Mark Tredinnick, Bluewren Cantos, Pitt Street Poetry, 2013. 137pp. ISBN 978-1-922080-32-5
Mark Tredinnick, Fire Diary, 2nd edition Pitt Street Poetry, 2014. 111pp. ISBN 978-1-922080-30-1 (1st ed 2010 published by Puncher & Wattman.)
Review by COLIN PINK
The Australian poet, Mark Tredinnick, is one of that rare breed of essential poets. His work captures the distinctive qualities of our own time, an age teetering, perhaps, at the end of the Holocene.
The earth, it seems, has caught a fever, and where will she lie
to rest? When the men come
and plug us back in, I believe I hear her
groan. How will she begin
to forgive us, or is that what she’s been doing all along?
(from ‘Eclogues’ in Fire Diary.)
Tredinnick has won several prestigious poetry prizes in recent years, such as the Montreal Prize 2011 and the Cardiff Prize 2012. Fire Diary, his first book of poems, stamped his distinctive voice on the poetry world. Now, in his second collection, Bluewren Cantos, he consolidates his standing as one of the most exciting and authoritative voices around.
There’s a continent between us now, taut
with distance. I’d rather lie in the poem of your hand,
But your hand’s somewhere and I’m somewhere else, so I take the red road, instead, to Sheoak
Drive. The grasses thrum like a squadron of spitfires, a sound so palpable
I wait for it to come across the early summer pastures . . .
But when I cross the road and find a log to sit on and log this stuff
on my phone, it takes a full ten seconds
For a troop of ants to storm my boots and find places under my jeans
my jeans are meant to keep unfound. Because of the vines, I guess,
And the olives, the lavender and the limestone and the languid yellow light,
they tell you it’s like Provence here,
But that would ignore the jarrah and the marri, the black roos and the butcherbirds,
The wattlebirds and the white-faced herons, the nasal mutter
of the honeyeaters, the Australian triphthongs of the frogs in the pond, nights,
The black ducks in their black thongs, the throngs of roadside lizards.
Hell, I don’t care what they call it – this is landscape that wants you for lunch.
(extracts from ‘Margaret River Sestets’ in Bluewren Cantos)
Tredinnick’s poetry combines the personal, the spiritual and the natural worlds into one intricate web of meaning. There’s a richness to his work that resonates from bringing these perspectives together. One might say, rubbing them together creates the friction that ignites these poems into a pure and memorable flame.
I’m writing a kind of confessional ecology here,
and you mustn’t believe a word.
The writing isn’t meant to tell the truth; it’s the way out
of the little one seems to be on one’s own. A way
Of ceasing, and beginning (again) farther out. These lines are the roads I take into the world –
Out and back into the Self – a shuffle
performed with a pencil and a voice, and their truth is how
They go, not where they start. But without a doubt: the scarp that rises from the river,
Just where the river bends, is the embodiment of love.
She’s the recumbent Buddha in her feminine form –
see, the dip of her waist,
Where you’d like to rest your hand, and the long slow rise of her hip, where you’d like
To run it next – and she’s been lying there forgetting herself episodically
For three hundred million years, sleeping all eternity awake.
Throw your soul out far enough and you can feel
how her head is your own head
Pillowed on your own small hands.
(from ‘The Wombat Vedas’ in Bluewren Cantos.)
Tredinnick reminds us of what is really important and challenging in life; its beauty and mystery; its terror and fragility. He seizes on those fleeting moments of illumination that happen, sometimes on the most unlikely of occasions, usually, in the words of Lennon, when we are busy doing other things.
His verse has a strong visual presence, with its characteristic long lines, strung out across the page like notes on a stave or birds on a wire. Indeed, his lines are so long that his books need to be produced in a wider format than customary in order to accommodate the wide open spaces (both of place and thought) that his verse opens up. And then there is the voice; calm, measured, wistful, witty, joyous, sorrowful, singing. Here is a music that dances across the page inviting us to join in the rhythms of sound and meaning.
…The older I grow the more I seem
To live as if each moment were a subject
and my body were a brush; as if each day were paper
And I were ink. Most of me is halfway here; the rest stands
Halfway back and watches.
(from ‘Bluewren Cantos’ in Bluewren Cantos.)
Tredinnick is deeply engaged with the landscape of his native soil. He lives in a rural area along the Wingecarribee River south west of Sydney but travels widely and always keeps his eyes open to new sensations.
Of all the sculptures in the sculpture garden
The garden best. I like the light that fires it;
The sheoaks and the several gums, resisting
Younger than fashion, older than art; I like
Who carry the sky down like laughter to
And make even Rodin’s burghers feel like
ideas too fixed
In time; I like the mountain in behind – eternity
ready to pounce…
(from ‘Sculpture Garden’ in Bluewren Cantos.)
There’s a unity in his work that comes mostly from the voice, the distinctive tone, rhythms and structures of his poems. Poems that focus on his family, local wildlife, (especially birds who have a kind of totemic presence in his work, as if they stand proxy both for the writer and his work) the Australian landscape and the long extent of geological time compared to the brief time of a person’s life. There’s also his reaction to music and other poet’s work (Bach, Mozart, Rumi, Basho, Emily Dickinson, Charles Wright, Jan Zwicky).
There’s a tenderness in his writing that extends to all the things he contemplates. Tredinnick reminds us about the things of enduring importance; connectedness, both to each other and to the earth, landscape, place, ecology and our relationship to nature. All of this adds up to a deeply (but non-denominational) contemplative-spiritual relationship to life. And it is this quality that ultimately makes Tredinnick’s work so uplifting.
I write to sound the world
and to try the shallow syntax of myself
within it. The moon is full. Awake at 2 am, I walk out into the refined poverty
of night in the yard. If this were day, you’d call it dark;
but it’s not. The wind is a young god just off the bench, and the night knows
all about it. The original world: no one should sleep through this.
(from ‘Wingecarribee Eclogues’ in Fire Diary.)
Reading one of his poems is like going for a walk with a dear and trusted friend; the conversation flows effortlessly and, like sunlight filtered through trees, there are flashes of insight, tangible wisdom. He is a guide along the tangled paths of experience and points out, in a gentle, humorous way, those things it is too easy to overlook.
Wittgenstein says (in Philosophical Investigations PI §127) ‘The work of the philosopher consists in assembling reminders for a particular purpose.’ Not just about any old thing but specifically reminders about things it is easy to overlook, things that misdirect us or are hard to articulate, such as, ‘Something we know when no one asks us but no longer know when we are supposed to give an account of it.’ (PI §89) In Tredinnick’s poetry we find an articulation of those very things that are so hard to voice. His poetry, in Fire Diary and Bluewren Cantos, is an assembly of such reminders. Reminders, gentle yet forceful, that help us stay true, grounded in what is really important, able to listen more attentively, more openly, to the quiet messages the world sends out to us.