Original Clichés (Ginninderra Press) by Rob Walker was launched at the South Australian Writers Centre on Friday, 22 July 2016 by Mike Ladd.
Original Clichés is Rob Walker’s sixth book of poems. Like a lot of his work, that title is both humorous and paradoxical. The whole point of a cliché is that it’s not original, yet clichés were once new ideas. Homer came up with “rosy dawn”, and “flame haired”, Shakespeare with “eagle-eyed”, but who first invented “I’ve been on an emotional roller-coaster?” It was once a good expression, but now it’s overused by every second sports star who’s lost a close game. In “After the climax”, Walker literally takes the point of view of a roller coaster that’s got emotional, thereby exploding the cliché:
Please don’t refer
to my bipolar mood swings.
You came here to have your fun with me.
I gave you fun.
You said I scared you, a nervous laugh
as you came along for the ride.
We’ve had our ups and downs
but we stayed together.
Even when you swore never again
you always came back for more and
never complained during the climax.
Climb on me one more time.
I KNOW I’m being hysterical!
What do you expect
from an emotional
Clichés bug Walker. He’s irked into verbal action by politicians and marketers and media types butchering the language. Whoops. “Bug” and “butchering the language” (are they clichés?) Behind the humour, there’s an anger and a drive in his work to rescue us from the bullshit. And I like that.
One way of looking at clichés is that they are victims of their own success. They were good, they worked, they became popular and overused. They went from being original to being clichés. Now we stamp them out in poetry workshops. Whoops, “stamp them out” that’s another cliché. I wonder who invented it?
Actually, clichés are hard to avoid. Which introduces the not so good side of clichés – namely that they mask truth with lazy thinking and convenient stereotypes. And this is another aspect I like about Walker’s work – he’s questioning the clichés and finding his own truths: funny, sad, poignant, grumpy, tragic-comic.
His poetry is very performable, very readable. He also loves a pun (which will lose him points with the more po-faced critics) but not with me:
speech of parts
I don’t know what I metaphor.
I tried ten puns to make her laugh.
No pun in ten did.
I’m a poet! I ejaculated prematurely –
She just left me dangling
a participle, part-disciple, part-adieu, pas de deux,
cut me to the Quink with her secateurs
my heart cut up as a found poem
split as an infinitive
I am in the present, tense.
She, the past, perfect.
He also loves anagrams:
Veto floral oil
Fill a love root
till love of oral
They’re just some of his anagrams for ‘Root of all evil’.
Original Clichés continues Walker’s interest in some of the subjects that have occupied him in previous collections: family, the education system, ageing, his travels in India, Japan, and the UK. He’s also particularly interested in insects and obscure phobias. For example, Eisoptrophobia – which is a fear of mirrors and reflections:
Self-reflection is dangerous.
that man pretends to be you
but he knows nothing,
except his left hand knows
what your right’s doing.
his asymmetric face
the obverse of yours,
to your friends.
he watches you shaving.
flashes his teeth. ejects adolescent
pimples at you.
knows your every flaw.
stares at you long enough
to make you feel guilty.
says good morning, goodnight,
avoids you for most of the day.
pops up in unlikely places.
sideways glances from shop windows.
his twisted Andrew Lloyd Webber face
glares back at you from the backs of spoons.
keeping tabs on you.
reminding you daily
of the passage of time.
you were a vampire
so you could be
rid of him.
Someone once said (and I don’t know who it was) that cliché is a democratically elected form of truth. Well, if cliché is a democratically elected form of truth then Rob Walker is sitting as an independent and disrupting proceedings from the cross-benches. He’s been warned by the Speaker.
Mike Ladd lives and writes in Adelaide. He ran Poetica on ABC Radio National for 2 decades and currently works for Radio National’s features and documentaries unit. His new collection of poems and short prose Invisible Mending (2016) is published by Wakefield Press.
Rob Walker has written six poetry books which include tropeland, Policies & Procedures and his latest collection, Original Clichés (Ginninderra Press, 2016). He became a member of the Adelaide open mic group, Friendly Street Poets in 2003. His work has been published in France and India and translated into Spanish, Arabic and Dutch. Working in collaboration with his sons, he won the Newcastle Poetry Prize (New Media) in 2007 with Matt Walker for ‘Moon Anti-Poem’ and in 2009 with Ben Walker for ‘Bibliophobia’.