A review of IV (50 ‘I’ Statements) by Basil Eliades

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

IV (50 ‘I’ Statements)
By Basil Eliades

Basil Eliades is one of those creative individuals who won’t be pigeonholed. A true polymath, his work encompasses painting, sculpting, writing, teaching, counseling, and performing (I’m sure I’ve left something out). Each medium informs and is informed by the others. Eliades’ latest book, IV, is primarily poetry, but as always, his work is strongly visual, image-charged, rhythmic, oratorical and pedagogical. The collection also includes a series of Eliades’ paintings, primarily of well-known Australians including writers Margaret Carnegie, John Marsden, and Les Murray. There are multiple images of Marsden and Murray, in varying attitudes, and one gets the sense that they’re engaging with the work: listening, thinking, and commenting upon it with their faces which are, for the most part, strongly attentive and full of interest.

The collection contains fifty poems and a French version of “Why”, which appeared in English in Eliades’ 3rd i, published by Interactive Press in 2003. Like “Why”, the poems in this collection are often meta-poetic, and play heavily with language and the notion of poetry making.  The words are placed in such a way that they don’t just function semantically, but also as objects, pulled into root forms, and recombined, using the space around the words, playing with shape, rhythm, and sound. One of the poems specifically uses musical notation to remind us of the pitch, suggest a live reading, and coupled with alliteration, assonance, parataxis, and a Whitmanian trail of long lines and subordinate clauses creates an almost god-like invocation:

mp     for those writers weeping wax
& for the readers, dreaming loud,
you must write louder,
more, than this. (“Experiential.”)

In all instances, the linguistic meaning of the work is just one component of the poem’s overall meaning:

P          poetry is, was always,
a shard of truth in your comfort shoved
reminding us of the realities of hurt
whilstobservinghopemotesbesideit. (“I.Seed”)

Much of the work is referential – Haruki Murakami, Dali, Picasso, Gandhi, Kandinsky, Goya, Manet, Shakespeare, Derrida, and ee cummings, playing with form, with the semblance of the referee and creating a new kind of meaning in the spaces between familiar and new. Despite the grandness of the references, the work always pushes back towards beginner’s mind and a sense of awe and childlike humility:

then, in the middle of life,
mortality is shaken awake,
Death visits
and measures your ego,
finds you small on the scale of mastery (“dali, I am a name dropper”)

There are ecological poems which use the language of chanting to decry what humans have wrought, our great ignorance and indolence:

forgive me, Pachyderms.
forgive me, Black Rhino.
forgive me, Orange Roughy, Seah Perch (“I am a danger”)

Many of the poems in this collection beg this kind of apology, and ruminate on failure, and the all too common vanity that mars our race:

I threw myself, i, i had to learn again,,
fell upwards, flew downwards,
nothing would ever work again,

except those things i tried to stop –
my legs, my love,
and my lungs (“26. air (daedelus)”)

Beyond the mistakes and the failings of humans which are highlighted in these poems, there is something that redeems us. We can, and must, love, and transcend. IV is a collection poetry about the ephemeral nature of life, of pain, about how we learn, grow, become mindful/present/enlightened, and above all, about love. No matter how much we’ve severed, sutured, eluded and deconstructed, love is always transformative:

I would weep and laugh at its birth,
terrified and exaltant,
celebrating the moment
the mountain sees its size. (41)

Once again, Eliades has created a multifarious collection of poetry and art that is full of pathos, humour, rich visual imagery, and illumination.