Wednesday, 13 September 2017

An eight line poem prompts a dialogue with Talitha Fraser on Facebook about theopoetics

Image by Talitha Fraser

you put up the new fence
but don't take down the old
instead of recycling for parts
there is merely a slow degradation
of the old material
benign or malignant?
diagnosis unknown

P: There are times when it's clear who 'you' is in your poems, other times when 'you' defies easy identification. This poem is in the latter category, if it's a category.

T: Here the "you" is me! #contemplativereflection #firstthelog

P: Well, that clears that up then.

T: I just fell into a black hole of pros and cons of the use of first person narrative in poetry... which hasn't cleared up anything but suffice it to say the most humbling moments of sharing my poetry would be when I manage to write something that others say it resonates with them and names something they didn't have words for... so while the "you" is me hopefully if I'm doing it right it can also be anyone!

P: The 'you' is the vital pronoun. I have had the same experience often when inside the poem, or wherever the place is where we talk and think in this fashion. Sometimes I'm fairly certain the 'you' in your poems is God, mainly when you give Him a big Y, You. :) Other times it seems it could be God, or yourself at some meeting place in yourself. Then other times it sounds like you're taking it out on someone else, like 'why have you made this fence?'

T: God always gets a big You :) if God is in me and I am in God that is right that it should become hard to distinguish... I think that's what theopoetics is, eavesdropping on that internal conversation between oneself and God and learning/discovering one’s self and place in and through that. I'm not going to get into the personal particulars on what's behind this piece but what I'm trying to capture is the ways we carry "baggage" from our life experiences and relationships forward in conscious and unconscious ways that can prevent us from being seen/known or to truly see and know others (since I think everyone does this to different degrees). It seems to me that doing the work to dismantle the first fence is often not encouraged or supported, people prefer to pretend the old frameworks aren't there and want the strong front. I think we harm each other and ourselves in trying to meet this expectation.

P: Yes, Yes, and Yes.


P: I will expand on my response at some later date. Though, why?

T: My poems are can have a bit going on behind them #deceptivelysimple

P: Talitha Fraser OMG, so to speak.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Peter Gebhardt 1: Remembrance of Things Past

Peter Gebhardt could be old school, which is amusing when we consider he spent half his life turning old schools into new schools. One way he was old school was how he lived on the telephone. The telephone is a conversational device via which he conducted long conversations with family, friends, and colleagues; probably also reformed individuals he watched through the courts. I imagine this was a lifelong practice, or rather, pastime.

I would pick up the receiver to hear the Gebhardt voice commence a dialogue that could go for the next three or the next fifty-three minutes. He never said, “Peter here”, or introduced himself in full, or said hello, it was straight into it. For example: “What do you make of the Prime Minister this week?” This was less an opportunity for me to remark on the government’s latest misadventure than for Peter to launch forth on his newest series of mock-shock observations and rock solid opinions. The Prime Minister, inevitably, was put in his place.

Sometimes I would lift the receiver only to hear Peter taking up where we left off last week: “What you said about the Irish … Well it’s true, isn’t it? I’ve been thinking about it,” upon which his thoughts about my thoughts would deliver and digress in orderly manner, with me hoping to find a lacuna to add something myself. He had a relish for clear ideas.

At his thanksgiving service at Trinity College one of the eulogists drew attention to Peter’s extraordinary ability to live always with the promise of a future. He had things on the go, all the time. The future is there for us to make something positive and concrete, whatever challenges may arise. This truth caused me to reflect on our last phone conversations this year.

In one call I said I was re-reading parts of Proust. I liked the back-and-forward of his narrative, where a person or event may enter, prompting philosophy and memories, memories that prompt deeper memories. I enjoyed Proust’s remarkable digressions, some of them lengthening into pages, before he returned magically to an earlier story. Peter hadn’t looked at Proust for a long time.

A week later, next call, he alludes to Proust. I say I have been lent the recent translation project of Christopher Prendergast & Co. That I have revisited Swann and, not surprisingly, find many surprises that I missed when I read the books thirty years ago. He makes vague noises about versions and how long it all is, before switching to something he knows about, mainly his health. In fact, his health has not been good for a while. I know when it’s really bad because he doesn’t phone at all.

A couple of weeks later, a phone call, and the voice of Peter intervenes on my morning. What was that translation of Proust I was talking about? He has to read it now. He is clearly planning for the future. Proust is something concrete, so Proust is now part of the plan. I imagine having Proust is a good way to pass the hours in hospital. Prendergast. Penguin Books.

Next call is from a hospital. I know this when he starts talking about nurses, tests, and blood. He has his people looking for that Proust set, but to no avail. Where can he find it? ‘His people’, incidentally, are the family members and what I always refer to as his ‘secretaries’, who run his errands, send emails, and do everything a telephone man hasn’t got time to waste upon. He had about five secretaries, by my count, but probably more. He was old school. Readings, maybe. Hill of Content, if anyone, they stock the classics: talk to Andrew or Pauline. Dymocks, if it’s in print.

A week later, phone call, no one has Proust. So I say well you may have to buy online. I praise James Grieve’s translation of the second volume of Proust. Grieve is the enfant terrible of Proust translators, resident in Canberra, even though he’s no longer an enfant and probably not terrible. This annoys Peter even more, a controversial translator of Proust who is an Australian, and he hasn’t got the book. Motivation is reaching fever pitch.

It is a relief to hear that, a couple of weeks later, his secretaries have procured the volumes and that arrival is imminent. I say to Peter he should start with Combray, which is compact and of a piece, setting the scene. That Combray is the narrator Marcel’s recollections of his childhood in Paris and the north of France. That Combray includes the seriously famous passage about dipping the madeleine cake in tea. He listens at the other end and thanks me for all my help on the Proust project.  

There were a couple more phone calls, mainly on politics and a letter he had received from Marie Heaney in Dublin. The news of his death came by chance from one of his secretaries, after I had recommended some of his recent poems for publication in Eureka Street. She wrote in an email to say Peter died on the 22nd of July. In the days that followed I reflected on how he rang me, even when in extremis, and what a great person he was for keeping conversation going right to the end. I was just one of his telephone companions, though we’d had the odd lunch, and yet he took an interest, generated new thoughts, mischievous thoughts and creative, joked about Prime Ministers and the like, and cheered the day. I reflected on the set of Proust he’d had ordered, at home waiting for him to read, the next reading project, always something on the go.