The features have become familiar: the spare lines, the pertinent adjectives, the surprise juxtapositions. The physical world also: lonely rooms, problematic spaces, broken cityscapes. We meet the speaker at some place of disjunction, putting together attempts at a grand image of the world while remaining sceptical of any such attempt, and all the time drawing on small resources of mood or opinion. Her words confront us with their unpleasant reminders that the world is not ordered as we would care to believe, and signposts are not just signposts but themselves constructions fraught with ambiguity. Men are strange, to say the least. People’s motives are rarely entirely sincere.
Drugs and addictions are never far from the scene, even on a dry day. Poems are in need of something, express the need, are driven by the need, whatever that need may be. Sometimes the need is named, other times guessed at, often a matter of uncertainty even to the author. Sometimes lines hang out in the street wondering what to do next. Or the poems are inside the fix, rushing with the surprise she had almost forgotten could go this way, or that. Then the poem is coming down again, the comedy inherent in meeting ‘reality’ again, as though it never went away, same old same old. Or the poem tries to ask how it got into this fix, though not for long: the poems laugh at being in the fix, or come close to despair.
Some people say this is satire. But satire is something that comes with middle age. It is the consolation of a survivor. More intense and to the point in the poetry is protest. The world she describes appears to have become blasé about protest, which is good reason to send out the words anyway, and make them run. It is personal protest, but we sense she wants us in on the action. Surely she’s talking to somebody and it must be us, supposedly. Sometimes she seems to do little more than set up targets, with only Nature immune in some way to her anger. There is nothing much to attack in Nature. The Universe itself helps her get by.
Who reads this poetry? Some of her targets would get a kick out of Gig, for example other poets (the “Great Artist of nostalgia”), “spiritualist junkies”, “dedicated writers” and students of the Australian word. Most of her targets though will probably never come close to encountering the resigned scorn and resentment that she sends in their direction. “Reverent capitalists”, “tireless husbands”, “twinset couples”, “bar-code entertainers” and others in her cast are most unlikely to bend open her new book, or know what to make of the contents, most like. And there’s the rub.
Is she a solipsist? A misanthrope? Is she powerful or powerless? The personal ‘I’ seems constantly to be drawing boundaries between her and others. They are over there, thanks very much, while she is right where she is now, inside this poem; more often than not, unhappy. Who knows who Gig Ryan is outside her books, but when I read some of her poems I scan for those things she values, as distinct from all the things that make her unhappy. Nature is a great fallback position: she loves to describe trees, for example, nearly always an image of consolation. “Daylight birds” are not judged, nor sunrise nor sunset. Overseas, Paris brings “bliss’. Although church is a target she recurrently holds up for respect what she calls in one place “psaltered days”, leaving us to ponder a youth informed by some form of Christian ethic; it is about the closest she comes to what elsewhere she mocks as nostalgia, or at least a past worth remembering.
Once I was in the audience of a Gig Ryan reading. She was given her allocated fifteen minutes, it was a big show with several performers, yet after reading about five poems she walked from the podium and the room with about seven minutes to go. Someone later remarked to me that that was Gig Ryan’s ‘punky theatre.’ This expression stays with me when reading her poetry. At any moment I expect her to walk abruptly from the stage. Her life seems dedicated to not abiding by the rules. Some of the poems possess that unpredictable behaviour, as though she may suddenly change the subject without warning, or not give you what you are waiting for. There is ‘upfront’ one minute, silence and pointed absence the next. It has it’s own kind of control, like ‘punky theatre’ always does. Far from being anarchic or free form, ‘punky theatre’ is a matter of control, dependent for its effect on knowing the ground rules, then subverting them. Attack is more or less constant, with little space for a bluesy ballad. No one expects a symphony. And many of her poems are theatre pieces of this sort, too. The words cut across the space, often with little care for narrative expansiveness. The worlds she describes are themselves like deteriorating theatres of old and new, existing to be put in their place by poetic bursts of recognition and invective. Punk was a short-lived music movement of 1976-78 that could not survive because its manners became predictably vulgar and its three-chord anthems did not lend overmuch to the soul. Obviously she is not a punk, but ‘punky theatre’ helps describe one of her tried-and-true methods of effect, both in composition and delivery of the words. There will be no nostalgia, in fact there may not even be much of a past as such, except in the ancient richness of the English words arranged on the page and strumming from the larynx.