One Hour Seeds Another by Andrew Burke. Walleah Press, 2014. One Hour Seeds Another was launched in Melbourne at Collected Works Bookshop on 19th July 2014 by Andy Jackson.
When Andrew Burke asked me to launch his new book today, I had two simultaneous thoughts. One of them was “of course, I’d be honoured”. The other was – why me?! I mean, here is a poet who has had a dozen books published. Doesn’t he realise I’m a relative newcomer to poetry? What happened to getting someone more prestigious than you to launch your book, a sort of reflected glory? Well, what happened is that Andrew doesn’t see the world of poetry as hierarchy, or snakes and ladders, poets climbing over each other, or hissing and slithering with barely-disguised venom. To Andrew, all poets are colleagues and poetry is democratic in the best sense. He draws from a long lineage of poets of the past and the present, from writers and thinkers of other cultures and nations, from jazz musicians and friends, and from language itself.
And since he’s a collaborator, I’m going to insert little samples of some of the poems from “One Hour Seeds Another” throughout this launch speech. These samples of course belong in their contexts, but they can still breathe outside on their own – because, while each line presents itself as casual, they’ve been written with intense attentiveness.
It’s a compost heap.
It’s a tapdance on your grave.
This book revolves around time, memory, change, death and life. It gives ample space for grief and not knowing. It celebrates the lives of now-departed friends, in moments and in experiments that are poignant, memorable and transcendentally mundane. These poems are moving, but they’re moving in both senses – they provoke an emotional response, but they never get stuck in one place. And while they are a kind of memento mori, they are also witty, sometimes even like zen koans that don’t require an answer.
……………………..………Cemetery birds are all black
except at the entrance where butterflies flitter.
– ‘Requiescat in pace’
I like to think the man with a scythe
is simply a man with a scythe.
– ‘Still Life’
The poems also revolve around moments, humble micro-epiphanies captured in language. His wife needles him more than once for his immersion in these fleeting and pregnant moments – the determined and thoughtful movements of a bee around a thistle bush in the garden; or the music of dandelion heads on the drive shaft of the car as they back out of the drive. They are always, like the haiku he includes here, the moments themselves, entirely, yet they hint at something beyond, a wisdom in the distance. These hints are invariably subtle, but sometimes they come with a wink.
I bring my porridge
to the table
and think in its steam –
too much cinnamon
and not enough
– ‘She waits for me’
There is also a disconcerting bravery here (and by that I do mean brave, not foolhardy), as the poet shows himself dreaming of sex with red-haired women, or [quote] “reading AA recovery stories” while “socking water back”, or just openly admitting his ignorance at any number of life’s mysteries. Whether the poet here is Andrew or not I’ll leave that to you to decide. Either way, it’s an honesty that is not only thumbing a nose at the hubris, the cool detachment and false wisdom of some poets, but an example to us all. From one of my favourite poems of the book, which maintains its dark mystery and black humour even after we realise it’s about the experience of surgery, pre-op and post-op.
I enter, not knowing who
I’m going to see : : dead, living,
actors slipping into their roles
for theatre. I greet all I meet
with a face reflecting
the intelligence of a decorated biscuit
at a birthday party.
One Hour Seeds Another is also very much about poetry itself. In fact, it’s how it begins. The opening section, bravely (there’s that word again) elaborates on Andrew’s Ars Poetica, directly and by example. It’s a poetry of play and experimentation. He clearly loves form – haiku, renga, concrete poetry, list poems, prose poems, erasure, and two poems in a form I’d never seen before and still can’t name. But this is poetry that is very aware of its own limitations, which is of course where its power resides. I’d like to read a poem which to me is about poetry as much as it is about cricket.
A Quick Single
I like a dark mystery
in the sun for five days
there is a book of rules
lots of people have read it
at the game my friends and I
don’t talk about each other
but about the men out in the centre
who we attribute various character faults to
it has the wonder of chess
with the athleticism
as a nation
we are good at it
and we beat the poms and kiwis
on a regular basis
what more could you ask?
once upon a time
I could bowl
bouncers at bullies
Andrew also knows about silence. Many lines here are short. He can certainly elaborate, but he also knows how the white space of the page can speak as strongly as the text. So, just two more very short things before I follow his example and become silent myself. First, I’d like to declare One Hour Seeds Another launched, confident that it will certainly seed many other beautiful poems, for Andrew and for every poet who reads it. Second, a haiku from the book – not 17 syllables, but perfect.
– ’12 Haiku’
Andy Jackson’s Among the Regulars (papertiger, 2010) was shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Prize and Highly Commended in the Anne Elder Award. His poems have recently appeared in Meanjin, Best Australian Poems 2013, and the Medical Journal of Australia. A new collection Otherpoems won the Whitmore Press Manuscript Prize and will be published later this year. He blogs about the poetry of bodies and identities at amongtheregulars.wordpress.com
One Hour Seeds Another is available from http://store.walleahpress.com.au/andrew-burkes-one-hour-seeds-another/
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