In the latest online version of Southerly, Peter Minter writes:
Why is it that so much of our thinking and writing about poetry is monopolised by a rhetorics of dramatic visibility, clarity and focus? The vivid image, the intense phrase, the memorable line, lucid brilliance and the glow of authenticity are primary objectives in many a poetry workshop and poetry “how too.” But what if a person is stuck to the earth each day by a dense and opaque blur in the heart? What then about a poetry of contingency and doubt, forgetting and forgetfulness? What about vagueness, amnesia and ambiguity? Imagine a poetics of the lossy and indeterminate, inexactness and frailty. A beautiful poetics of the invisible.
Read the rest of Minter’s essay here.
Reflecting on Minter’s elucidation of a poetics of indeterminacy and doubt, I went back to a review of Robert Gray’s latest collected poems, Cumulus, recently posted by Lisa Gorton on the Sydney Review of Books site. Gray continues to be a benchmark for the “clarity of focus” often attributed to the Imagists, who were influenced by what they read in Japanese and classical Chinese poetry as as an aesthetics of the vivid image.
But there is more to Gray’s poetry than that. His images concentrate a votive sense of place and memory, which derives far more from William Wordsworth and the Romantic poets…
Gray’s poetry is too often criticised for its remoteness. His poetry is solitary, certainly, and polished, but his images are almost everywhere sharp with feeling and often sensuous: ‘The slow effervescence of wind-lifted rain / on knuckle and cheekbone / a sweet / occasional prickling / that is met while I walk.’ Images exist in poetry because of how memory works in experience: they make some place or fact the votive of lost years and build in us the habit of involving ourselves in what we see. All this is to suggest that an image is never simply visual, and that precision itself may be a register of feeling truer than effusion.
So what is a poetry of intense visibility working towards these days, if not towards Minter’s ‘blur of the heart’? Gorton notes that Gray
is always leaving behind the images that he makes, just as he is always leaving the rooms that he has inhabited. ‘I realize I am in the future,’ he writes in ‘Flames and Dangling Wire’.