Pitt Street Poetry is about to release the book of poems I conceived and wrote in Paris, The Sunset Assumption. There are going to be three launches:
6pm on 19 July
Collected Works Bookshop, 37 Swanston St Melbourne
6pm on 9 August
Paperchain Bookshop, 34 Franklin St Manuka
RSN (real soon now – probably late September)
Come along! I think it’s my best book since – well, ever.
In Paris, everything was so unfamiliar – ordering a cup of coffee was a traumatic experience! When the words you use every day suddenly become useless and you have to place meaning in another set of sounds, you re-evaluate the way you think. That’s what it felt like. I kept a very lengthy journal – not something I usually do – and as I look back over it now, it becomes clear to me that the whole experience was about re-invention, re-discovery. It was as if, in another country, I was discovering another territory inside my own language. That sense of newness seemed to inform the poetry in a way I haven’t found since I first started writing.
Philip Larkin once said the job of poetry was to ‘make the familiar new’. Foulcher would add that poetry also makes the unfamiliar familiar, and I hope The Sunset Assumption does this in some small way.
Just by way of interest, then, here’s an extract from my journal in December 2010, when Jane and I visited a fabulous retrospective of Monet’s paintings at the Grand Palais, gathered from all over the world. It’s followed by the poem it gave rise to from The Sunset Assumption.
I was struck by the number of paintings – these 176, though, were just the tip of the iceberg. And the series, the sequences – the same hills, cliffs, cathedrals in changing light. Everything was a moment now, eternity here and gone. Such delight in the transient world, imbuing everything with this sense of itself, beyond itself. I had the same experience when Jane and I visited the Orangerie again last Friday. They’re not paintings of waterlilies, they’re paintings of light, air and water. The waterlilies are incidental. This same effect on the heart-breaking portrait of his wife Camille on her deathbed in 1879 – the light covers her, dissembles her, she becomes a part of the light, devoured by it. Every object itself, including people, but caught and gathered by the great elemental forces. Done with such skill, such grace and particularity. Those waterlilies – where does the colour come from? The sky or the water? The time of the day? Those small dabs of colour that are the waterlilies themselves.
So much work, honing and honing his extraordinary gift. That beauty didn’t come out of thin air. It was worked for.
Camille Monet sur son lit de mort 1879
along a pond patterned with cloud.
At dusk, the lilies stitch
the sun’s hem, and at night they button the black water,
the water woven
with too many blues.
Afternoons glide like dragonflies
on the canvas air,
and you wonder about that light,
that tipped bowl of light
that’s spilled everywhere. Where does it come from,
that light he pours over coastlines,
over the haystacks
and the shimmering lilies,
that’s trickled across her bed,
her face as still as a lily, the ripples of her white nightdress?
July 13, 2012 2 Comments