from the editor's desk

The Three Amigos in a Desert that is Real: A review of three titles from Cordite Publishing

Carmody, Broede, Flat Exit. Cordite Publishing, 2017. RRP: $20, 49pp. ISBN: 9780975249284

Hall, Matthew, False Fruits. Cordite Publishing, 2017. RRP: $20, 75pp. ISBN: 9780994259677

Motion, Derek, The Only White Landscape. Cordite Publishing, 2017. RRP: $20, 45pp. ISBN: 9780975249246

Robert Wood


Broede Carmody’s Flat Exit, Derek Motion’s The Only White Landscape and Matt Hall’s False Fruits, each grapple with representing the subject as part of a territory. For Carmody, the poet is a coherent individual who apprehends the world around him sensibly; for Motion, who writes out of his personal experience of relocating to Western NSW, there is an idea of place-making as a process that is both alienating and comforting; and for Hall, there are stories about people occupying ‘new’ prairie land in a portrayal of historic Canada. These are distinctive landscapes of the mind with each poet inflecting their immediate context in an individual and engaging way.

The tone that Carmody most often takes is an earnest one, something buttressed by his choice of liberal subjectivity and direct address. Flat Exit is full of poems with speakers and listeners who work together and share in small meaningful moments. The ‘I’ seems trustworthy, whole, singular, even as ‘we’ is often invoked. This is not, however, a bard in the landscape simply singing the life electric, terrific, rhapsodic. There is an even keel to his voice, one that often sounds charmingly naïve, which is to say free of cynicism, irony and laceration, of saying what it means to say. ‘Hunter-gatherers’ occupies a particularly exemplary place, stating:

for Amber Beilharz

We wrestle bone-shapes from sand
too quick to crumble. The landscape heaves
and trembles at your touch. Air bruising from the
wet brush of our words.

I pry molluscs from shallow rock pools
and you liberate them
from their calcium-bodies with the lip of your knife.
Their soft underskin reminds me of kidneys:
innocent and eel-ugly.

Your red bucket with its chipped paint
becomes almost too heavy to hold.
The sun folds itself behind the sea and we make
our way home like old philosophers driving in the dark. [10]

Despite the use of ‘crumble’, ‘tremble’, ‘pry’, ‘bruising’, ‘knife’ and ‘chipped’, the title of the poem is not meant ironically nor is it one informed by the ontological politics of our day, of what it might mean to inhabit ‘Australia’ as a place with a history of colonialism, settlement, invasion. There are no middens here other than those of the poet’s own making and so we must read metaphorically. Flat Exit is not a haunted work in an obvious sense though that reading may be supplied. Carmody’s attentive presentism is supported by the evenness of the lyricism and the consistency of true rhyme and regular rhythm. Yet, it does not make the work uninteresting for those seeking defamiliarisation through form. In fact, it is the opposite. He is a guide to quotidian experience in a contemporary settler state who is insightful and caring, bringing a certain engagement that is lightly wondrous and open to where the breeze may blow. That innocence is refreshing rather than stultifying or cloying.

There is an altogether harder, more lived in, modern edge to Motion’s The Only White Landscape, whose very title suggests the complexities of ‘Australia’ as a contested place. Delightfully abstract and often evasive, these poems seem somewhat antithetical to Carmody’s if only because they emerge not from a Romantic centre but from peripheries of experimental metropoles. Here, the subject is more questioning, more doubtful, more precarious writhing and observing the ‘Facebookification’ of the world. Consider for example, ‘perfect teeth’, which states in part:

but in all fairness: high frequency selection is the
default, an outlier clear-headed in a street-brawl,
worrisome with smiles. her fingernailed opinion on film
with bolshevik dreams & five dollar beers this parlour

sideboard, some curios & vanilla extract at hand:
the so-called rich! i am from the dried waterfalls’
valid swamplands realm. i am my own median
& fitness down here is fairness (it’s the key).
i’ll never write code now. nothing is appropriate
after strolling the gardens of the world. [33]

We move eclectically through the poem, from brawls to smiles to films to red ideology to beers and domesticity to fantasy to self-reflection. It would seem that nothing is appropriate after strolling the gardens. Motion, as this fragment makes clear, is someone who lives in a post-digital world, a poet who travels in the hyper-real, the versimilitude, the simulacrum of what appears to only be passed through, much like scrolling through a social media feed that covers an awful lot of ground. This orientation is at once attractive and distancing, allowing for a fragmentary sense of place, of beginning to be at ‘home’ as a contest of making it known where one can be oneself.

Situated in Canada, Hall’s False Fruits is also concerned with the human engagement with land and social systems. It speaks in a lingua franca of settler stories, a language that would have us recall cold Westerns with deer, horses, wheat, homesteading, farming, in a word all the tropes of ‘settling’ including women in the kitchen, men on the range and the Indigenous haunting everywhere in between.

Hall inhabits a critical contemporary consciousness through the structural motif of the book itself. Each page consists of a lead line (a complete, grammatically correct sentence that describes a scene); two three-line stanzas that are fragmentary and imagistic; and a concluding line that is a complete sentence, which synthesises the narrative push of the first line with the evocative imagery of the middle six. For example, he writes:

In the stilt of shadows, bundled down, his growing hands mewling against the foxtraps.

sere vaulting
pried to silent threat
colloidal under stalk light

casual underwing by feathered
oar, the calenture of
kitchen sight

Harvest songs foreclosing the distance of his father’s lands. [8]

What Hall does through this structure is not an experimental angle on mainstream content, for this is content that many nationalist champions would disavow, nor is it a mainlining of an angry placard. Rather, there is a caring thoughtfulness to language itself, something supported by a dextrous vocabulary and dazzling wordplay. It enables a historicising paradigm that is focused and nuanced. This is compounded by the micro-narratives that come through False Fruits and the very evocative phrases that are pleasing as sounds. There is love here and relationships with other people, there is the land, there is dust and metal and fruit, there are birds, children, animals, stars, and hunger. There are all the elements of the pastoral but it reads different. This is not only because of our contemporary moment but also because the language itself asks us to look again.

Flat Exit, The Only White Landscape and False Fruits encourage the reader to think through their relationship to the world, not to reinvent or perfect it, but to consider what is possible when we look a little differently and begin to see what might simply be truer versions of ourselves in our natural ‘homes’.

Robert Wood grew up in southwest Western Australia. He has worked for Overland, Australian Poetry, Cordite, and Peril, and is currently working at The Centre for Stories. Find out more: http://www.rdwood.org

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