work for me in the joy of knowing dad was finally free of pain and the sorrow of enduring it with him; or that it happened at all. But this, the book title and the third chapter in the 78 page collection, is the final word on what is otherwise a fraught investigation throughout the book. Was Nietzsche right, are humans living as foreign to their natures, is public transport a second option or a romantic form of travel, is there a “marriage between heaven and hell” in this cultural movement progress, as the poem and full chapter entitled “Black Rainbow”, beginning with quote from Blake’s book dizzily says ‘yes’. Mortimer ends this poem with mention of a “furtive tear/ sung by Jussi Bjorling”, referring, I think, to the Swedish tenor’s rendition of Sibelius’ song “Black Roses”. Short-listed for the Blake prize in 2009 it tries to dismantle the traditional symbology of the raven and explores the possibility of it possessing instead, ‘the most beautiful voice in the world’, a fact we miss for ecological reasons. The raven doesn’t blend in with the ‘shape of air’ but when one dies ‘spreadwinged and huge’ in Mortimer’s street, he buries it in his driveway sensing something great about them that is like the human “mind in the suburbs/fiercely ignoble and loyal’. The raven might be nature’s enemy but it is our mortalities kin. All the colours of the rainbow have vanished in the bird’s wrongdoings (stealing eggs from ‘a pigeon’s nest or two ravens together “trying to out-manoeuvre/ a hawk from a nesting tree”) but perhaps there is beauty in this blackness, like ‘a kind of sigh toward quietness’.
Divided into 5 chapters, or four and a Postscript of extra poems, this basic knowledge, that we live and die forms the basis of the whole investigation into established cultural ideas. That Public Transport is generally less ideal than private means of getting somewhere, that Nietzsche’s treatise’s on man-made society as unnatural to humans is difficult to challenge, thirdly that logic is systematic and universally sensible, not ‘magic’ and lastly that there is no beauty in a ‘Black Rainbow”. Mortimer tells us in a beginning ‘Note’ to the collection that the poems were ‘begun between 2003 and 2009’ and some were not completed until ‘2012’. And that the five parts or ‘first four’ were ‘previous working, or possible titles’ for the whole collection. That he landed with Magic Logic makes sense as it is has the capacity to be over-arching and protective of the un-statements raised by the poems musings. There are no conclusions to the endless enquiries but there is great faith in their worthiness as pressing questions on a history of established ideas about humankind, nature, ‘the picture’ and cultural progress.
Part 1: Public Transport begins with a poem in which the poet has observed a fellow passenger ‘at the end of the carriage/ Eyes shut and a smile’ and likens her to ‘an angel…/sometimes hurled/ left or right…/in the eternal/ Present world…/Eyes shut and seeing the eternal/ Living suburbs passing in a true city/ Open in another world.’ The reader is immediately transported from a sense of the ordinary to a sense of the classical, the sense of the woman passenger as something more like a spiritual being than concretely present; but also, in her sensory occupations she reveals in her facial expression, in her riding about the carriage in an endless pattern of ‘bounce and recovery’ a sense of the romanticism of her distance from the banality of the journey, her eyes shut facilitating a more dreamy experience. I am reminded here of the Imagist poet T.E. Hulme and borrow a quote from Patrick McGuiness in the Introduction to his essay “Romanticism and Classicism (1911)”:
‘Hulme compares the Romantic and classical tendencies, writing that humankind’s nature (classicism) is seen in one as a bucket, in the other as a well. Classical verse presents “a holding back, a reservation,” while Romantic verse is marked by its metaphors of flight. ‘
Mortimer’s opening poem begins a consistent attention through Part 1 of Magic Logic to both these concerns, human nature and human capacity as thinkers. The poems and their subjects are both in the ‘real’ and outside it as reflective, self-conscious and sensory observers interested in the aesthetic of things, in the feeling of touch, in the sound of ‘musical noise’ , in the scent of a rose ‘the heat has peeled… open’, in the taste of a kissing ‘your intimate architecture’. Until we are convinced by the final poem to this section, “stationary”, the train leaving the station Mortimer hears in his sleep is leaving a ‘fairytale station’.
Part 2: Nature and Nietzsche starts by shocking the reader out of their sleep or dream-state. And consistent with this alarming sense of the real and the natural, wild and unfettered forces of our human existential state are the sixteen poems that complete this chapter. Here, Nietzsche is supposed correct in his premise humans should be with their nature and not constrain or chastise their innate sensualities. In “confession (with recurring puzzlement)” Mortimer tells us it is quite true, that he cannot explain the reason his eyes ‘follow the flight of birds” or why, in “reflection”, ‘the sun bother(s)/ getting into every puddle?/ But is does’. But the classical and romantic observations from the previous chapter are not completely abandoned as Mortimer decides, in trying Nietzsche on, he is not able to see ‘the whole story on display/ the full deal completely in each quick bright light’ of instances in time. It seems in the end we are more than just our natures, that we are, like ‘a shag and its shadow/ On the mid-day decking…/… slowly turning/ To face some small Beowulf/ Or tiny Wiglaf/…/ Transfigured by light’.
Part 3: Magic Logic brings these two expositions on the real and unreal together in a chapter that sighs with the poignancy of knowing and feeling, of desire as the restless companion to logic, as the heart and the head. Here, there is sorrow, beauty, love and deflated egos, pain, silence and music. There are moments in “paraphrase” of ‘not finding words/ not finding words/not finding words’ and then moments of lightness in “salt”, ‘dreaming of being a seagull…/…/ Turning my beak to inspect the feathers under my left wing/ Dreaming, breathing, awake and in flight’. Of falling back asleep in “valentine’s day headache” to ‘find you some flowers’. This chapter, borrowing the same title to complete the collection in book form left me wanting to quote Yeats from his poem “The song of Wandering Aengus”: ‘I went out to the hazel wood/ Because a fire was in my head/ And cut and peeled a hazel wand/ And hooked a berry to a thread;/…’
Part 4: Rainbow in Black brings me back to my introduction, to the poem short-listed for the William Blake Prize in 2009 and the quote accompanying the poem: ‘How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way/ Is an immense world of delight, clos’d by your senses five’ (William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, A Memorable Fancy). Mortimer’s discussion of the raven here, his attempts to make some sense of its abrasive call and trickery prove difficult: ‘But when one died by some mischance/…/ in the middle of our thin street/ like a broken umbrella/ I dug a wide hole for burial in the driveway/ its partner swung above for weeks/ and hung around our front yard’. There is a power beyond all of us, suggest Mortimer that is both fearsome and beautiful in its capacity to test our spirit. In ‘little birds’ Mortimer is sensitive, protective and in awe of the correspondence between the fragile and the strong, the immature and mature: ‘Little birds motoring in the thick air/ After rain and before more rain/ Being blown at heights and speeds/ Over and above and beyond, beneath and below, / Ahead of, and beside themselves, / Over and under the power of their own wings’. The poem like others in this chapter suggests nature and human society is only growing up, not necessarily opponents in the struggle for reason, sense or having it all; and in this maturation we are not so much evolving as de-evolving which is not quite as murderous.
Part 5: Postscript begins with ‘comedy and tragedy holding hands’ and ends with the poem “holiday” describing ‘the west coast of Irish light’ as the summation of all things domestic and gentle, quiet and reassuringly well established in the tradition of romance and sweet sorrows, a landscape with ‘the quality of illumination…/ quiet, like the moon lit from within, rock, bone, candle, a teardrop, enamelled and sprung, / sheer/ and supersaturated deep bright’. Good news everyone, I think, from Mortimer, things are not all bad. “Magic Logic” is a poetry collection rich with music, frustration, apology and human decency. It matters to me that it exists.
– Rebecca Kylie Law
Rebecca Kylie Law is a Sydney based poet, essayist and reviewer. Published by Picaro Press, her poetry collections include Offset, Lilies and Stars and The Arrow & The Lyre.She was short-listed for the Judith Wright Prize in 2012 and holds a Masters Degree in Poetry from Melbourne University.
Judith Beveridge’s launch speech for Magic Logic was pushed in Rochford Street Review Issue 9: https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2013/11/07/beautifully-composed-poetry-judith-beveridge-launches-magic-logic-by-david-mortimer/
Magic Logic is available from http://puncherandwattmann.com/books/book/magic-logic
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