Konrad, Christopher, Argot. Stawell, Victoria: Pomonal Publishing, 2016. RRP: $20.00, 88 pp. ISBN: 9780992405090
Rose van Son
Dense with naming birds and nature, Christopher Konrad’s latest poetry collection, Argot, is as much an education as it is poetry. In Feeding Grounds, (54) we learn of ‘sea birds · storm petrels, skuas, shearwaters.’ We immerse ourselves in imagery, sharp, consolidated. The words seem cut from the sea, ‘cut of viscosity /· akimbo and kilter of albatross / birthed from the Southern Ocean’ (54). This poem—wild like the ocean of which it speaks—takes us there, power driven and windswept: ‘The sea · an egress into tealshimmer / a wintry swell’ on which we feed; the title apt, immersed in colour, swell, winter. The language both encapsulates and catapults, cuts to the core, the cold, the poignant end lines, ‘the brine from which we derive / and to which we will return’ (54).
Konrad’s poem, Being Human (50) numbers our existence, 1-9: memory and metaphor pair together. In 6, he writes, ‘I loved once. I cried. I lived in fear and fear and fear: forest after forest of felled trees’ (50). There is a beautiful rhythm here; repetition of felled trees, of life’s mistakes. But he adds 6.5, as if something important has been forgotten, a warning—there is danger in the forest, ‘Slaughtered valleys full of mud slides in voluptuous, deadly curls down river ways.’ Konrad is not afraid to use severe words in order to draw us out of ourselves and into the fear of the human condition, visit our relentless dreams that project us into the dark.
In Little Bird the gentle is juxtaposed with the unthinkable, the unforgiving. Yet the poem asks, ‘Is your day any different to mine—do you dare too?’ (22). Konrad challenges the reader: dare read me, he seems to say, find me in the wildness, in the language, in the dark. Walk with me through the forest; see what see I see, ‘over there, just around the apocalypse, there is a revolver waiting for us little bird’ (22). Konrad twists old words into new, couples power with lucidity, adds layers, ‘nacreous globule · broken hymen · hymn to her · shucked omen’ form the first line of Oyster (23). Read me again, he invites, see what more there is, ‘We wake up, consult the mirror of day and stare into the face of each of us’ (Zoya, 43).
Argot boasts of history, art, nature, poetry, memory, and home. But language is Konrad’s focus; Argot means ‘cant, slang, jargon, vernacular, idiom, patter’ (back cover). The collection is divided into three parts: Argot, Martians Deprived of Speech and Speaking Portuguese and although each takes us to a different place with its own language, it is time and space featured here, and always in the starkness of beginning there is end, ‘where the day is a circle of city, cloud and crow’ where, ‘this has never been / this has always been’ (The Day is a Circle, 85).
His work is sharp, focussed; his lines penetrate, leave a mark. Like birds, we fly with Konrad’s silences and measured lines. His breath takes us further and further into the unknown so we can know the light. His themes dwell on place and the impossibility of stopping time. Constantly, we are taken backwards and forwards: to the beginning, to the end, to the known yet unknown, to the imagined. Konrad is master of words and their manipulation. His collection begins with The Clock, a beautiful poem of being, the gentleness of grevilleas, urns, putting children to bed, then, surprisingly and yet not, death, the ending, ‘Even if the time is wrong, the clock never is’ (11).
Konrad uses the power of dark and light to both diffuse and infuse—‘Light reflects fragments in / the room as if that colour / never was (Carnations by the Mirror, 21) and ‘take me back to / the silent mirror to the / budding mirror of us’ (21). And so the end becomes the beginning as if that is the natural way of things. Time and dates feature in many of his poems. He uses broad brushstrokes and yet the details overwhelm; and for each reader ‘not for nothing the sculptures of the heart or mind’ (Liminal, 26).
Like most of Konrad’s poetry, the reader must work hard for meaning. In Argot, there is much to consider, to learn, to acknowledge, to discover. Rereading is a must.
Rose van Son is a WA poet. She loves language and the way sounds fit together. Her poetry collection is titled Sandfire (3 poets) and published by Sunline Press (2012). She has been published in many journals and anthologies.