An expansive kind of calm: Nathan Curnow launches ‘In This Part of the World’ by Kevin Brophy

In This Part of the World by Kevin Brophy (Melbourne Poets Union Inc, 2020) was launched online by Nathan Curnow via Brunswick Bound bookstore on Thursday, 15 October 2020.

It’s my honour to say a few words about Kevin’s In This Part of the World, which could be the very best part of the world to be in right now. So if you’re desperate to get out and about, I suggest you get into this book. It’s a world filled with parrots, finches, kingfishers, flamingos, and butcher birds with ‘ganged up shoulders that unshrug to wings’. There are possums, moths, trees of surrender, and two brown horses who are ‘hay dreaming souls clipping up the drive’.

When I put it to Kevin that this isn’t just a book about Brunswick to Rome and back again, it’s about journeying through all sorts of things—growing older, dreams, love, the small surprises of our dailiness amid this ever-growing, crumbling garden we exist in—he summed it up much more succinctly, replying: ‘Yes, every manifestation of existence is on a temporary basis.’ Which is really just a better way of saying what I was really trying to mean.

This is the peculiar charm of Kevin’s work. His poems seem to value, accept and enable all the different ways there are to mean something. His lines somehow feel like they’re listening and curious to how they’re being read, as if they’re open to other ways of being, or open to our other ways of being with them. We enter into their possibility, into the chance of their being alongside the chance of our own. 

In Answers can Sound on page 29 he says:

for there is so much to hear
about the way answers can sound.

Which is really just a better way of saying what I was really trying to mean.

The thing is that Brophy does all this while speaking so damn calmly and clearly. It’s an expansive kind of calm. It’s like a horse whisperer’s kind of calm that’s both patient and masterful. In this part of the world we’re taken into the odd dream of mopping up milk with a dictionary; the small observation of the cat going outside to be with the possum; we have poetry for Myron Lysenko, John Leonard, Judith Rodriguez and James Tate; and we enter into the limb-lopping nature of love with a prose poem that echoes all that Leonard Cohen ever learnt about it.

This book is another guided meditation on language and living, but Brophy is never the guide, the guide in his work always seems to be the nature of language itself and the way it’s coupled to us. The guide is the extent of how we use language, how we abuse it, make it, break it, love it, live it, and condemn it for being too accessible or not accessible enough. So that on this guided trip of our living we might find that it’s all interesting, all terrifying, and yes, everything is on a temporary basis, but hopefully we’ll discover something of what the finch knows on page 10, which is ‘how to live in fret and fright … in every corner of its world’. We’ll also discover, hopefully, that the naming of this knowing is just one way of naming and knowing all of it.

I recently sent Kevin an email telling him, quite selfishly, to stop ageing. I wasn’t happy about it. I wrote it in full caps … STOP AGEING! He refused, saying that ageing was just too interesting. Does this mean Kevin knows what the finch knows? And if so, in what way does he know it? He might know a little bit of finchness, but if he does it’s a pretty weird bit, because for some reason immediately following my email he suddenly took up stretching again, with a routine that included a full, unassisted handstand, something he told me he’d not attempted since his early thirties. Early thirties? I think a better way of saying what he was really trying to mean was ‘early twenties’, at least. So anyway, Kevin was in a bit of pain that day after putting his back out and while he tried to explain that being upside down was good for his organs, I suddenly received another way of knowing. 

On the front cover of this book is a statue with its arms outstretched toward the heavens. It stands in an 18th century garden of a mountain village in Italy. But really it’s Kevin doing a handstand on the floor of the sky. Does this mean that I know what the finch knows? Not really. But thank you Kevin for giving me a new way to see it. This is what you do so well. You give us philosophical epiphanies through such fantastic poems. There may be no such thing as ‘new knowledge’ but your work, this book, is something that takes us closer to the root of it. You, I think, are a disciple of the poetic line, and the best disciples have faith enough to doubt. You, I think, are a sonneteer—there are three sonnets in this collection—and all sonneteers are liars, but you, my friend, are the truest of all. 

Congratulations Kevin and MPU on such a fine production.

 – Nathan Curnow

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Nathan Curnow is a lifeguard, poet and past editor of Going Down Swinging. His books include The Ghost Poetry Project, RADAR, The Right Wrong Notes and The Apocalypse Awards. He lives in Ballarat and is the recent winner of the Martha Richardson Poetry Prize.

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In This Part of the World is available from https://shop.brunswickbound.com.au/p/poetry-in-this-part-of-the-world?barcode=9780648430155&search_key=Kevin+Brophy

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