Reviewed by rob walker
REWIRED: Friendly Street Poets 32
Editors Maggie Emmett and Gaetano Aiello
Friendly Street Poets in association with Wakefield Press
© 2008, ISBN 978 1 86254 790 2, A$19.95
Co-editor Maggie Emmett may inadvertently sum up this anthology with her own poem “The Lives of Poems” which is included in the collection:
Poems go to work on public transport
and come home
with gritty realism
pressed in the tread of their shoes…
… Poems travel to foreign countries
and return with cases full
of human similarity vignettes
and postcard ‘delicate miniatures’ of scenic beauty
You can’t edit an anthology without it affecting your own poetry and attitude towards the medium. Editors Maggie Emmett and Gaetano Aiello considered 777 poems read at Australia’s longest-running open-mike poetry reading to select 111 for this edition. The standard is high and the collection lives up to the promise on the back cover that it “demonstrates the vibrant diversity and depth of South Australia’s thriving poetry scene.” (I have to declare an interest – I have two poems in the book – although I had nothing to do with its compilation.)
Anthologies of this type necessarily follow a pattern. Poets will always write about being human and being of the universe. There will always be poems about life from birth to death with all the experiences between – childhood and love and sex and betrayal and joy and depression. There will always be poems about our relationship with Nature (whatever that may mean.) If the editors faithfully represent that diversity, they will always end up with an anthology that includes all of those things.
Great poetry has memorable images and emotional honesty. For me the ‘imagist’ highlights belong to Koch and Aquilina. Take, for example:
the sky has
dropped behind the loose skin
of dark clouds
umbrellas have mushroomed
out of bodies
a few stars
are being rewired
to drip dry
– “Wet evening in Rundle Street” by Jules Leigh Koch.
Jude Aquilina’s poem about geese if filled with original images:
A string of white seed pearls slinking
Down to the still mirror of pond
twisting their pipe-cleaner necks
– “The Gaggle.”
The poem above is surrounded by a whole set of verse with the theme of the natural world. Mike Ladd told me once that as a young man he was classified as a “nature poet” and he resented it hugely, but in retrospect he probably was. His poem in this collection “Kayaking” reminds us how lucky we are to still have a healthy mangrove environment so close to the city.
As well as the usual themes, there’s a sizable aggregation of poems about poetry. I call it metapoetry and usually I hate it. Poets are already seen by many as overly-introspective and self-indulgent, so poetry about poetry and other poets isn’t always going to find a wide audience. But I’m prepared to revise my opinion. Perhaps it’s that many Friendly Street poets have already covered all the usual themes, or that they’re especially reflective about the power of words, but these verses are particularly good. Indigo’s “Poetry Reading” reflects the first-row experience of a poet waiting to perform:
I’m the front line soldier
never seeing behind my eyes
to the lines and lines
of verse staring
at the back of my head.
These poems-about-poems are decidedly accessible and non-academic:
I hate poems with a message so subtle
nobody gets it
… I hate poems that rhyme obviously
or don’t rhyme, obviously
The poem culminates with
I hate poems
that search desperately
for an ending
I hate poems like this.
– “I Hate Poems” by Judy Dally.
There are love poems and brutal poems. Michael Crane’s “Ordinary Lovers” and David Adés’ “Circle” are each uniquely powerful love poems which are too perfect to be dissected or partially-quoted (buy the book!) and Juliet Paine’s brutal account of an alcoholic soldier father “On the scrap heap” is harrowing in its directness.
There are also poems which defy the usual classifications. Adés beautifully captures that feeling that every writer experiences, but few could express this well; that feeling that no words can ever fully describe truth, the truth that lies between the words:
Definitions mock borders.
Meaning bypasses manned checkpoints,
slips unseen between the lines.
So many hoarse shouts echo between the words,
so many silences, so many unspoken truths.
– “Between the Words” by David Adés
My only criticism of the book is a few typos. (From my review of Millett’s The People Singers, you’ll already know I’m one of Truss’s ‘sticklers’.) It’s bad enough when the poet can’t spell and it gets past the editors, but it’s unforgivable if the poet’s correct original is mangled during the editing/publishing process. OK, who’s going to know if thioadldehyde is wrong? (Shouldn’t it be thioaldehyde?) But scrubing? Richocet? Whould? It’s a very minor criticism, I guess. You won’t find too many books without some errors – it certainly shouldn’t stop you from buying the book.
If you want a contemporary collection of Australian poetry in a range of styles and voices, I couldn’t think of a better place to start.
About the reviewer: rob walker (poet, teacher of drama and music) currently lives in Himeji, Japan. His work can be found in 3 collections: sparrow in an airport (2005), micromacro (2006) (2006), and phobiaphobia, (2007), as well as wide publication in Australian journals, on CD and online. In 2007 with his son Matt he won the Newcastle Poetry Prize (New Media.)