True to Poetry in my Fashion by Peter Jeffery, Regime Books 2015, was launched by Allan Padgett on 28 June 2015 at Lazy Susan’s Comedy Den, Perth
Unlike many, if not most of us here tonight, I have known Peter for only a short six years or so, a very small fraction of the whole he has spent mixing it with key poets, writers and other arts luminaries and making waves in the literary, television, radio and education ponds of Western Australia in particular, and in the rest of Australia and internationally.
There are many, many reasons why I am happy to have discovered Perth Poetry Club in its early days at The Moon Café in Northbridge, especially the 100 or more exciting, engaging, innovative and friendly poets who have frequented that wonderful free-range venue over that period. One of those who came into view was Peter, who quite early on offered to meet me over a coffee in the city and provide some practical advice on how to better close my poems. Although this session didn’t eventuate, it did make me reflect a little more and become more conscious of the impact a good ending can have. He hasn’t called me since, so something must have gone right!
The collection in front of us tonight spans what is almost an evolutionary epoch, from August 1954 to January 2015. An astonishing 61 years of poesis – to borrow one of Peter’s favourite terms – to date, and still going strong. Chris Palazzolo proposes in his incisive Foreword, a short thesis for the relative under-appreciation of Peter’s poetry: ‘Its poetics are hard-wired in Anglo-American modernism, rigorously adapted to local conditions. In a publishing culture that for so long has sought the exotic colour of the rural and remote, Peter’s work seemed perhaps too internationalist, too far ahead in the world to satisfy the market-driven preoccupations of isolation’. Chris concludes with his lacerating observation that: ‘In a state accustomed to the toil of sleepwalkers, this is the poetry of a mind that never sleeps, always probes and searches for any stirrings of life’.
In similar fashion, Peter’s Introduction to his outstanding collection whets our appetites for more (much more) with his translation of the three aged, wizened and bearded chaps who grace the front cover of True to Poetry in my Fashion. Again, in part: ‘For me then they are the joy of poetry, the sharing of each of our poesis, our contrived patterns of words and sounds in a speech often far elevated above the mundanity of everyday conversation’. Indeed.
When first I saw – and then met – this wizened, bearded character in the back room of The Moon, it was the fact that people flocked to Peter and gathered about him like the proverbial bees to the honey pot, that immediately grabbed my attention, as I wondered who he was and – why all the fuss?! He might have been dispensing senior’s advice to wordy neophytes, or gems of verbal wisdom to the poetically initiated, built from decades of learning, teaching, thinking and writing – or perchance simply gossiping about where he was and who he was yarning with the night before, and what they got up to. Or in all likelihood – all three.
Peter is a great communicator, a mate of and perhaps more crucially, for, everyone. Especially, it became clear to me as the years rolled by and time was measured by the metronomic arrival of Perth’s weekly poets’ gathering, the cluster of poets who comprise the ‘inner court’ of poetic fame and greatness in the West, from those who perform all the hard yards in organising and conducting events and those who make paper and electronic publications happen, through professors of English and zany performers of ‘the spoken word’, and of course, to those devout souls who turn up to events and read their inner thoughts in their poetic fashion. This may seem like a rather too large ‘inner court’, but it truly is a mere fraction of the total populace, and further, it is only a small portion of the entire WA poetry community. Lest we forget that we live in splendid isolation on the edge of a vast continent, and at the bottom of a vaster world, Peter like so many of his contemporaries has lived interstate and in other countries, and has dug deeply into their ancient and current cultures to locate and unearth poetic inspiration in myth, legend, language, customs and happenstance. He is a true archaeologist of language, shape, sound, vision and form, borrowing and adapting text and thought and image and sound and colour and odour to facilitate, fertilise and feed his own, prodigious and original output.
Back to The Moon for the moment, which is only one of the many venues and events which Peter inhabits – his presence is almost expected: ‘Where’s Peter?’ if he fails to show! So, to the 30, 40, 50 or more regular poetry lovers who colonise the back room with its shabby chic interior and warm, welcoming, non-judgemental atmosphere and first class ‘old fashioned with a modern twist’ café food – Peter is poet performer par excellence; mate; coach; best friend; raconteur; and labourer. He is always on committees, working hard, providing leadership and courage, donating his time, effort and smart knowledge to initiating events, and perhaps most critically, investing extraordinary effort in keeping them going. Three outstanding examples spring readily to mind: the Committee (and recent Chair) of WA Poets Inc; the annual Perth Poetry Festival (in his words, ‘a state cultural bedrock’), always full of surprise, challenge, talent and delight; and the online and excellent poetry journal, Creatrix.
The first thing that strikes me in Peter’s new poetry collection is his capacity for love, carnal and otherwise, and the striking language he employs to express yearning, desire, frustration and satiation.
Here’s a taste, from ‘Jazz Piano in a Fernleafed Nightclub’, 1957 (page 9):
Then you see an errant flicker of the glad times
And you seize my hand and lead me,
Lead me out onto the fernleafed floor,
And our tired feet with sad shoes scutter away the sadnesses.
Comes the slow taxi crawl up the canyoned street
And the light spilling doorstep and the steady kiss,
And the door closes and you clamber into your soft bed aching,
And I walk the cigaretted street home
Watching cars spray fresh water over dust drenched heart.’
Oh, the yearning, the aching – and the softness and feeling of ‘fernleafed’ …… I need more!
And so to more, seven years later – from ‘Two Together: Two Apart’ written in 1964 (pages 7-8):
I remember the hollow of your groin
Cupping up to hold the pudenda,
The erstwhile pubic scrolling and the sense of honeyed oil
In a moment or was it a land of ever running moistness,
And the sweat happy and the breathing musky,
But solidly thrusting in its joyous effort,
And no more than the window away from us,
The Guildford Swan slipped and slid
Dark under the starry night
Holding its own deep dream of unyielding ecstasy.
Forgive me while I recover, I can barely breathe! …….
Again from 1964, in the aptly titled section ‘Of the Making of Books and Poetry there is No End’, two verses from ‘Elegy for the Craft of Words’ (page 46):
The age is ashamed of assonance and alliteration
And fugitive thoughts are packed in sterile rhyme.
Each magic maker is imprisoned, tried and executed
In pedant notes translating all to orthodoxy.
Words are emolument, distraction and castrate sexuality.
Enough of bitterness, enough of tears,
Weeping is for a thing of worth that’s lost –
There is no loss of glory, no travesty of magic
When metal swallows fly to a neon sun,
Behind windows that neither contract nor expand.
A poignant elegy from a master of wordsmithing, gestating a striking image as good as poetry gets: ‘.. metal swallows fly to a neon sun, ..’. Now for two more short examples of how Peter’s poems grab my mind and my heart, and to exemplify the great span of time over which this marvellous poet of ours has sung the spirit of these times and let us feel the pulse of his humanity, his humility, a sense of place, the humming of his heart.
Peter wrote ‘At World’s End’ in 1999 for his friend, poet Donald Stuart (pages 101-102). In the closing lines of this celebratory and moving poem of friendship and place, composed at Land’s End, England, I see Peter himself:
You are here, but not here,
For I feel your spirit run like red fox
As groundswell, as great songline,
Out from this small earth
Through the fields and over the walls
And through the rocks
To the wild sea,
And you are laughing in the wind,
Your teeth dancing in a smile,
Your beard salting in the waves and spray,
As you sail into the worlds beyond.
To close these few beautiful, passionate, unsettling samplings from True to Poetry in my Fashion, the opening verse from ‘Canary on the Edge of Dying’, written in December 2012 (page 28):
In the half dusk of my homeward going,
I saw a sudden gold orb dancing in lavender,
That was slowing melding this way and that,
Into the fluttering of a canary.
I halted, self-arrested in a near endless gaze
Until I was driven to desire it,
Sweetly palpitating in my enclosing hand.
How often have we all seen an escaped domestic bird, celebratory in its awkwardness and uncertainty, blindsided by its freedom and unearthed capacity to fly – beyond the human fences of its life. And like the ending of this beautiful, emotional, sad poem, a final darkness closes in – just like life itself.
He is unstoppable, and an almighty (not so subtle reference to God intended ….) inspiration to the rest of us – young, old, or in the middle years. Peter is a poet of high craft, a performer of great passion, a man of bounteous talent.
You are a star, Peter Jeffery – and now, in my fashion, I will read a short poem that I wrote two weeks ago:
I Can Only Imagine
(for Peter Jeffrey OAM, Poet Extraordinaire)
I can only imagine the deep and feeling delight
your mother might have felt
as you signed your voluptuous rich images
to her on a warm and sunny Perth winter’s day.
And I can see and taste and almost feel
the deepening deliciousness
as your tales of love and bliss and woe and place
unfolded in the willing minds of your many friends
over decades of composing your vagrant tomes.
How proud they must have been
to see their poetic son and mate capture so well
so much of his deeply lived experience in so many places,
deeply immersed in culture at home and abroad –
and in such a welcome profusion of mood and circumstance.
I salute you, for your evergoing abundance,
your fecundity, profusion of text and feeling,
your inventiveness, thoughtfulness, wordplay, tumblingness –
and most of all: the fun
you had and have and share.
Your vibrating effervescent
dictionary of elastic, ecstatic language,
your luminous feeling, your bright
and sparkling vocabulary
of facts, hopes and dreams.
And now, without further ado, I happily and proudly launch True to Poetry in my Fashion!
– Allan Padgett
Allan Padgett retired from his role as State Manager for the Indigenous Land Corporation in October 2009. Not long after, he discovered the incredibly diverse, entertaining, supportive and creative people of Perth Poetry Club, and has enjoyed writing and performing various verses at this excellent venue ever since. Allan’s poems have been published in Creatrix and he has composed poems for three artists as part of the Creative Connections Art & Poetry Exhibition 2012, and has read his poems on 89.7 Twin Cities FM at Edith Cowan University, Joondalup.
True to Poetry in my Fashion is avalable from http://www.regimebooks.com.au/true-to-poetry/
You can listen to an interview with Peter Jeffery at the Australian Poetry Podcast https://medium.com/the-australian-poetry-podcast/show-notes-episode-009-peter-jeffery-oam-6d1f97e47a96