A COMMENTATOR in a recent issue of the Sunday Tasmanian was right to describe the launch of Blue Giraffe I as an event of ‘very special’ significance for all poets, writers and people interested in Tasmanian literary activities.
This new poetry journal, edited, published and sponsored by Peter Macrow, is the most recent of several local publications that feature works by emerging and established poets, and confirms that poetry is achieving a recognised place in the public sphere.
Peter Macrow has supported poetry as a writer, an editor and commentator within and outside Tasmania for some years, and is now demonstrating this support with his poetry journal Blue Giraffe 1. His aim is to publish two editions of this journal each year and to appoint guest editors for some issues. He aims to include contemporary published or unpublished Australian poems in each edition, and to feature a suite of poems by one poet in some issues.
The journal will focus entirely on poetry and will not include biographical details, reviews and commentary, or advertising. Within this context, the demands on the editor are to be discriminating in content selection and in the sequencing of poems in the journal. Poets featured in this first issue are fortunate not only to have been chosen, but also to have had aspects of their subjects and writing highlighted by the editor’s judicial ordering of the poems within the collection.
This inaugural edition contains 37 poems by 19 poets, the majority of whom are Tasmanian, although some are drawn from other States. There’s a suite of 11 poems by Graeme Hetherington, the featured poet, 4 by Richard Hillman, 3 by David Mortimer and 2 each by Christina Kirkpatrick, Lidija Šimkuté and Shen. The majority of these poems are personal lyrics that demonstrate considerable variety of subject, form, imagery and length, with only one employing the traditional rhymed quatrain, so elegantly handled by Stephen Edgar.
There are others poems striking for their more impersonal or imperative voice. There are also haikus, a free-verse sonnet, a prose poem, and several poems that include a narrative line, and one or two touched with humour. Peter capitalises on this variety in his ordering of the poems in the journal, sometimes complementing imagery and theme or juxtaposing contrasting forms.
Many of the personal lyrics focus on moments of recognition or apprehension: The moment in Richard Hillman’s ‘Moving House’ when, during the hustle of activity, there is a moment of stillness when ‘the air touched you. And concepts / of Should and Shouldn’t grew quiet, / And for a while / birth was something that didn’t relent’.
The moment both remembered and anticipated when the wife in Christina Kirkpatrick’s ‘Travellers’ leaves her farmhouse that is ‘sunk into the earth’ and becomes one with the sky as she feeds the returning cranes. The moment when night comes to Anne Kellas and ‘brushes away everything / with the blood-intimacy of the dark’, but averts its eye from pain and weakness.
The graceful gestures of deaf-mute waiters in Shen’s ‘Dining on Silence’ that ‘hinted at other meanings’ and ‘unseen connections’. And Hillman’s sense of ‘spinal rippling, a release / of soft air over every tickling inch of worn-soft skin’.
Focus on memory
Other poems focus on memory, the things that ‘stay with us’ and sometimes return to consciousness: Memories of lost love, simply and evocatively presented by the ‘choreography of … knives and forks’ in Shen’s poem ‘The last course’.
Memories of the man working with his tools in the garage in Edgar’s ‘The Shadowboard’, where the poet makes the connection between tool and shadowboard, and man and shadowboard.
Emerald Roe’s family memories in ‘History Lesson’, memories extending over several generations, which are ‘river histories’ of grief and ‘loss imponderable’, emotions given greater impact by being juxtaposed with a sightseer’s memories in Stuart Solman’s ‘Things you’ll always remember about Venice’.
Both these poems have no beginning and end and are unpunctuated streams of consciousness, the tragedy of Roe’s very moving poem heightened by a reverberating chorus of the phrases ‘river histories’, and ‘massacres of grief and loss’ that lie ‘deep’ and ‘imponderable’.
Poets such as Leanne Jaeger, M Bliss and Ian Smith use similar ‘run-on’ lines of thought and chorus effects to express feelings of love and desire. But counterpointing these personal themes are other poems that distance themselves from intimate personal responses and provide a contrast in subject and mood. David Mortimer’s ‘Handel Incorporated’ contrasts in length, tone and intent with Lidija Šimkuté’s ‘Neon Screams’, which precedes it in the journal, and with the silence of the mute waiters in Shen’s ‘Dining on silence’ which follows it. Kitty Madeson’s beautifully realised rhythmic ‘New Moon Ritual’ explores the symbolism of the moon at perhaps a deeper level that Smith does in the adjacent poem ‘Venus’.
Lumps of grit
Within their parameters the poems in this issue are accomplished and interesting in their variety of subject and form, and many succeed in realising Lyn Reeves’ exacting ‘Recipe For a Signature Scent’. These poems distil and harmonise, some explore wilder regions or scour inner coasts for lumps of grit and achieve levels of intensity that release their singular perfumes and sign their name on a pulse of air.
Peter’s policy of featuring one poet in this and future editions of ‘Blue Giraffe’ gives readers access to a cross-section of the chosen poet’s work. By selecting a sample of Graeme Hetherington’s poems from his four collections and adding one of his uncollected poems, Peter allows us to trace the development of this poet’s subjects, themes and style over twenty years of poetic endeavour. His selection includes Graeme’s poems of childhood and family life in Queenstown, his life in London and Europe and his loves and marriages. Some of these poems highlight the shadows of the past that imbue his poetry with a sense of spiritual impoverishment and of being an outsider.
Others, however, project images of love and hope and a sense of epiphany that reflect Graeme’s quest for understanding and resolution. I am pleased that this selection concludes with the two beautiful elegies from ‘Correspondences and Echoes in Myth’ and ‘Three Hittite Kings’ where wounds are healed and the inevitability of time and mortality are accepted. These two poems display the poet-musician that is Hetherington at his best: the sensitive repetition of vowels and consonants to create and strengthen lamentation and acceptance. They demonstrate just how well this poet explores the potential of language and imagery within the formal verse structures he favours.
Why the title Blue Giraffe and Jenny Furst’s gentle portrait of the animal’s head on the cover of the journal? I’ve enjoyed considering this question without Peter’s advice. Within the poetry arena, I can think of only two poems about giraffes which could be relevant, Judith Beveridge’s ‘The Domesticity of Giraffes’ and Roy Campbell’s poem ‘Dreaming Spires’. Judith’s giraffe is located in a zoo, but she imagines the animal ‘graceful on the plain’ looking like ’a big slim bird just before flight’. Campbell’s poem refers to giraffes in the open country and describes them as living between the earth and skies, ‘each in his lone religious steeple, / Keeping a light-house with his eyes’, and as ‘airy pylons’ peering above the ‘golden trees’ to ‘solar glories’.
They are the chosen few, perhaps as are the poets included in this collection. I can think of no literary reference to blue giraffes. The first image referring to the colour blue that comes to mind is Wallace Stevens’ ‘The Man with the Blue Guitar’ where blue is a recurring image for the imagination. In this context, I approve of the title, and thank Peter and the poets in Blue Giraffe for providing readers access to poems, many of which attempt to reach ‘solar glories’ and so provide readers with ‘fresh transfigurings of the freshest blue’.
Ralph Spaulding gave this address when launching Peter Macrow’s new, Tasmanian-based poetry magazine, Blue Giraffe, on the 23 June at the Hobart Bookshop.