from the editor's desk

Wanting Only

Review of ‘Wanting Only’ by Lyn McCredden

McCredden, Lyn. Wanting Only. Port Adelaide: Ginninderra Press, 2018. RRP $20.00. 62pp. ISBN: 9781740615181.

Lyn McCredden is perhaps best known as a widely-published literary scholar and critic. She is also a poet and Wanting Only, her first poetry collection, is full of delights. It’s celebratory, lively, vital poetry, political as well as personal. It’s also often informed by McCredden’s theoretical interests, sometimes interrogating, even mocking, the positions they advocate.

The title poem which opens the collection presents a struggle between individual desire and loss and the greater global ‘cataclysm’. The jerky, attenuated lines of the poem echo this state, where ‘this I—crouching here/[is] screened off, viewing/the flickering wars’ (7) that overwhelm individual lives. From this beginning, the poems—formally accessible and tonally varied—shift among a wide range of subject matter.

There are poems that revel in both the physical and the natural worlds. In ‘Winter Gifts’ the poet is ‘lit/by Neruda’s blue stars’; transformed and becoming a ‘voluptuary of night scents’. Such a heightened sensory response to the ordinary physical world lifts it out of the everyday, as the poet, at the end, laughs ‘out loud, in a shower/of winged and shimmering gifts.’ (8) This evocation of a luscious, fruitful world in which McCredden’s poetry glories and which exists even in suburban Northcote, extends through numerous poems, and is often linked with female fecundity.

But there’s often a serious, sometimes ironic edge to the poems that also deal wittily with women’s bodily lives. ‘Activating Bodies’, dedicated to feminist theorist Liz Grosz, imagines ‘a New Body … a future body, laughing at itself’ (23). This body, established in a ‘volatile postmodern forge’ is ‘powerful enough/for resurrection.’ (24) Such tonal shifts undercut the resonances that surround the presentation of women’s bodies as gorgeously edible in ‘Soft and Sweet’, for example, complicating and extending that familiar metaphor. Those women are constructed by men, objectifying them, as the final lines of this poem acknowledge, ‘a girl in someone else’s image:/trembling, plump, delicious,/dying for consummation.’ (29)

A jokey exploration of the Sydney/Melbourne rivalry, ‘Poets up North’ is addressed to those ‘saucy little wenches,/Sydney tarts,’ whose sensual, hedonistic lives contrast with ‘the cool quip/and composure,’ of ‘sedate, green and savoury Melbourne.’ (13)  Here, Sydney has the last laugh, ‘blowing up the skirts/of our southern precisions/with a gush of hot air.’ (14) This movement, even in the apparently straightforward, amusing poems, towards an explosion of any pretension is characteristic. So in ‘Pool Dreams’ a suburban pool where all differences disappear in the weightless element of water, the promise of a ‘beckoning rebirth’ can only be that of ‘our wettest, purest dreams.’ (12)

McCredden’s capacity for self-irony is often evident, particularly where the poetry addresses theoretical issues. ‘Misreadings’ is devoted to the way theorising everything that surrounds us ultimately bleaches it of meaning. On a country drive, the poet becomes ‘the map-maker, the trailblazer,/semiotician in a swaggering hat’ (21) whose ‘hopeless over-reading’ results in a ‘crashing through the undergrowth’. By these means, the poem resolutely refuses that kind of ‘travelling theory’. (22) Again, ‘Postmodern Views’ imagines ‘a postmod sitcom’ (30) which includes Wittgenstein, Eliot, Gertrude and Alice and so on.

Among all the enjoyment of life and language there are also poems that explore the horror of a world where political imperatives outweigh any consideration of their cost to human lives. At the end of three short stanzas, ‘Boat People’ describes ‘The land of sweeping plains [as] unconfused,/its hard horizons offering no grace.’ (37) Other poems contrast the appalling consequences of distant conflicts with the disinterested gaze of the TV viewer watching the news in comfort from far away.

One of the most successful poems is an elegy in memory of Seamus Heaney, ‘Resurrection’. Here, replicating the lyric simplicity of Heaney’s language and rhythms, the poem recognises Heaney as ‘the poet of loss and joy’; the ‘great Irish singer’. At a time when ‘the news is full of coming wars’, Heaney’s work will be missed. His ‘odes—of beauty, terror and the earth—/teach us to sing against the coming wars,’ also speaking of ‘things we know are true’ (48). The ballad-like structure and tonal quality of this poem enhances its purpose and significance.

Finally, the poet reaches that tranquil state of gelassenheit, the title of the last poem, with its echoing references to Heidegger’s idea of a state of spiritual, meditative rest. Here, ‘A vastness of silent notes/accompanies us, a symphony/ … of belief far beyond/our interpretations,’ and ‘everything merges/immeasurable in its own resting.’ (62) It’s a fitting end to the questing and theorising, the laughter and wanting, that characterise all the poems leading to ‘Gelassenheit’.

Delys Bird is a writer, editor and critic, who will chair the judging panel of the 2019 WA Premier’s Literary Awards.

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