Ecstasies and Elegies by Paul Carter UWAP 2014
Paul Carter’s Ecstasies and and Elegies moves at cosmopolitan speed but if you listen closely, you find a pedestrian so well used to transport it can speak the poetic in its mechanical otherness. The whole suite sounds vehicular in its contemporary intellectual beat, an upbeat if you like, aware of a culturally enforced suspension. I think in colloquial terms it is called ‘going with the flow’.
The traffic here is people but also historical artefacts or statements so that a pure glance at anything, a quince for example, is impossibly laden with reference, becoming to the newly suspicious eye a ‘Renaissance lemon’ or that very same ‘Tuscan persimmon that harmonised oak leaf, pomegranate, wine’.
In true keeping with this obstinence of language to keep the conversation valid, the poetry is humbled by the poet in its moving world and takes the backseat perspective of companionship, sustenance, reprieve. There is art to seduce it but then, something far greater, music, to entwine the soul in a mission toward sorting out the mess piles of the psyche in trauma. These are important, affecting emotions that at times, overwhelm the poet – ‘I wish I could ignite you with the memories/ that you bring but tears put out the fire instead’ – and poetry is there as sympathiser, a carriage, a perfection of meaning.
Scarlatti is itinerant, following the poet to Lisbon, Seville, Madrid, the New World, joined at the hip of the soul and whispering the promise over and over of a dying, living or both. ‘The singer of the saeta is hauling in nets/ in the name of Death extracting the darts’ and ‘the Baroque sonata is the exhausted Fatherland, / the Classical sonata the Promised Land./ Is it my fate to compose the transitions, / unable to hold you, unable to lose you?’
These are poems of excesses colliding across the yawn of the poet’s loss in the confusion of what it all means. ‘Your coming is doubled in your departing, / a shadow springs from the blindness of light.’
The poet explores the visual world like a brain scan, noting its beauty and ugliness; but with his own mind close to his heart he can only talk endlessly to the air, to the lost one, to life itself lest it become silenced in the underworld of his grief. ‘No one is strong enough to heal what is done. / The bullet flies, blood blossoms, the heartless / nightingale of your soul goes on singing.’
The final chapter to the collection reminded me of a poem by Peter Porter called “A Great Reckoning in a Little Room”. Here, unlike the build-up of energy in the previous sections, the poet has resigned himself to the reality of his loss and faces now, the task of reckoning, of the what next of his and her future. Porter does something similar in an intimate study of himself alone, a body ‘stamped as art’, reflecting on ‘life’s allusiveness’. But the parallel can’t be extended further. Carter’s poems have a distinct International voice, or even ‘lost’ voice still seeking a sense of a homeland.
The collection itself is poignant and tender, ‘You lie your head against my shoulder / I put in my diary the date of your departure’. The language is honest and the reality described most often civic and when not, close to perfection.
Ecstasies and Elegies claims from the start to reveal within “Poems”; and as the quiet settings of a sometimes hectic conversation, they are indeed, with us.
– Rebecca Kylie Law
Rebecca Kylie Law is a Sydney based poet, essayist and reviewer. Her poetry collections include Offset, Lilies and Stars. The Arrow & The Lyre and In My Days and In My Sleep (May, Interactive Press). Other publications include Notes for The Translators, Poems for the Young Chinese Adult, Best Poem Journal, Australian Love Poems 2013, Southerly, Westerly, Rochford Street Review, The Australian, The Euroscientist Ezine, The Lake, Pacific Poetry, Spiritus and Assisi: An online journal of Arts & Letters. She is currently completing her Phd at the UWS.
Ecstacies and Elegies is available http://uwap.uwa.edu.au/products/ecstacies-and-elegies-poems