To be a poet one needs the six P’s – the pencil, the paper, the perception, the passion, the persistence and the unshakable persuasion that the poem is in fact possible and attainable. - Grace Perry

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"My whole life an addiction to country, falling forever for places"

Congratulations Mark Tredinnick for winning the 2012 Cardiff International Poetry Prize. The ‘Margaret River Sestets’ is another example of Tredinnick’s poetic ability.

The word ‘sestets’ in the title suggests that the poem will be sophisticated; few people write sestets (six lined stanzas). Juxtaposing this is the informal, conversational voice that tells of place, flora, fauna and broken relationships. I will get back to the juxtapositions within this poem shortly. The poem begins:

                There’s a continent between us now, taut
  with distance…

The continental distance, with one person on the east coast and one on the west, and their relationship separation is symbolised by the long line length. The expansive lines allow Tredinnick room to explore the separation and the place of Margaret River. As well as, play with clichés like the continental distance, lost love and the Romantic ideal of the poet as at one with nature:

The grasses thrum like a squadron of spitfires, a sound so palpable
I wait for it to come in a cloud across the early summer pastures,
    but nothing’s troubling them except a little light weather
     and nothing’s bothering the grey blueblood mare, either
or the purple-hooded parrot at its post-pastoral repose, but me.

In these lines Tredinnick captures the sound and busyness of nature, positioning the speaker in the poem as disturbing nature.

Without Tredinnick’s clever mastering of grammar the long lines would not flow as they do:

    …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 butcher birds,
         the wattlebirds and white-faced herons, the nasal mutter
of the honeyeaters, the Australian tripthongs of the frogs in the pond, nights,
the black ducks in their black thongs, the throngs of roadside lizards.

Here is a second example of Tredinnick’s use of juxtaposition as he compares Margaret River in Australia with Provence in France. Though the geography and weather of these two regions may be similar, the flora and fauna in Margaret River is overtly Australian and Tredinnick captures this perfectly. This long sentence describes the colour, texture and sound of the place, representing place in the word choice, alliteration and pace. The word ‘limestone’ connotes a roughness which contrasts with the softness of ‘lavender’ and smoothness of the ‘olives’. Alliteration is used to capture the sound of the bush where sounds revibrate through the place, for example in the ‘r’ in ‘yarrah’, ‘marri’, ‘roo’ and ‘bird’. Finally, onomatopoeic words such as ‘tripthong’ are perfectly placed to, again, suggest the sound of the place. The alliteration helps to quicken the pace of a grouping of words, making this place appear vibrant.

Sound is important to Tredinnick as he responds to place, writing poetry which is rooted in an experience of a particular place. As Tredinnick stated in an interview on the 2nd of July 2012:
…if we are not attending to rhythm structures, if we are just focusing on content than we are going to miss half of the subject that we are concerned with… we have to write more with our ear and less entirely with our brain. I think that’s always, if not more important, when trying to write / listen to ideas about country, because if you miss the jazz of the place then you are playing some other goddamn tune because we’ve got a bunch of ideas in our head, we are actually not listening, we are projecting onto it.
Here Tredinnick articulates just how important sound and musicality are to him when writing of place.

I have suggested that the sophisticated architecture of the poem contrasts with the relaxed narrative voice, however there is also a philosophical element to Tredinnick’s poem.  This can be seen in the phrase “…post-pastoral repose…”. John Kinsella argues that all Australian poetry can be “…defined through or against pastoral models… models have not imposed themselves well on Australian cultures and landscapes, and… variations on a form are always outcomes of it” (2008, p131). For Kinsella all poetry in Australia must be seen as a variation of pastoralism, and within the Australian context the variation must be titled antipastoral. This is due to the harsh and dry qualities of the Australian landscape, combined with the underlying dispossession that is behind every pastoral pursuit, as Kinsella states, “…the Australian landscape is not the European… it is really the storm that belongs[,] Australia is a place of extremes[, f]urthermore, a sense of belonging is marred by guilt, that the European rural is laid over the Aboriginal land…” (1996, p37). Brendan Ryan disagrees with Kinsella’s antipastoralism, stating, “…to suggest that traditional pastoral idylls are no longer possible in Australia, denies the possibility of change and adaptation within the pastoral form” (2001, p26). The tranquillity of Tredinnick’s post-pastoralism appears to be closer to Ryan’s understanding of an Australian pastoralism. However, within this poem the Arcadian pastoral of Australia is disturbed by human presence. The line “…the trees we don’t call blackboys anymore hang out…” suggests that the persona is non-Indigenous. In this sense perhaps Tredinnick’s post-pastoral is similar to Kinsella’s anti-pastoralism. The non-Indigenous human presence is always going to exist in this place now, and so therefore the Arcadia will always be disturbed.  

‘Margaret River Sestets’ is another powerful exploration of place by Mark Tredinnick and can be viewed in full at

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