Do come along and support PPC - I have some copies of my new book: "Undercover Of Lightness: New & Selected Poems" (Walleah Press) to sell, and many copies of 'Shikibu Shuffle', a chapbook with a poem written in collaboration with Canadian poet, Phil Hall.
Launch speech by philomena van rijswijk at Hobart Bookshop on 29th March, 2012:
Undercover of Lightness, Andrew Burke, Walleah Press 2012
I’d like to welcome everyone, on this exciting occasion: Andrew and Jeanette, Frank, Ralph Wessman, Chris and Janet from Hobart Bookshop, writers, readers and friends….
I feel very privileged to be launching this book of poetry.
Undercover of Lightness is a collection made up of four parts: New Poems, China, The Kimberley, and Selected Poems. The poems are accessible and finely-crafted, and the title motif of ‘lightness’ resonates throughout the collection. In his poem, ‘Apologia’, Andrew refers to his own “ego lightened by the light of years”, and, again, in his prose poem, ‘Perhaps’, he muses: “Perhaps I know why, perhaps it takes time to ponder things objectively, without the surge of blood, without the wind whistling through wild oats.”
The Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz, says this about poetry:
“The secret of all art, also of poetry, is this, distance. Thanks to distance the past preserved in our memory is purified and embellished. Remembering, we move to that land of past time, yet now without our former passions: we do not strive for anything, we are not afraid of anything” […]
In this collection, Andrew looks back on his father’s early death, on the childhood Catholicism that cannot be completely discarded, on his own psychic crises, on his experiences in intensive care after a coronary bypass, bringing into his poems some of the distance that can be provided by time and experience. However, Andrew’s poems are neither detached or dispassionate. In his poem, ‘The Old Tambourine’, he describes filling a skip with rubbish from between his shed and fence, ‘ten years detritus at this address’:
“Pete’s Gold Bin is overflowing, so I step in in my old gardening boots to stomp, to jump up and down, to compress the rubbish into its fit space.”
Says Czeslaw Milosz: “Rage will kindle a poet’s word” […]
Andrew’s poetry is unashamedly personal. “Others prefer no ‘I’ in poetry. Let them read Ogden Nash”, he declaims, in ‘Making Bloom while the sun shines’. In these poems, Andrew still rages against losing his father two weeks before his fourteenth birthday. In his poem, ‘Mother Waits for Father Late’, he retells his father’s death and his own crisis fifteen years later. Andrew’s loss of his father resonates throughout the collection, and, in ‘The Pianoless Quartet’, he describes himself […] “standing in a mall like a Russian doll, Father inside, his father inside him.”
“Why wasn’t I happy to be a human being?” the poet asks, in ‘Factory Life’. As the title of the collection suggests, not all that is going on in these poems is happening on the surface. “[…] in the cracked silence/ a string player buries his fingers/ in the soil/ feeling for song.” (‘Hot Days’), and, again, in ‘Where I live’:
“Here I live
outside the city
planting trees by moonlight
hands immersed in their milk-white roots.”
Andrew is a poet comfortable with digging deep. He demonstrates an earthy ruthlessness, in regard to his own digging.
I once met a fellow poet at the Republic Bar in North Hobart. On being told, by that poet, that he had not been brought up a Catholic, I remarked: “Oh, really…Then what do you write about?” Andrew’s Catholic childhood and its influence are woven throughout his poems. After all, what better introduction could a child have to metaphor?
“I grew up with Christ’s thorns/ tattooed on my brain”, he writes, in ‘Diary: Royal Perth Hospital 2010’. And in his poem, ‘Rosary Beads’:
[…] ‘A simple thing
to be put away with other beliefs,
yet I reach out to cradle him in my hand.”
With the skill achieved with years of writing poetry, Andrew has pared his poems down to the essential, foregoing the pretensions of less mature poems:
I cut away the glissando and the Boys’ Own
Symbolism, I cut out the pose and the poise;
I cut a page down to a quatrain.” (‘Apologia’)
[…] “I wonder what’s Fair Trade in poetry?/ If our work paid it would be/ differently made,” he muses, in ‘Letter to Robert Hass’, referring to the integrity essential to good poetry.
Andrew’s China poems, written while living in Linfen and teaching at the Shanxi Normal University, contain some of his most lyrical imagery. “Tomorrow shines like sunflowers in their eyes”, he writes, describing the Linfen farmers. (‘More rain Today’)
As the paradoxical title suggests, the poems in this collection create a tension between the impulse to heal by delving deep into past losses and scars, and the need to create a means of escape from them.
“In this room I surround myself
open like birds in flight.”
In this tension between delving and escape, all poetry is a work in progress. The writing of a poem does not signify the end of the poet’s journey.
Says Robert Hass: “I know that I know myself/ no more than a seed/ curled in the dark of a winged pod/ knows flourishing.”
Andrews’ poem, ‘The Simple Truth’, Meditation’ (page 145) seems to encapsulate a kind of poetry manifesto, and what strikes you in this poem is the humanity and the humility of the man, Andrew Burke, as a poet. Therefore, I would like to finish off by reading it, and by congratulating both Andrew Burke on this fine collection, and by acknowledging Ralph Wessman’s visionary and persistent contribution to Australian literature.