Mar 22, 2012

Luke Davies, Totem [In the yellow time of pollen]

from Totem Poem [In the yellow time of pollen] by Luke Davies : The Poetry Foundation

Thanks to this early, early spring and once again to the Poetry Foundation, I’ve stumbled onto Luke Davies, an Australian poet, novelist, and screenwriter (b. 1962). I’m usually uninterested in long poems, but in this section of his Totem, I immediately admire the way each line or short passage offers a richness of language, thought, emotion, and experience. As I’ve argued before, poems need to offer gifts, and the sections of Totem offered at Poetry Foundation surely do. Listening to Davies’ skillful reading is an added bonus, but as always, the poetry must speak for itself, and in this case it does.  

Maybe the thematic and tonal center of this section of Totem is this:

            And the evening shuddered, since everything is connected.
            I was licking the cream from the universal saucer.

For now, I like and will probably end up admiring the way Davies helps us see the connections between or among disparate elements, especially given his willingness to fuse the conversational, casual, and humorous


with the elegant, cosmic, and grand.
Tri-Colored Heron
Red-Shouldered(?) Hawk
The human and erotic heat of his naked lover, for example, is juxtaposed to the warm, ticking engine of a jeep:

            How the bonnet was warm on your bottom! And the metal

            continued tick-ticking though the engine was off.

About birds, Davies is more serious and might just offer the best thing there is to say about those creatures' essential nature and mystery: 

                                                       Indeed the birds
            may have broken the sky


            those birds were all released again. Such buoyancy.
            They go on forever like that. How else to say thank you
            in a foreign place?

At the end of that passage and in other places, here is a poet in love with language but also aware of its limits, along with other devices (here, the camera) that try to capture the fullness of experience:

            Words split in our grasp.

            The sparrows flew away so fast a camera could not catch them.

I wonder if those lines are at all akin to the language poets’ issue:  the dichotomy between meaning and the human effort to express it (Banjo52, March 11).

Ruddy Turnstone, Witness
I also wonder if fans of Dylan Thomas might hear echoes of the Welshman’s chanting in Davies’ exuberance about nature. Both poets might be considered over the top in their Romanticism, but I see both as witnesses to what’s there, a universe almost begging to be seen and loved. It doesn't need a human to articulate or honor it, though Davies honorably tries his best.

from Totem Poem [In the yellow time of pollen] by Luke Davies : The Poetry Foundation


Pasadena Adjacent said...

The opening stanza is beautiful. Completely seductive.

"You saw the great sky turn blacker, you saw the spray of stars
and your hair got tangled in the windscreen wiper."

My favorite line

PJ said...

There's a blogger in Australia that I have followed for a long while, she and her husband spend all their spare time traveling and I suspect the yellow pollen is rapeseed/canola:

as she photographs huge fields of it every spring (our fall) and there are always birds of every kind and color. Australia seems to be a magical place, visually and verbally.

I think my favorite lines were:

Ganesh loomed large among those points of light.
He said Change! and we said Lord we are ready
to bend. Thou art the high exalted most flexible.
He said Then I will enter into your very dreams.


The sky was a god-bee that hummed.

So many sensations, I think he's just pitch perfect on so many levels.

Banjo52 said...

PA and Paula, thanks. I'm glad somebody else likes the poem. Davies is hardly an unknown, though was to me.

Paula, thanks for that info on Australia. It's not a place I've ever thought seriously about visiting, but I realize others are agog about it. You and Davies have helped me see why.

And isn't that a nice comment about blogging--the horizons it opens up. I still get funny looks from people for my enjoyment of it.

Rune Eide said...

I have rarely seen ANYTHING so full of metaphors for love and what goes with it as here. Very elegantly done. The old adage about love is in the air would be an insult, so I will not mention it.

PS Re your question - they have to :-)

Banjo52 said...

Rune, it's really rich, isn't it.

Everyone -- is it so rich that it's unrealistic, unbelievable? Even silly?

As for parts we especially like, here are two more of mine. They're italicized in the poem. I find them less lofty and elegant than much of the poem, but surprisingly effective in the mix of casualness and intensity in the language:

"You came into my life really fast and I liked it."

"The monkey swung between our arms and said I am, hooray,
the monkey of all events, the great gibbon of convergences."

I say, Up with monkeys that talk about convergence and say hooray!

Anonymous said...

Several gifts, so I will read. It's a shame we can't say bonnet instead of hood without sounding pretentious.

Ken Mac said...

sweet photos1

Stickup Artist said...

That poem is epic. I devoured it, line by line, and was so sad when it ended. My only regret is that I wasn't reading it on a mountain top or in a meadow along a stream, singing along, out loud...

Kitty said...

I couldn't get thru the whole poem, but I'll read it fully sometime soon. I really loved the romanticism of it. You get the sense that the writer is in love with the world and the words he uses.

It is uplifting to read, watch or hear someone enjoying their craft. The reader gets the emotion second-hand. My mom has always said there nothing like 'enthusiasm'. It is contagious. Therefore art shouldn't be overly depressing.

That last bit is something I struggle with - should art be something that lifts the veil of idealism from our eyes, or should it uplift us? hm. deep thoughts for a Thursday morning!

Hope you are well, Banjo!

Banjo52 said...

Thanks, everyone. Looks like Mr. Davies is a hit. Good. I'm trying to feel embarrassed that I'd never heard of him, but right or wrong, "Australia" and "poetry" are not two words that instantly connect in my brain. I'll be starting the self-flagellation any minute now (in a cloud of incense).

Kitty, thanks, and I think you hit on one of the biggest, most timeless questions about art. I suspect most people think (rightly) it must be somewhat realistic, willing to look ugly truths in the eye, while being uplifting is optional. But who wants to read "life is hell" for even one page, never mind 400?

Also, aren't the hellish things so easy to spot that it's like shooting fish in a barrel? How much insight is required to conclude that war is unpleasant? (Yet we seem to enjoy them . . .).

Also, in most parts of the world, at most points in history, aren't the uplifting (including comic) things almost as evident as the dark stuff? So I doubt I'm ever satisfied with art that doesn't see both (or all) sides.

Of course there's the fact that even darker art, if it's beautifully constructed, takes steps toward redeeming even the ugliest subject matter. That's a big part of my reasoning when I ask art to offer gifts along the way, no matter how grim its outlook.

Well, I'm pretty sure I've just solved that big ol' mess of a question, and no one ever has to think about it again.

Kitty said...

haha Banjo.
Thanks so much for entertaining my comment to such a degree. I am glad to discuss Art. It makes me feel like a responsible social being. And your blog is great to stir up such discussions!

Best, K

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