Span: Journal of the South Pacific Assoc for Cwlth Lit and Language Studies
Number 32, 1992
Postcolonialism
Edited by Jenny de Reuck & Hugh Webb

Reviews

Russell Haley. THE TRANSFER STATION. Nagare Press, 1989.

When I was a librarian (many years ago) the National Library Service used to supply Loan Collections of books to, among other institutions, T.B. wards or sanatoria. I had it on good authority that these collections were carefully scrutinised and 'weeded' of any titles likely, in the potency of their art, to be deleterious to the health - emotional, psychological - of patients. By such a test I would say The Transfer Station is so remorselessly and single-mindedly brilliant it would decimate such readers like flies.
Haley has always been a kind of metaphysician. From his first poems, The Walled Garden, I recall 'white paper is a time-machine'. His next poems were On the Fault Line and short stories called Real Illusions are calculated to destabilise readers.
The Transfer Station is so bleak a nightmare as to crave illusion and so close to one's most dire forebodings as to make any such escape impossible. Nine curt sketches: 'Out on the Coast', 'The Quarry', 'Ash', 'Memorial', are some pithy titles. Think of the back-country of Maurice Duggan's 'The Wits of Willie Graves', the acrid destitution of early Sargeson, the existential nihilism of L'Etranger, remember Godot - the world of The Transfer Station is a distillation of these and more.
It's out on the coast the narrator, ageing widower, hangs on in his crib, by the dunes, dying radiata behind. Memory is one refuge: of his parents when 'ships with white sails' came to the wharf, when fishing was good, bush still abounded, later when he and his wife Helen walked and gardened. These now - in constant dream, casual hallucination - are all the people who matter in his life. Excepting, briefly, Glory and Chantal, 'the two girls with the albino hair' who buy him drinks one night in the Pure Light cafe, his other 'escape'. They're 'young enough to be my grand-daughters', crash for the night in his crib, restore laughter, relationship, fun, - 'nothing like that had happened to me in donkey's years'.
No white ships come now to the bay, no bush remains. The old quarry's deserted; '[it] must have been like a small early version of the mills and rams in the transfer station. ... What I remember ... is that everything was covered in grey dust. ... The dust ... changed their faces. They looked like dead men ...'. Centre of a new world is 'the transfer station'. Only briefly at night does the ceaseless procession slacken of trucks from the city and its robot factories. An endless stream of the big Meltimi Company vehicles and the great yellow Echelle monsters pounds the road into dust. Skips and badbins on the wharf unendingly feed the jaws of the grinding rams' vibration: '... near-new stuff pouring down into the rams and they've things you've never had a chance of owning ... the only thing the station didn't take was hospital waste and human remains'. And the pipes keep feeding hot stuff into the sea where the fish are 'sick with this disease which flays them alive'.
Who runs this world? We are a technocracy of France. They're in the background: the barman at the Pure Light, new owners Boennec and wife, an old derelict and his dog, visiting politician Troadec 'using our language' (pretty good eh?).
This isn't merely allegory of a colony with its soul being stolen. It's a documentary of depersonalisation of people, alienation of all community (except the 'young kids'), destruction of the life of nature, the end. Man Alone, maybe, but it's certainly Everyman dying, not just the Kiwi. On the second page: 'Leave a car out on the wharf for a year and it's stripped back to white metal'. The sands of time blast us on Haley's pages. Harsh plain prose, elliptic narrative, ever-present the narrator's consciousness, painfully eroded and damaged - all combine to strip humanity to bright bone.
You can obviously call the result a desert, that is, a dehydrated world. But one source of liquid, softness, growth, is the feminine. Much is made of the old man's grief for Helen. She comes to him like mirages in the desert, in dreams by day as well as night. 'Ash' has him scattering hers - unsuccessfully. 'Lupins' recalls her annual walking-sticks cut from manuka - echoes of organic living. 'The Persimmon Tree' is Helen's tree.
Glory and Chantal are part of this spectrum too. They reappear in two of the final stories. In the opening 'Out on the Coast' he seems to have seen them before; 'Memorial' recaptures that. A night when the Pure Light was packed with 'youngsters'. There are speeches, songs, he's drawn into the action, beat-up cars and bikes process along the wharf to the forbidden end, to the jaws - there they throw their tributes, 'seeing off' friends who, like others, chose the coast and the jaws. Chantal had a tattoo, 'R.I.P.', for a friend: 'She got out of it'. Now he remembers the three of them drinking together: "We want to get out of it", they told him. And he understands. He had seen the pair placing their tribute also as 'Memorial'. 'Carlton', last story, has him search for the pair in a city much like Auckland. In a large derelict, deserted house he finds Glory's empty room. From a swan plant he liberates into the outdoor sun a monarch butterfly.
But back to 'The Quarry': 'The world is like that station ... For millions of years it's been grinding us up and pouring us back as dust. And not one single person ever seems to have broken through that silence one way or another! ... No wonder we dream. We'd kill ourselves if we didn't'. And, from 'The Persimmon Tree': 'If only they weren't putting hot waste into the sea through their pipes. If only I could go fishing again ... And if the kids didn't come out to the coast to die'.
The Transfer Station spells out so many things. To some degree it's 'simply' high-tech variant of age-old themes - Time, Mortality. To some extent as French to Kiwi, so Pakeha to Maori - the allegory repeats common indigenous Pacific (and world-wide) outlooks on colonialism. Clearly the transfer station also is the mechanism of consumer technology (soft words) spelling death to Gaia. And it is at once product and cause of an 'existence' for human beings simply destitute of 'humanity'. In North-Western Europe, 1945, French, Dutch, Belgians sometimes talked of soldiers 'with nothing behind their eyes'.
What cure, redemption? As Haley shows things, an answer seems spontaneous affection, joy (Glory, Chantal)? This may relate to the opposite sex but by no means necessarily to sexuality, or it may be familial (Helen, parents). But perhaps most important it's necessarily meta-physical, in memory, dream, mirage, or to borrow his earlier title (trickier than we had thought?) real 'illusions' - creating relation, community simply not, seemingly, bound by 'mortality', that is, by time and space.
'And not one single person ever seems to have broken through that silence one way or another'. Some social statistics say one in four, some say one in three, of us all think otherwise. And, round the world, 'primitive' people (lacking transfer stations) conceive of us all as a continuum of dead, living and unborn. The only too reliable narrator of The Transfer Station, as his sad brilliant style, bleak ruminations, betray, is a man drowning in waking, gasping only in dreams at 'life'.

Peter Alcock
Massey University



Mary Fallon. WORKING HOT. Sybylla Press, Melbourne, 1989:
A re-writing/reading.

a love story
the boy looked across at the girl
the girl looked across at the boy

two trees turned and spoke to each other
their gender was immaterial

what does
how does IT mean
how to
write as
WOMAN
negative
semantic
space*1 *she's not worth the paper she's written on2
now
- make love to me
like a feminist*3 *this of course is stolen (as is my whole text) and should really be preceded by the words
- i knew you'd be a good lover when i noticed you always smelt books before you read them4

do i exist outside
language
or are we merely contained
within
IT
to love you
is to love the words
from
which you were created

BUT
what of
feelings
emotion
PLEASURE ERUSAELP5

where DO our bodies
come into this
???
i look within language
for the answer

and
no doubt
that is
what
reading is
rewriting the text
of the work
within the text
of our lives*6 *it is my first
reading of the text
on a beanbag
at a garage sale
a young migrant woman
holding a child
asks me
what am i reading
i wonder
what she will make of this
she buys the beanbag
i am left
reading on concrete
this impression
will always
remain with
the text

the woman writing positions
herself against literature7

these terrible texts are all
the more flirtatious texts8

the text you write must prove
to me that it desires me9

and as i hold you
and as i touch you

heaven is in your arms dear10

a wild patience has taken
me this far11

(20 cups of instant, 15 of
percolated are fatal
overindulgence can lead to
psychosis)

the concept of appropriation
is crucial here12

(Arnold Schwarzenegger was once
described as a condom
stuffed with walnuts)13

it calls attention to the culture's
inter-discursive, inter-textual
and inter-medial practices14

(CAUTION
EVOLUTION STILL IN PROGRESS)15

deprivileging the mark of gender
opens up
a u-topian field of post-colonial
textuality16

(inside the brackets with all the
other broken women
of the world)*17 *we
of the walking
wounded
women18
if lesbian works insist on
the materiality of
the body as text/text as body
it is
because
their project is
i m m e n s e l y
political*19

and as i hold you
and as i touch you
as we
love together

how can i really know you
meaning exists only within
language* *put your hands upon me20
you are
can it be true???
stereo
type* *we thought you were a really together woman said THE LESOFEM COLLECTIVE
turning away as she cried
and cried
and that at least is the
truth21
i have been
already written
i am
power less* *those with the power stay
silent22
the move
j a r r s
my body

can not
will not
fit
within
such spaces

"here's something to rupture
the narrative"23

image
a woman caresses her lover
touching while eyes wander

image
a river floods down the mountainside

image
her lover embraces
knows the confines of her body

image
a rope tightens

image
the door slips open
her eyes become fixated

image
a woman dives into sparkling water

image
the woman's hands lose compulsion

her lover does not notice

image
glass shatters

image
the door has taken on a sensual glow
it beckons to her

image
the woman explodes

image
how can this be
negative semantic space???

translate this sentence
they all laughed when the dog
tore her pretty dress24

if we keep on speaking the same
language together
we're going to reproduce the same
histories
begin the same old stories all
over again25

they render you capable of
being dorma(n)t
and
they
do
this
with
their
voices26

how can i touch you if you're not there?
your blood has become their meaning
come out of their language
try to go back through the names they've
given you
i'll wait for you27

what point is bed without you, Freda28

passion and excess yum yum29

how can i put "i love you"
differently
that still means yielding
to their language
they've left us
only lacks
deficiencies
to denigrate
ourselves
they've left us
their
negative(s)
we ought to be
thats already going too far
indifferent30

i believe men see woman's body
as a hole with a smile on top
i have felt woman's body
as a whole audience31

indifferent one
keep still
when you stir
you disturb their order
you break the circle of their habits
the circularity of their exchanges
their knowledge
their desire
their world32

Lady Bountiful died today of anorexia33

so let's try to take back
some part of our mouth
to speak with34

that
hand
could
cuff
and kill me
anytime35

how can i say it?
that we are women from the start
that we don't have to be turned into
women by them
labelled by them
made holy and profane
by them36

you know you are going to be trounced
the way they shape the air with their hands
that this is
a box being built
a con/struction37

what point is bed without you, Freda?

we only touch each other naked
to find ourselves again
in that state
we have a lot to take off
so many representations
so many appearances
seperate us from each other
they have wrapped us for so long
in their desires
we have adorned ourselves
so often to please them
that we have come to forget the feel
of our own skin
we remain distant
you and i
apart38

but
it is your silence
your ridiculous denials
which makes me think
of the slices of meat
my mother pounded before
they could be marinated
tenderised
pulverised
humanised

FEMINISED39

this is a transgression
we are together again

and as i hold you
and as i touch you
and as we lie together
as we search together
expose together

(the postmodern project
is to open up the text
to the inadmissible
repressed by dominant discourses
in order to permit
the free circulation
of speech acts
by marginalised groups)40

and as we become vulnerable
as we clasp onto identity
and as our bodies merge
and as our bodies contract

(literature and fiction
are just one specific discursive site
amongst many
in which the ideological construction
of gender
takes place)41

just as we find rhythm
move together
love together

and as we find security
just as we discover loss

(the crisis of the master narrative
may not necessarily benefit women)42
as we
know each other
love each other
as we
speak together
fight each other
and as i hold you
and as i feel you
as we
exist together

this we cannot follow
to traverse words
is to cross a minefield
where every step
triggers
silent explosion* *explosion is implosion
(creation from desires
that is
creation from open mouths)
where psychic fission
fusion
reactions
account for the resolution
of the massive contradictions43
within the brain*44 *Adrienne Rich of course says this much better

if there were a poetry where i am an instrument in the shape of
this could happen a woman

not as blank spaces trying to translate
or as words pulsations into images45

stretched like a
skin over meanings46

i am not
negative semantic space

i am
woman *being a woman is a disease
that wants its health47

if there were ever the sound of
one hand clapping
its woman48

to substitute woman with female*
*a female caresses her lover is to then
touching while eyes wander be
derogatory49

"being a woman
is a con
but not a con/struction
it is a demolition"50

this in turn
can be balanced
by the neutrality of language
look closely
for its latent power51

i exist
only for you
i resist
my social structure
the meanings created
for
my social identity
within the image
my positioning in language
i am a l i e n

this is
my power
my authorial/authority

to
define
revise
the stereo type
this is a different space
it is not my body
my body was never like this
this is not you
we have never met
so how can we ever be together

what is this power
language holds over me?* *or does it?

in no more than fifteen words
answer in the space provided
'what should be done with a woman
who has served her purpose'
* *here the reader may also add
their own voice
again - gender is immaterial
52 or is it?

this is
personal intertext
the voices compete
public vs private
poetic vs theoretic
my own vs those stolen

but

is it
gender less???

where is
the authorial/authority* *here again the voices compete who holds the power within this text

who owns
MY
TEXT* *here - Mary Fallon may have something to say about this as may Adrienne Rich, Luce Irigaray .......
who creates
MY
SELF (or is this
context bound)

the reader* *ARE YOU -
is intimately touched my ideal reader?53
by
the other's text
the critical act
is
re-creation54

watch this space for details


55

you may write me down in history
with your bitter twisted lies
you may trod me in the very dirt
but still like air i rise56

apparently she made a big pot of soup
cleaned the whole house
brought him coffee while he read
the Saturday paper
and went into the backyard
and hung herself from the camphor laurel tree57

does my sassiness upset you?
why are you beset with gloom?
cause i walk like i've got oil wells
pumping in my living room58

ah to pirouette on stilettos
- to walk properly you must
balance on the head of a pin
perch on the tip of a dream of femininity
to wear stilettos is to dance
and dance and dance59

do you want to see me broken?
bowed head and lowered eyes?
shoulders falling down like teardrops
weakened by soulful cries60

after their first night out
together (to-get-her)61

you may shoot me with your words
you may cut me with your eyes
you may kill me with your hatefulness
but still like air i rise62

sign in the old Cock and Crow
WE DON'T SERVE WOMEN HERE
YOU HAVE TO BRING YOUR OWN63

does my sexiness upset you?
does it come as a surprise
that i dance like i've got diamonds
at the meeting of my thighs"64

you mistake passion for hysteria, Freda65

a fracture
this is a different time
a different space
i am your only reference

a scream
can
be silent

it can exist
with passion
an intensity
born
within
pain

a scream
can
exist
within
the eyes
of
the silenced

silence
can
be
strong

there is force
behind agony

i shelter from mystical summers
and visit
the shop that sold shadows
i wish
for the right words
to express
an
emotion

we have finally ploughed through
all the fantasies
all the barbarism and criminal elegence of
our imposed sexuality there is nothing
left but
yourself real in a real world* *there are no ugly women

when the divesting process is just lazy ones
nearing completion VISITING AMERICAN BEAUTICIAN66
is complete
and all the tableaux of pain and
oppression
rape and necrophilia
coprophilia pederasty and prostitution
are destroyed
when
we are finally descended finally
here and now
and found and present in time and space67

the lion and the cobra
wait in uneasy silence
tracy chapman plays
drifting
from a nearby window
revolution is in the air
the neighbours complain
as the lawn sighs
and wilts within summer
the lion and the cobra
decide upon a truce
the music and the heat
have become indistinguishable
the neighbours discover
that they were meant for each other
as the lion and the cobra
decide to fight again

and as i hold you
what point is bed without you

in my father's house are many
mansions in my father's house
are many mansions in my father's
house are many mansions but not
one room for me
thank god68

dear reader
not only is the status of
narrative* in question *narrative/master narrative/
but also that of representation69 narrative of mastery70

woman must write
her own body
from the inside out
over and over*71 *writing this writing
who said women don't write enough
i have read and written lists
all my life
eggs
butter
milk
cow
old cow
silly old cow
...72

hetero/sexism is supported by a
monosexual discourse
in which the sender and receiver
are presumed male
although objects exchanged
may be female*73 *why should i go out for hamburger
when i can have steak at home
PAUL NEWMAN on JOANNA74
why are men not objects of ex-
change among women?*75 *Arnold Schwarzenegger was once described by an Australian critic as a condom stuffed with walnuts
Scene One
(black and white)
some like it hot
some like it cold
some don't like it at all
(but this postmodern fascination with transgression
with ambiguity and the multiple may indicate a desire not to address problems associated with the specificities of the oppressive gender roles of patriarchy)76
Scene Two
(colour)
image
a woman and her lover
are lying together
image
the woman is me
(this fascination with breaking
down boundaries
may well prove inimical
to the development
of theory
if the old is denied
proper analysis and
understanding)77
Scene Three
(colour)
image
the waves curl
tentative searching fingers
reaching for an embrace
(the artistically radical text
is also perceived to be
politically radical
in that
it seeks to challenge
the most fundamental assumptions
of a patriarchal society as
embedded in its codes of representations and structures of discourse)78
Scene Four
(black and white)
image
i am walking through the streets
again
desire renders all else
invisible
(an experimental feminist text would be characterised by
a formal openness
allowing the reader a certain
freedom
in negotiating a position
but always
in relation to
a certain set of political ideals)79
transgressing boundaries

transformed
from passive to active
encircled no longer
women
circulate80

they have been sitting there for over
half an hour now
her fingers are clasping a piece of paper
shredding it softly as she fails to meet
the other's eye
sometimes sounds merge in and add to their
conversation
surrounding them within silence
the paper is completely shredded now
she reaches for her glass
realises the drink is finished
she rocks the glass backwards and forwards
chances a quick glance at her friend's face

her friend is not watching
quickly she turns her look elsewhere

finally
- the writer's task
is to produce texts
in which
tensions
between
the various discourses
are
always
resolved*81 *i read it in this month's passion magazine
or was i just imagining things82

does she hold you like i do

does she feel you like i do83

put your hands upon me84

walk the body85

put your hands upon me

i'd kill a dragon for you86

image
the woman explodes

the girl does not exist
she never has
realising this
she leaves the room

working hot
working cold
not working at all87

Amanda Heptinstall

Murdoch University


David Marr. PATRICK WHITE: A LIFE.
Random House Australia, Milson's Point, 1991.

Although the title is bland, Patrick White: A Life by David Marr is a monster of a book. After three days of intensive reading, I have been moved. The last scene has sensitivity and pathos and is worth the journey. Unlike White, I do not think the biography should be called 'The Monster of All Time'. I would promote the remainder of the quotation on the book's dust-jacket: 'But I am a monster ...' is more apt. He worked at being one. Despite the tempestuousness and vindictiveness of his personal relations, he showed great love and humanity.
While I respect Marr's biography of White and would rank it amongst the major biographies, such as Richard Ellmann's James Joyce, nevertheless, it has a few problems. Some of these are general points, which I address to the genre of biography. Endnotes are a pain to the serious reader. Marr's notes detail the sources of his information - letters, publications and conversations. They are good. But, it is frustrating to have to thumb through to the back of the book. Also Marr gives good quotations, which exacerbates my wanting to thumb to the end to locate their source. Then it is frustrating to find the page numbers do not match my paperback copies of White's texts. This means more thumbing through. Thus I propose, for convenience notes should be footnotes and page references should regard the generally available, usually Penguin, paperback editions. In addition, I would suggest for this particular biography, the use of either aetatis or current year to aid the chronology, and a more comprehensive index. These may only be points of presentation, but they bear consideration in the light of the investment of time and money in large biographies.
There is a more specific point, which may also appear as nitpicking, but may be indicative of a laxness in Marr. According to Marr, on the same day PW met Banjo Patterson, he 'had his first erection'(59). However, in Flaws in the Glass, PW states that this was 'the first erection I remember'(5). This qualification is significant. Infant males have erections. The point is PW's emerging sexual awareness, where at the age of seven he is conscious of and can later recall the circumstance of this particular erection.
Sex is crucial to the biography. In an interview in The West Australian (23/2/91), Marr emphasises his advantage as a homosexual writing a biography of a homosexual. While he denies that one has to be a 'homosexual to write a biography of a homosexual', he also gives the example of a perverted curiosity in homosexuality by a non-homosexual biographer. Times have changed and there is a degree of acceptance of homosexuality in Australian society. The example of the long term relationship of PW and Manoly is valuable to this.
Perhaps Marr's treatment is more sensitive for him being a homosexual, but sexual curiosity is not unnatural. One can wonder if there is a homosexual code operating which is opaque to a heterosexual - 'Lascaris masked his role: he served White'(357). Sexual curiosity is fed throughout the book: 'They were still lovers. People sometimes assumed in a muddled way that the two men had entered some elderly celibate phase of existence. White corrected them sharply.'(528)
There is a fine line in a biography beyond which the privacy of, and respect for, the subject and the subject's family and acquaintances is breached. Obviously, as the centre of the narrative, the subject's life is more open to analysis, and White's homosexuality is important to this. White has approved of Marr. He read the manuscript, and apart from identifying a few errors of detail, did not request any changes. Nevertheless, it is not an authorised biography: White did not request it. There is an irony in the biography. While it goes into detail about things that affected White's life, even down to the workaday detail of his daily routine - who cleaned the house, on what day, which bus stop he waited at, and so on - the occurrence of his biography is absent from the narrative (it took Marr six years). On one occasion Marr makes a cameo appearance, at the opening night of White's play The Season at Sarsparilla in 1976: 'There were critics - I was one of them.'(570)
Marr is gossipy. He takes a delight in revealing an old adversary of White:

From Ireland to Zimbabwe, ex-Lewisites wondered who it was among the prefects White so loathed that fifty years after leaving school he could still ask, 'whether that narrow, almost fleshless, borzoi skull is still above ground, or whether it lies whitening, snapped shut on the last of its vicious intentions'. Answer: Crewe Read.(608)
This is bitchy. Marr sounds a bit like a toady running around pointing out what the great man said of everyone.
In a sense, that is what he is doing. PW: A Life is more gossipy than literary. By this I mean it is too quick to give pat (Patrick's) answers, without leaving room for doubt. For example, there is the acceptance that Waldo, in The Solid Mandala, 'dies of spit, bursting like a boil filled with pent-up hatred of all living things'(449). However, this is the opinion of a character, Mrs. Poulter. She believes that the potential murderer of Waldo, his brother Arthur, would 'never hurt a fly'(316). The novel is organised into separate viewpoints and Waldo's death is confused between these. It is a blur. Arthur is worried about his heart. Waldo has diarrhoea. Both are old. Finally, after an emotional crisis, Waldo dies gripping Arthur's wrist. Though Arthur feels guilty: 'Arthur saw the murder he had committed on his brother'(294). It was Arthur's poem that initiated the crisis, which ended with Waldo's death. To keep the question of Waldo's death open allows further associations, for example Cain and Abel, giving a richer reading.
Neverthelelss, Marr's biography is valuable, not only to the interpretation of White's writings, for it also gives an insight into the creative process. Marr gives a full account of the characters and settings of White's work, indicating their basis in his life. Implicit in this is a theory that White is an intuitional rather than intellectual author, although Marr acknowledges that White is a 'literary author'(520). The context of the latter is the relatively low earnings of White's books considering his reputation. Here a distinction is being made between White as literary author and popular best selling authors. This sets up the proposition that White is literary, but is neither intellectual nor common.
At the base of this is an anti-intellectualism of White, which Marr uncritically follows. Marr traces this prejudice in White to a hypersensitivity of White to criticism, particularly from academics:

White's suspicion of academics ... turned into set antagonism. He was never quite as hostile as he wished to appear. Over the years he patently answered academics' questions and was pleased to correct the more far-fetched of theories about his work. But the influence of the universities in the small world of Australian writing caused him profound anxiety. There was too little faith in intuition, too much faith in the intellect.(310)
Insofar as Australian critics were largely hostile towards White, without any genuine insight into his works, at a time when White was receiving international regard, it is fair to be critical of the parochialism of Australian academia. However, this should be put into context. As Marr notes, White 'was a Modern ... hardly anyone but a few poets and painters shared that taste in Australia'(274). While the avant garde had become a convention overseas, in Australia modernism was confrontational to the establishment. Thus A.D. Hope's antagonism to The Tree of Man followed from his campaign 'against what Joyce and Lawrence had 'done' to the English language'(309). White worked at being a monster: 'he was never quite as hostile as he wished to appear'. He did comply with the requests of academics for answers, despite the advocation of an intuitional, gut response to his work.
The point is that White is a highbrow author. The gut response of many on being confronted with a book of White's is that it is difficult. Thus he is not a gross best seller. It is the intellectual who journeys on. An essential part of this is intuition, which may lead to far fetched ideas. In a way, White is being presumptive for deflating these ideas, for fixing interpretation in his mould and denying the creative explosion of the reader. He is wimping out by acceding to squawks, for regurgitating into the open mouths of tiny intellectuals: he is really feeding his own ego. In the often quoted 'The Prodigal Son', White asserts:

In all directions stretched the Great Australian Emptiness, in which the mind is the least of possessions, in which the rich man is the important man, in which the schoolmaster and the journalist rule what intellectual roost there is ... It was the exaltation of the 'average' that made me panic most ... I wanted to discover the extraordinary behind the ordinary, the mystery and the poetry which alone could make bearable the lives of [ordinary] people, and incidentally, my own life ...
(PW Speaks: 15)
This is not a denial of intellectualism, as it equally is not a criticism of all journalism, the profession of Marr. It is an attack on the narrow, blank intellect of the Australian status quo at the time when he returned from Australia as the 'prodigal son'. But the point is he stayed, worked on the land and created characters whose ordinary eccentricity was in the vein of Joyce's Leopold Bloom. Rather than being anti-intellectual, White's writings are the epitome of the exercise of intellect and intuition as applied to the Australian experience. Despite my reservations of Marr's lack of critical distance, I feel he is in tune with this.
Ultimately, the issue does come down to White's homosexuality. Homosexuality alienates him from the patriarchal ties of his family: an affluent gentry and an other to the great Australian unwashed. He is provided for, and given the means to experience the culture of Europe, then to subsist on a scraping through income, though with the occasional fillip of Europe. Thus he is distanced, firstly from his family (albeit this is the source of his long term financial security), secondly from the heterosexual norm (though one should always question mateship and the proverbial apartheid of the 'Aussie barbie') and thirdly from the vacuous Australian intellectual environment. White implodes this vacuum: he contaminates this sterility for he is Australian (albeit London born) and his works are a part of our literary imagination.
Where White promotes himself as a hurtful monster, Marr indicates this is an aspect of 'self hatred' with White being 'worse on himself':
There were times he seemed to be a man at war, the victim of a battle always going on within himself. He spoke darkly to his friends of suffering a 'disease' and wishing to be rid of it. He made no explicit confessions, but over the years he named several of these 'diseases' from which he saw himself suffering without hope of cure: the disease of foreignness, which made him a stranger everywhere; the disease of memory, which did not allow him to forget wounds and slights; the disease of writing which gave him no rest. To this list must be added the deeper afflictions of a bad chest and homosexuality. It was not that he wished to be cured of his sexuality, but it was another source of the sufferings to which life had fated him. (353-4)
Thus suffering becomes a dominant force in White. He 'saw suffering as a force in his life making him what he was, making us what we are. For White, pain is a force of history shaping men and events'(312).
Sex is essential to this. In Flaws in the Glass, White considers that the 'ambivalence' of his homosexuality gives him 'insights into human nature' which otherwise would be denied him if he were 'unequivocally male or female'(154). Marr notes that:

White always argued that he was driven by intuition and not intellect ... and for him intuition was a powerful feminine virtue. The intuitive Patrick White was the feminine Patrick White: sexuality was not only a source of insight but one of the forces that drove him to write(582).
Sex and writing are similar for both offer relief: 'It was a relief, though, finally. When he had come, and the acid was no longer eating him, he lay caressing her hair with a hand which seemed to be recovering its normal function after a long period of feverish stress, such as an illness, or some creative activity' (The Vivisector: 230). This 'acid' is suffering and the self disgust of lust. It is the driven ego of the artist. The famous 'gob of spittle ... That is God' in The Tree of Man(476) is the 'shamefully realised, deliriously seeping, orgasm' of The Vivisector(604). Semen, as a seed of life, is also a source of relief from lust as the suffering of life. This release becomes an oblivion and a death: 'endless obvi indi-ggoddd' (Vivisector: 617).
Death for White was a relief from the pain of asthma which debilitated him. His works and life spanned a period in Australia, from the time when homosexuality was a crime, something of disgust to be closeted, to the present where it is relatively more open. Initially he had to escape from Australia in order to realise his sexuality and write. Later he returned, worked on the land, wrote The Tree of Man, ... and later still he would address homosexuality directly in The Twyborn Affair and Flaws in the Glass, although it was already clearly a motif in his oeuvre, as in The Solid Mandala and The Vivisector. White was a homosexual, but never gay. His largesse is his writings and Marr's PW: A Life is an excellent account of the way his writings evolved from his 'diseases': the sufferings of a person open to the experience of life.
The grey of mediocrity, the blue of frustration ... our inherent mediocrity as a people. I am confident that the mediocrity ... is not a final and irrevocable state; rather is it a creative source of endless variety and subtlety. The blowfly on its be of offal is but a variation of the rainbow. (Voss: 447).

Chris Floyd
Murdoch University



Jack Davis, Stephen Muecke, Mudrooroo Narogin and Adam Shoemaker (eds.). PAPERBARK: A COLLECTION OF BLACK AUSTRALIAN WRITINGS,
UQP, St. Lucia, 1990.

Paperbark is a valuable addition to anthologies of Aboriginal literature.
Editors Jack Davis, Stephen Muecke, Mudrooroo Narogin and Canadian/ Australian Adam Shoemaker present the works of thirty-six Black Australian writers representing a time span of over one hundred and fifty years and covering anything from transcriptions of oral literature to rock opera. Writers such as David Unaipon, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Gerry Bostock, Ruby Langford, Robert Bropho, Jack Davis, Sally Morgan and Mudrooroo Narogin, to name only a few, are variously represented. The editors, however, were also keen to include new names in this edition.
Stemming from the First National Aboriginal Writers' Conference held at Murdoch University in 1983 and contributing to the establishment of the David Unaipon Award for new Black Australian literature, Paperbark would seem to intimate at being the first in a series of its kind. One important function of the Murdoch conference was to lay the groundwork for a perspective for Aboriginal literature which acknowledged its basis in conflict and struggle against a white hegemony. Without falling victim to generalisations, it would be safe to say that Aboriginal literature has developed as a tool to vindicate the plight of the native people of Australia. Consider, for example, Hyllus Maris' 'The Concrete Box' which appears early in Paperbark and which describes blacks trapped in a box without food, without clothes, without shoes, and at the mercy of whites. In this as in most other stories, aesthetic concerns could be said to be subordinated to political and social concerns.
Aboriginal literature has attempted to focus upon and redress past and existing wrongs to which black people have been subjected. To borrow from the introduction to the text, "... this collection makes no claim for an Aboriginal literary aesthetic divorced from rhetorical writing"(2). Moreover, "Its aesthetic, if anything, lies in the force of the political statements that it makes, a force which makes much contemporary Australian fiction look tame and parochial by comparison"(2). But to my way of thinking, this statement is something of a backhanded compliment. It purports that the aesthetic component is virtually nil unless aesthetics may be thought of as politics, if anything.
Certainly, the idea here is that the power of the language drawn from the drama of conflict stands as its own justification. But the unintentional implication is also that if there is no black aesthetic divorced from rhetorical writing, then there is no place for judging this literature outside of the white hegemony. This could be construed as a peculiarly restrained position, one which constructs a barrier to the evolution of a black aesthetic. But the question still unanswered is "What is a white aesthetic if it is not politics?". And just as importantly, what is a suitable reception theory for Australian black writings in the eyes of white critics?
The answer to these questions is elusive if not illusory. But they are hardly unimportant. In "Black Words on a White Page" (Not the Whole Story, Sydney, 1984.) Hugh Webb provides a succinct answer to the question of reader reception:

Does it matter? Yes, because I want no part of the policy of assimilating the Aboriginal, of castrating - by my reading - the Aboriginal text.(112)
Hence, my 'pernickety' aversion to condescension, even unintentionally proffered condescension. Black writing does not need apologists.
Admittedly, however, the introduction to Paperbark does not belabour this denigration of aesthetics. Instead it turns to the more impassioned perorations of Kevin Gilbert's introduction to Inside Black Australia:

Of course there will be many who, not wanting to reveal any overt or covert racism, paternalism, condescension, misconception, self-deception or otherwise to the value of the contribution, will dart like a prawn in a barramundi pond to the safety of antecedents. To us it is like seeing a saga of these British Boat People returning to the wreck to salvage a plank and, holding it aloft, try to make comparisons with the indigenous tree and twist it to a semblance of the "tree back home". (Penguin, 1988:5)
Are aesthetics nothing more than the fanciful deliberations of a privileged class? Such political positioning implies that the tower has been levelled. Most of academia has embraced the democratisation of the curriculum. But can privilege be so easily renounced?
There are several oral transcriptions within the text and these in particular weigh upon this question of an independent black aesthetic. In Orality and Literacy (Methuen, 1988), Walter Ong notes that writing "... is a particularly pre-emptive and imperialist activity that tends to assimilate other things to itself even without the aid of etymologies"(12). This observation harkens to one of Edward Said's criteria for defining Orientalism as "a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between 'the Orient'; and (most of the time) 'the Occident'". But this distinction is not a recognition, from the traditional perspective, of properly assayed difference. Indeed, Said notes that "Orientalism responded more to the culture that produced it than to its putative object, which was also produced by the West" (Orientalism, 1985:22). Hence this objectification and "reification" of the Orient and Orientals has spawned the popular image of the non-Westerner as a kind of near-do-well white man. This perception would gain little currency amongst most academics today. But it is the historical consequence of mistaken academic assumptions.
Said's concept of Orientalism applies to all "marginalised" cultures. In the case of oral translation, it gains further intensity.
Ong comments:

"Oral cultures indeed produce powerful and beautiful verbal performances of high artistic and human worth, which are no longer even possible once writing has taken possession of the psyche.(14)
The editors of Paperbark are not unaware of this problem but suggest that "oral literature" is practically unavoidable.
Ong admits that "literacy, though it consumes its own oral antecedents and, unless it is carefully monitored, even destroys their memory, is also infinitely adaptable" capable also of reconstructing a "pristine human consciousness".(15) But it is never one and the same with the original performance. Cynthia Ward addresses this problem of "oral subjectivity" in a way which would seem to affirm a black aesthetic. Despite what she alludes to as the "oral antiaesthetic" she notes that by writing, previously oral cultures become "marginalised" and conscious of this:

... these texts can instead be 'heard' to declare the precedence of 'real' human - therefore essentially untextualisable - voices and meanings over the putative political and historical hegemony of the word. ("What They Told Buchi Emechera", Publications of the Modern Language Association, 105:1, 1990:89).
What this infers is that at this point of development, a distinctly black aesthetic, or for that matter, the possibility of any other "marginalised" peoples' aesthetic, emerges.
I have no trouble accepting the idea that there can be an aesthetics of power. It is a different matter, however, to say that aesthetics is power, or vice versa. Narrative itself may generate its own power, and this power may be linked to an aesthetic. This would appear to be true of Mudrooroo Narogin's 'Struggling' - a novella of some one hundred pages in the latter half of the book. As a white critic it could be construed as arrogant to pin down the symbolism of the cave in Narogin's story. But it is reasonable and possibly inevitable to make a few 'educated' white guesses. The cave is a kind of natural home, a womb. And the story is centred around a searching for home lost in the white city. Kevin is searching for a lost power. When Kevin emerges from the cave, we are witnessing his rebirth as a full man:

He squeezes back down the tunnel and stands on the beach looking at the clouds hulking on the horizon. They remind him of a city skyline. There is a menace of constant change about them. He strolls back past his future home to his car. Before driving away, he takes one long look around and fills his lungs with clean country air. His sense of victory is almost complete. Nothing can go wrong, and if it does, he will face it and win through again.
This is the type of confidence that emerges from an aesthetic that generates a far more substantive power. It is not apologetic, despite Kevin's lack of success in the white city. Rather, it is an acknowledgment of ulteriority. This is a story in which aesthetics and power conjoin on a muted but positive note. Kevin must, after all, abandon the city. But what is attractive about the story is that while it reflects upon racial conflict, it also speaks in the broadest terms upon the human condition, upon isolation.
While Narogin's story evokes images of the past, the poetry of Archie Weller, presented in the early pages of the book, evokes burning questions about the lingering effects of white duplicity. It is a lyric poetry that still manages to contain the impact of narrative. It is poetry meant to be read aloud. The poems Weller presents here bear upon our own perceptions of self and suggest our own weaknesses. These qualities are particularly true of the balladic 'Legend of Jimmy's Axe' which alludes to smashing "the white eggshell complacency". White society betrays him. Even his wife betrays him:

His wife as white as the day he was born;
she as white as the baby that was not his -
all so white on that gruesome awesome night ...
Did she mourn?
The conventional image of white purity in a dramatic reversal becomes not so much a moral justification for his crimes as a vindication for his motives.
One distinctive feature of Weller's poems is the flexibility with which he employs voice. In 'Ngungalari' the persona of the poet is the plaintive voice of a man who proclaims "I am last and lost in this strange land/that once was mine" and who implores of himself "Cry not for me,/Ngungalari./I leave you with your dreams". In 'The Hunter' the speaker is the Aboriginal hunter who embraces and venerates a pantheistic world in which causality assumes the magic and mystery of nature. In 'The Hunters' the speaker is still black but now watches the tawdry seduction of a native woman by white 'hunters':

and she is so pretty yet easy to please
Did they bring you promises of things to come? [employing
Did they buy you some beer or wine? the
As the hunters devour you vocative]
with rough caresses
do they still smile and say you are divine?
Weller's poetry has undeniable intensity and turns upon itself with richness and complexity. But does it contain a black aesthetic? To deny a black aesthetic is condescending, but only if we affirm at the same time a white aesthetic. Certainly there is a black essentialism rooted in experiences and cultural values that are non-white, non-European. And certainly too, black writers will feed upon the experiences and criticism of other black writers. I believe that black essentialism must function no differently to white essentialism in creating a system of cultural values. Therefore, there must be a black aesthetic, unless we are willing to acquiesce to world monoculture. But acculturation or perhaps even juxtapositioning of black and white people creates an interface of shared experience regardless of how much social injustice this dialogic relationship contains. Certain parts of black culture will invariably be a part of cross-pollination with white culture. And perhaps Richard Wright was partly correct when he suggested that without white racism there would be no black literature (Gates, "Tell Me, Sir, ... What is 'Black' Literature?", PMLA, 105:1, 1990:20) - at least in the form presented here. But here the term 'racism' would seem to be inflated. At any rate, the reality is that social and cultural differences exist apart from 'racism'. And, indeed, even something so hallowed as the "factious nature of an 'American'", or, I might add, an 'Australian' identity "... which had been systematically excluded has now been revoiced as a mainstream concern" (Gates, 1990:20). Perhaps it has been easier to dismiss essentialism than to deal with the problems it projects. Still, even if we do deprecate the notion of a black essentialism, and recognise a socially constitutive nature to race relations, we must appreciate cultural difference and the necessity neither to belittle nor falsely flatter that which belongs to the 'other'.

Christopher Ward
Murdoch University



Drusilla Modjeska. POPPY. McPhee Gribble, Ringwood, 1990.

In recent years the discursive relationships which surround and sustain ideas like History, Fiction or Biography have had to expand and alter in order to accommodate a new kind of writing. Poppy is the kind of book which both conflates and also expands such categories. In the Acknowledgements the author says that:

In the writing of it, however, I found myself drawn irresistible into dream, imagination and fiction. The resulting Poppy is a mixture of fact and fiction, biography and novel. To stick only to the facts seemed to deny the fictional paradox of truthfulness, and the life that the book was demanding. On the other hand, to give up the facts, and the serious pleasures of history and biography, would have defeated the purpose with which I began. ... Nothing should be taken simply as literal.
Biographies and autobiographies have recently begun to declare the selective and fictive elements which are somewhat inherent in remembering, researching, compiling and writing. Poppy crosses many generic boundaries. It is a blend of biography, autobiography, fiction, history and theory, which is more like life is, or, if you like, the memory, reconstruction and representation of what life is like.
Poppy both disturbs and satisfies the reader. It questions, probes, locates and theorises central issues. The author's continuous self-criticism and attention turn to all of Poppy's relationships, not just the mother/daughter one.
There is a constant conflation of the fictive characters and the authorial voice so that the speaking voice, Lalage's, appears to be the author's. The process of researching and writing out the network of her mother's stories brought her face to face with her own family fictions. She uncovers the contradictions between what their happy family was supposed to have been and what the various members of the family actually remembered experiencing. She explores the reasons why Poppy disappeared into a sanatorium just when they were supposed to have been a happy young family.
The story covers significant events and memories surrounding Lalage's grandparents (China and Jack), her parents (Poppy and Richard), Poppy's lover (Marcus) and her sisters (May and Phoebe). As the narrator gets closer to making sense of her own life, the author increasingly theorises her position.
Lalage uncovers, or is led to be her mother's selective memory, the core reason for Poppy's admission to a sanatorium. She finds that her mother did not have a language for herself. Her mother's silence was enough to have her admitted. "Her silence was a symptom and a cause. Words literally failed her. The voices she needed hadn't been invented, or if it had, it hadn't been heard in the south of England". This predicament is clearly reminiscent of Janet Frames', where the voice she needed hadn't been heard in New Zealand. When Poppy 'recovered' and left the sanatorium (and her husband had left her, though Modjeska paints a very sympathetic picture of him), she worked as probation officer with boys. It was here that:

Poppy had found a way of working that was experiential and experimental, that was mobile, conversational and, within its own terms, open to question. She was working out of the labyrinth of her own femininity. At this most public moment of her life, I see her vulnerable and exposed, for what she stood accused of was that for which she had struggled so long: the ability to speak freely, and as a woman.
These insights into her mother's situation echo the author's own situation. This searching for a voice is constructed around the myth of Ariadne's thread, the labyrinths of Mycenae and Minos and images of sturdy female figures. The actual narrative structure constructs the story, whereby the author writes the story and the reader follows the traces, as she uncovers and unravels the events and relationships of her mother's life. The author herself describes her text as "patterns of thought that brood rather than argue, and of the fictional paradox of truthfulness".
Major events are not merely given a crude time and place, rather they are politically and socially contextualised, so that then their narrative status is expanded beyond being flags or markers of things happening outside or inside, publicly or privately. There is one passage which typifies Modjeska's ability to draw together political issues, evoke a deep response and explain her own theoretical position:

Right now in Sydney where I live, the jacarandas are in bloom. In Canberra the Hawke Government announces the terms of the Royal Commission into black deaths in custody. In England the Royals are packing their bags for the celebration of the founding of a favoured colony. In January, on the day Prince Charles will take the salute on Sydney Harbour in celebration of a nation, and the Kooris will gather in mourning and in memory of another history, it will be four years since Poppy died. Put like that it seems a matter of little significance, and perhaps it is. Some questions don't know how to take their place, and step aside for other matters. But maybe that is how we live our lives, moving between one thing and another, big things and small, inside and out, so that our days are made up of remembering and forgetting until there are no clear boundaries?
Perhaps it is the imposition of boundaries which delimit a genre which fictionalises. The form of the text somewhat mirrors the form of her mother's and her own life.
Maria de Gabrielle
Murdoch University



Mark Williams (ed.). THE CAXTON PRESS ANTHOLOGY: NEW ZEALAND POETRY 1972-1986 The Caxton Press, Christchurch, 1987.

Murray Edmond and Mary Paul (eds.). THE NEW POETS: INITIATIVES IN NEW ZEALAND POETRY, Allen & Unwin/Port Nicholson Press, Wellington, 1987.

Miriama Evans, Harvey McQueen and Ian Wedde (eds.), THE PENGUIN BOOK OF CONTEMPORARY NEW ZEALAND POETRY: NGA KUPU TITOHU O AOTEAROA, Penguin Books, Auckland, 1989.

How long does the new stay new, the contemporary stay contemporary? Fleur Adcock did a Contemporary New Zealand Poetry for Oxford University Press (Auckland) in 1982 - including the ten-years-dead Baxter - an anthology which is now presumably historic. Her youngest poets were both born in 1949: Murray Edmond and Cilla McQueen. These two by now are middle-generation. Williams' anthology updates Edmond with the potential classic 'Psyche' (1975) and 'A Letter About Cars' (rare self-denial excludes Edmond from his own anthology). Both these poems hold their place in the new Penguin (which is a giant appendix to the Wedde-McQueen 1985 Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse) along with 'House' from Edmond's End Wall. 'House', incidentally, was canonised as early as 1983 by Jackson and O'Sullivan in their Oxford: New Zealand Writing Since 1945. They made it their very last poem, poetry's latest word, and I am tempted to find significance in this. After years in which poetry was getting narrower on the page, signalling all sorts of things about how we use our voices, our ears and our eyes - things we may feel Cilla McQueen focused in one of her final lines, replete with ampersands: "& the truth is so little & sharp" - Edmond's 'House' marks a resurgence of spread and sprawl. Indeed, to accommodate this phase, the Edmond-Paul format is a square one: Eggleton, Leggott, Hulme (of The Bone People), Nannestad, Joanna Paul ... cover their pages, giving a visual dimension to their editors' prefatory enthusiasm for "the subcultural width" which they "have discovered as a happy new characteristic of New Zealand poetry." Edmond's 'House' begins:

Last night as I lay beside you all the desire had gone out of me and I was cast up like a heap of sand, porous, shapeless, shifting, a thing of shape, an entity, only by virtue of its million parts.
'House' builds, unfolding and proliferating, into a large visionary space and shape. Does lineation matter? Are his triplets triplets? "I suspect I am being drawn towards prose," he told Harry Ricketts (Talking About Ourselves: Twelve New Zealand Poets, 1986, p.169). But even as he has signalled his generation's moves away from the formalism (should that be 'format-ism'?) of his elders, he has reaffirmed a programme with strikingly traditional resonances: "History for me too is very present, local" and "if there is a new society trying to be born, it's that sense of history which is going to be important." Edmond's 'A Letter About Cars' (Williams, p.117), as it plays over family memories of passing Rangiriri and its battle memorial, freshly extends New Zealand's poetry of place and history. Williams praises Edmond for his "exuberant self-delighting rush of words" and the way "language for Edmond offers the option of endless play." Williams is never happier than when he senses exuberance: it's in the "blasts against literary orthodoxy" of Alan Brunton's and Edmond's "crucial little magazine" Freed (died 1972), and in the poems of Wedde, Tuwhare, McAlpine, Hulme. But the poems in these anthologies deliver more than exuberance. Above all, Edmond's 'Psyche' creates and explores a difficult psychic landscape through which a painful struggle delivers some sort of renewal. Edmond's eclecticism as an anthologist (The New Poets) is commendable; his own poetry is impressively focused.
What can be said of the poets younger than Edmond? Everybody notes their responsiveness to American modernism and postmodernism and then looks for ways of showing that they're not derivative. Leigh Davis (born 1955) is by common consent the star, on the strength of one book, Willy's Gazette (1983). Davis figures both as critic of the old master Curnow and as subversive sonneteer cheekily marking the posthumous iconising of James K. Baxter:

You're a big ghost, Jim St. John,
nice sheen on your forehead and noseridge's catchy,
spread over the billboard, nine years later ...
I was in the mind for Jerusalem, but early Willy's like
a 1972 Listener. Barefoot for forty miles in the rain,
kenosis, (who were you reading?) ...
Then our literati were known for their sandals,
their misery ... .
Davis wrote an M.A. thesis on Curnow in 1980 and was co-editor of the short-lived And around 1984 which further reorientated New Zealand poetry and its terms of discussion. The successor to Willy's Gazette is surely overdue.
Williams' introduction brilliantly summarises the campaigns of the little magazines in recent years: "the dada anarchism of Freed, then ... the Olsonian postmodernism of Parallax and most recently ... the semiotics of And." (Span readers may recall Edmond's 1983 article on Freed.) The bane of literary controversy has always been polarisation, the tendency to propose a new In against an old Out; or to claim the centre and marginalise as extremists a right and a left. Williams has to sidestep the formidable C.K. Stead, who in 1979 seemed to proclaim "open form" poetry as "the mainstream" ('From Wystan to Carlos', reprinted in Stead's In the Glass Case). The mappings of anthologists are nicely mocked by no less a campaigner than Charles Olson whom Williams quotes from the Collected Lectures and Interviews: "that whole 'Black Mountain poet' thing is a lot of bullshit" and "Boy, there was no poetic." But there's no stopping these things; they're a part of getting published and known and staying known. The small fry remain classifiable; but as for the bigger ones, as Williams says, "apparently conflicting streams can co-exist in the work of, for example, Curnow and Stead." From my own point of view, that of a non-Americanised expatriate kiwi poet, it is regrettable that New Zealand poetry has little connection with Larkin, Heaney, Harrison. I note the balanced observation in Edmond's and Paul's preface: "The idea of the poet as a person who sees, knows and bears witness; the idea of language as voice, as personal possession; the romantic myth of the self writ large ... this bundle of common notions has characterised the mainstream of New Zealand poetry and it is still alive and well ... . What has changed recently is that this mainstream has been forced to vie with a number of subcultural forces - and now faces the prospect of being seen as a subculture itself."
In recent anthologies the poetic virtues of Fleur Adcock (born 1934, half kiwi, half pom) look lonely. The new Penguin lets her in, and by being alphabetical (Adcock and Awatere to Wedde, Wehi, White) lets her quietly claim some high ground. And Lauris Edmond with her nine collections of verse since 1975, seems not to permit a consensus as to her best poems. One I am sure is unusually good now appears in the new Penguin: 'Tempo':

In the first month
it's a drop in a spider web's
necklace of dew
- a riddling opening which quickly discloses itself as a sensuous romp, gathering pace, through the nine months of pregnancy. It happens that one of Sylvia Plath's happy poems, 'You're', celebrates the experience of pregnancy in a directly comparable riddling inventive way. Together they make a splendid pair for student discussion. Edmond's poem comes through the ordeal very well. It shows the imagination dramatising something like the power of joy, and this is rare in our century. Another of her poems bids fair to be a debating ground; 'The Lecture' (Penguin, p.154) has already been discussed in detail by C.K. Stead in Metro, the Auckland glossy, in an article called 'The New Victorians' now reprinted in Stead's 300-page Answering to the Language: Essays on Modern Writers (Auckland University Press, 1989). Gloomy and combative, Stead surveys over the previous decade "how far I and my country had drifted apart." The new Victorianism of which he writes is a crusading moralism expressed mainly in feminism and anti-racism. He notes from an interview in the New Zealand Listener that Lauris Edmond feels there is "a submerged male critical prejudice working against" her poetry having "serious critical attention" (Stead's words). But men, he observes, have lately been told they are inadequate to such tasks, and negative comment will be thought to show "male chauvinism and insensitivity". In defiance of the new "literary apartheid" Stead analyses 'The Lecture'. This poem "about truth and lying" offers rather "an inadvertent snapshot of a woman deceiving herself." At first shocking, the remark is supported by a checkable reading, and balanced with just comment on Edmond's skill and sensitivity. Contemporary poems seldom receive such direct treatment, and I trust Stead has by now provoked some rejoinders - literary-critical ones. It's an important way of taking poetry seriously. Stead's acerbic review of Wedde and McQueen's 1985 Penguin anthology is reprinted here too, with challenging remarks about their selections of poetry by women and Maoris.
"To represent Maori poetry as part of a lively New Zealand literary scene is simply dishonest" - thus Stead, of the 1985 Penguin, which runs numerous Maori texts along with translations interspersed chronologically from pre-European times onwards. As with Lauris Edmond's poem, he finds fear behind the "dishonesty": "somewhere behind every word of Wedde's introduction quivers his fear of the charge of elitism, racism, sexism. It is a fear that clouds the vision, makes discriminations shifty, and blurs the edges of the prose." Answering to the Language is by a man who proudly despises such fear; he relishes decisiveness, and writes of Les Murray: "As with Lowell, there is an authority in the writing that is felt immediately ...". But one is never left in doubt as to the grounds of a Stead judgment: six excerpts from the English versions of Maori poems surely clinch his case for misgiving.
Has anything altered in the new Penguin? Far from a recovery of judgmental nerve, the Miriam Evans-McQueen-Wedde book defies the Stead camp - or ignores it - fearlessly. I do not myself know what to make of the inclusion of Monita Eru Delamere's 'Te Pire mo Reo Maori/The Bill for the Maori Language'. Nothing in Miriama Evans' introduction prepares us for this public message or hortatory document. If it belongs in a book of poetry, what does not?

This message to you all is from the Ringatu elders. There may be quite a few errors in the message - the most important issue is we are in full support of the Bill.
To begin with let me quote Proverbs, Chapter 4, v. 1-14 ...
The author of Proverbs and of Psalm 85 which follows is surely talented, purposeful and in the words of the back-cover blurb "enlarges our understanding of what we mean by 'contemporary'". Delamere's "poem" is no doubt an important document of its times, and unusually relevant to the cultural situation in New Zealand which the editors seek to "mirror". If so, it belongs in an appendix with related documents and supporting comment.
Williams' anthology is mercifully untouched by the Penguin's anxieties.
Max Richards
La Trobe University

Notes

1 Barbara Godard, 'Redrawing the Circle. Power, Poetics, Language', Kroker, M. (ed.), Feminism Now: Theory-Practice (Culture Texts, 1985), p.166.p .166.

2 Mary Fallon, Working Hot, p.100.

3 Ibid., p.86.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid., p.63.

6 Roland Barthes quoted in Robert Scholes, Protocols of Reading, (New Haven and London: Yale Univ. Press, 1989), p.1.

7 Alice Parker, 'Writing Against Writing and Other Disruptions in Recent French Lesbian Texts', Kaufmann, Linda (ed.), Feminism and Institutions (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), p.211.

8 Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text, (London. Jonathan Cape, 1975), p.6.

9 Ibid.

10 Shakespeare's Sister, Heaven Is In Your Arms (Sacred Heart, FFRR Records Ltd., 1989).

11 Adrienne Rich, A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far.

12 James Hay, 'Towards the study of television formations in a recombinant culture', Cultural Studies, 2(2),p.379.

13 Barbara Creed, 'From Here to Modernity - Feminism and Postmodernism', pScreen, 1987,.p.65.

14 James Hay, ,op.cit., p.379.

15 Mary Fallon, op.cit., p.249.

16 Alice Parker, op.cit., p.212.

17 Mary Fallon, op.cit., p.219.

18 Ibid., p.204.

19 Alice Parker, op.cit., p.212.

20 Sinead O'Connor, I Want Your (Hands On Me), (The Lion and the Cobra).

21 Mary Fallon, op.cit., p.249.

22 Ibid., p.144.

23 Ibid., p.255.

24 Ibid., p.1.

25 Luce Irigaray, This SexWhich Is Not One, (New York: Cornell Univ. Press, 1985), p.205.

26 Mary Fallon, op.cit., p.193.

27 Luce Irigaray, op.cit., p.205.

28 Mary Fallon, op.cit., p.67.

29 Ibid., p.56.

30 Luce Irigaray, op.cit., p.207.

31 Mary Fallon, op.cit., p.4.

32 Luce Irigaray, op.cit., p.207.

33 Mary Fallon, op.cit., p.143.

34 Luce Irigaray, op.cit., p.208.

35 Mary Fallon, op.cit., p.196.

36 Luce Irigaray, op.cit., p.212.

37 Mary Fallon, op.cit., p.194.

38 Luce Irigaray, op.cit., pp.217-8.

39 Mary Fallon, op.cit., p.143.

40 Alice Parker, op.cit., pp.211-2.

41 Chris Weedon, 'Feminist Critical Practice', Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987), p.167.

42 Barbara Creed, op.cit., p.66.

43 Mary Fallon, op.cit, p.40.

44 Dwight Bolinger, 'Guns don't kill people, people kill people', Language the Leaded Weapon: The Use and Abuse of Language Today, (Longman, 1980), p.83.

45 Adrienne Rich, 'When We Dead Awaken: Writing As Revision', On Lies, Secrets and Silences, Selected Prose, 1966-1978, p.48.

46 Adrienne Rich, Cartographies of Silence , from The Dream of a Common Language, (Norton, 1978), p.18.

47 Mary Fallon, op.cit., p.130.

48 Ibid., p.132.

49 Dwight Bolinger, op.cit., p.78.

50 Mary Fallon, op.cit., p.100.

51 Dwight Bolinger, op.cit., p.68.

52 Mary Fallon, op.cit., p.26.

53 Gunther Kress, 'Language as Social Practice', Communication and Culture, (New South Wales U.P.), p.106.

54 Barbara Godard, op.cit., p.70.

55 `Mary Fallon, op.cit., p.114.

56 Maya Angelou, Still I Rise, p.41.

57 Mary Fallon, op.cit., p.115.

58 Moya Angelou, op.cit., p.41.

59 Mary Fallon, op.cit., p.32.

60 Moya Angelou, op.cit., p.41.

61 Mary Fallon, op.cit., p.15.

62 Moya Angelou, op.cit., pp.41-2.

63 Mary Fallon, op.cit., p.175.

64 Moya Angelou, op.cit., p.42.

65 Mary Fallon, op.cit., p.160.

66 Ibid., p.176.

67 Ibid., pp.52-3.

68 Ibid., p.223.

69 Barbara Creed, op.cit., p.51.

70 Ibid.

71 Mary Fallon, op.cit., p.203.

72 Ibid., p.274.

73 Alice Parker, op.cit., p.221.

74 Mary Fallon,, op.cit., p.38.

75 Luce Irigaray, op.cit., p.171.

76 Barbara Creed, op.cit., p.66.

77 Ibid.

78 Rita Felski, Beyond Feminist Aesthetics., (Hutchinson Radius, U.K., 1989), p.30.

79 Ibid., p.32

80 Barbara Godard, op.cit., p.70.

81 Gunther Kress, op.cit., p.114.

82 Shakespeare's Sister, op.cit.

83 Sinead O'Connor, Troy (The Lion and The Cobra).

84 Sinead O'Connor, I Want Your (Hands Upon Me), op.cit.

85 Malcolm McLaren, Something's Jumpin' In Your Shirt, (Waltz Darling, CBS, 1989).

86 Sinead O'Connor, Troy, op.cit.

87 Mary Fallon, op.cit., p.1.


New: 30 December, 1996 | Now: 11 April, 2015