Konrad, Christopher and Ross Bolleter. Blind Summits. Cottesloe: Sunline Press, 2020. 115pp, ISBN: 9780648486541.
This volume of poems will appeal to those who enjoy the challenges of prose poetry, in this case using a ‘call and response’ form. Blind Summits offers crafted derangements, in the Rimbaudian sense of sensory excess, to hyper expose the creative possibilities of open, and sometimes arbitrary, associations that still evoke powerfully. Konrad releases the wild geese with his use of ‘mis-directions’, lines that say one thing but mean another:
She puts glass in her hair and eyes on her makeup. (‘Valhalla With Thelma and Louise’ 49)
It was not meant to be this summer, or last century even, but just around the corner, just to the left of my eyes, the light in my mouth. (‘Don’t let me down’ 47)
that stones would become vowels and lingering kisses slid down my brow. (‘High Street’ 33)
Without the structure and symmetry of verse form and conventional poetic devices, and with meaning often obscured, the effect is a degree of ‘coherent deformation’ (Merleau-Ponty) that leads the reader to search beyond their initial responses. They can expect to find that displaced expectations are often then replaced by brilliant lyrical effects that are hauntingly alien. For example, first from ‘Lay the Lilly-O’:
We met them on the Martian plains, along the dried-up seas, the burial ships floating on silent, blinding stormwinds. The tribes are no more and the green hills rich in art-grandeur, but the icegrey would feign lie down over these moors, over the valleys great heavenships come to carry us away. (63)
and following in response from ‘Blue blue love’:
We are not dead, only sleeping twisted. Clear the blue skylight. There’s fire in the chopped paddocks, ruddy reflections on the ancient walls. The unhooked wagon’s aflame. With the farmhands’ pursuit, where can we settle our bones, our cases of clothes? Their dogs emerge from bare canyons. At the end of all tracks, five pointed star bones uphold the tent of night; (64)
Such other-worldly effects make it is easy to imagine that these might be the poems read by the blue tribes of Avatar’s Pandora, or the hallucinogenic science fictions of some down under Dune. The frequent use of non-linear concepts of time add to the sense that each poem might be a seed pod containing the density of an unwritten novel. Blind Summits offers eclectic scenarios that work like found fragments of hybrid worlds via migratory, refugee, enslaved, Indigenous, homeless and disembodied narratives; often strained with the residual effects of a brutal colonial history. In past and contemporary settings of the outback, rural hinterlands and the suburbs, fate runs amok in personal and domestic struggles—in relationships breaking down or broken—sometimes softened with hope and the possibility of reconciliation and recovery.
Blind Summits adds to the growing body of Australian prose poetry, a genre which Kevin Brophy characterises as having a ‘defiant formlessness’ (Brophy) and Hetherington and Atherton as ‘a hybrid form that celebrates the blurring of boundaries […] well suited to registering the kinds of experiences that are neither complete, nor fully coherent nor entirely resolvable’ (Hetherington and Atherton 119). While discussing the work with me, Bolleter offered a revealing comment about the process of composition: ‘I think that writing poetry, or in this case prose poetry, we are blind to aspects of its nature’. If the writers are sometimes in the dark as to their creations the reader’s rewards will not come off the back of a passive reading and what we are given to stand on is the unstable ‘cold iron deck just before the lifeboat panic—those dark mountains of ocean, that blind mute palace’. (‘Time’s tooth’ 62)
Blind Summits is crab-like in its side walking attitude and getting to its bitter-sweet flesh comes through an active engagement and an ongoing investment of time and attention. What is certain, however, is that if the reader engages the spiky effects of these poems they will not only taste their own lip-smacking satisfactions but encounter personal blind summits along the way.
Brophy, Kevin. ‘The Prose Poem: A Short History, a Brief Reflection and a Dose of the Real Thing’. Text vol. 6 no. 1, . 2002. http://www.textjournal.com.au/oct02/content.htm
Hetherington, Paul and Atherton, Cassandra. ‘Broken forms: prose poetry as hybridised genre in Australia’. Coolabah, no. 24&25, pp. 112-126. http://www.dx.doi.org/10.1344/co201824&25112-126
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. ‘Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence.’ Signs, translated
by Richard C. McCleary. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964. pp. 39-83.
Stuart Crowe is a writer in search of a theory of poetry and place of the Southwest.