“Orpheus, Eurydice, and Schrödinger in the one box”: Mike Ladd launches ‘The Rise of the Machines and other love poems’ by Peter Goldsworthy

The Rise of the Machines and other love poems by Peter Goldsworthy, Pitt Street Poetry 2015, was launched by Mike Ladd at the Dark Horsey Bookshop in Adelaide on 21 August 2015.

Peter Goldsworthy launch
Peter Goldsworthy at the launch of The Rise of the Machines and other love poems at the Dark Horsey Bookshop, AEAF, Adelaide, 21 August 2015. photograph by Alexandra Goldsworthy.

“Part, tiny, fractionally, almost, slight, barely, lightly, possibly, just, not-quite, incremental, infinitesimal, a tad.”
These are key Goldsworthy words to be found in all his books, as he pares back the world, exposing ever finer layers; gradations of mood, skins within skins of meaning. But the quest is unending.
As he says in an earlier collection, This goes with This, “the world has each name outnumbered, each verb outdone”, and as he reiterates here in this new book – “on the other hand ….there is always another hand.”
If I had to sum up The Rise of the Machines in one phrase I’d say, “love, time, and physics” – Orpheus, Eurydice, and Schrödinger in the one box. The tone is highbrow with a jokey undercut, the naughty one-liner shattering the decorum.
This is from the poem ‘Orpheus. Eurydice. Schrödinger’:

Leave the past behind.
Move forward. Face the f-
word bravely. But wait
a tick. If the future’s fucked
and the present tocked,
only the past has possibilities
for improvement, improbably.
That’s my theory anyway,
and I’m sticking to it.
For the moment.

Or in the sequence ‘Decalogue,’ he breaks open the ten commandments one by one. Some examples:

Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods
Before Me? Excusez-moi?
I despised vanity, especially
in others, therefore, Lord
of the Brats: Me before Thee.
Why not Take
Your Name In Vain
for Chrissake?

Goldsworthy’s mode: haiku to ode. References in this book: Auden, Pound, Stevens, Shakespeare, the Bible. Antecedents: Vasko Popa, Holub, Różewicz, Milosz. The Penguin Modern European Poets.
When Philip Butterss writes his literary history of Adelaide, I hope he’ll do a chapter on the branch of European Minimalism flourishing here in the 70s. It started in Peter Goldsworthy’s lounge room at Burwood Ave, Nailsworth where the S.A. branch of the Poets’ Union met once Peter and his wife had got the kids to bed. Peter Goldsworthy, Steve Evans and yours truly were card-carrying members of the Euro minimalist movement and a slight echo survives into this book in a poem like ‘Woodstove’:

Water droplets spat
on contact
with the hot stove top…
cushions of self-
steam, till nothing
but hard mineral

Różewicz would have approved of the concrete imagery, short lines, no rhetoric: a stove is a stove is a stove.
There’s a dreaded introductory sentence at poetry readings; “I’d like to read my latest sequence” but the sequences in this book are just the right length. There are extended works on the photos of Deborah Paauwe, a dog called Walter Mitty, Jesus, a love sequence called ‘Long Weekend’, and the title sequence of the book, The Rise of the Machines.
This sequence looks at the beauty of mechanisms and the mechanisms of beauty, bodies as machines, minds as machines, and vice versa, and considers if consciousness is the activity of an organic mechanism.
It starts with a poem about the hunting of a butterfly:

Once upon a time
way up north in
Australia, I stalked a female
Big Greasy – a redback
butterfly, heavy
with eggs – through
wet green heaven.

This poem is about our different awareness of time [and] how that divides the human from the animal, though that barrier more and more is being questioned by scientists.

I had all day. A day
was all she had…
Netted, she remained
unflappable, all purpose
spent. Mine remained:
a stay of evanescence,
her empty, pretty husk
preserved on a pin.

The next poem in the sequence has been recontextualised from an earlier collection – it’s about blowing the tiny minds of pocket calculators by asking them to contemplate the mathematical impossibility of finding the square root of minus one. Since all numbers squared are positive – I vaguely remember this from high school maths.
I love the finish of the poem where the little calculators have to be shipped back to Japan, paralysed by doubt:

Perhaps there is a temple
garden where they bide
as still and smooth as stones
and even more serene,
contemplating mystery.

The sequence also investigates such things as the intrusiveness of predictive technology:

Have you been using my Kindle
account again? The global
unconscious has recommendations
for me…

It considers mind as a worldwide computer network “spider-eyed and giga-eared” – the end point of Marshall McLuhan’s prediction that our technology becomes a copy of ourselves that we then live inside like homunculi, first our muscles, then our nervous systems and brains.
The Rise of the Machines also looks at the development of military robots:

Boston Dynamics Mark 1
Big Dog is more a very big
spider or smallish war-horse…
Mark will turn 18, get his licence
to kill, grow side-arms,
and be a very special force.
He is travelling to the future
at the same speed
as our grandchildren…

The big dog robot is real by the way. Very scary viewing on YouTube. And oh yes, Boston Dynamics, the nasty-looking company that is developing this quadruped robot-soldier, is owned by Google.
This sequence also has some striking, not always comfortable poems about sex:

So let’s go back
to bed, my angel,
and make the beast
with eight limbs,
or eight wings,
flapping slowly
into the future
together until
the machine stops.

And ageing is also addressed in ‘The Mind Body Problem’. Here it’s not so much Descartes but the problem of the body no longer being able to do what the mind wants it to:

Last year I wanted to ski
the last slope with you
before the last light went,
but the big end-bearings
in my two trick knees went

Goldsworthy’s knees might be dodgy, but his poetry is still spry, cheeky, provocative, and full of ideas.

Mike Ladd


Mike Ladd lives and writes in Adelaide. He ran Poetica on ABC Radio National for two decades and currently works for Radio National’s features and documentaries unit. His new collection of poems and short prose Invisible Mending was published by Wakefield Press this year.

Purchase The Rise of the Machines and other loves poems (2015) from Pitt Street Poetry

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