Monday, 28 November 2016

HELENA AND ELIZABETH The Diary of "Helena Morley", translated from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Bishop

The Church of the Rosary in Diamantina, Minas Gerais, Brazil
Re-reading Helena Morley thirty years later, the stories grow in beauty and truth. The Brazilian mining town of Diamantina, obscure and remote in itself, returns to rich social life, just as Candleford and Lark Rise do in Flora Thompson's books. There is even an element of Daisy Ashford about Helena, though Helena's spelling is better than Daisy's and she has no interest in fictionalising her own people.

Adolescent perception of adults in their adult world is determined by the necessities of dependence and self-learning. The twelve-year-old who opens her Diary for the year 1893 is secure and free, free enough to say almost anything within the limits of her experience, secure enough to speak of her microcosmic world in knowing terms.

Helena was fortunate in her English translator. Elizabeth Bishop, as her poetry shows over again, relishes the colour and detail of the physical world. This is enabled further by reference to the tropical mountain scenery, replete with strange anthills and contiguous waterfalls, steep cobble streets and copious diamond mines that she shares along the way, though Helena’s attention is first and last, people with their hopes, mishaps, and fallibilities. Elizabeth's poetry tends towards conclusions she is tentative to make conclusive. This stands in contrast to Helena's firm opinions and startlingly percipient summaries of situations.

Elizabeth herself was famously shy, her childhood (to believe the poetry) one long process of observation and withdrawal, longing and introspection. I cannot help reading the Diary now as the admiring interpretation of an uninhibited extrovert by a born introvert. Elizabeth once wrote to her friend the poet Robert Lowell that "When you write my epitaph, you must say I was the loneliest person who ever lived." Which is scarcely one of the funniest lines in world literature, unlike many of the lines in Helena's Diary. I'm not going to quote any here, because this is an invitation to go meet Helena Morley for yourself.

It has never been explained, that I can see anyway, why the pseudonym Helena Morley stays put on the title page, when we know her real name was Alice Dayrell Caldeira Brant. Elizabeth respectfully calls her Dona Alice in her Introduction to the book and one can only assume that it may have been Dona Alice's wish to keep her pseudonym for posterity. The resulting sense of an author removed both in time and age enhances the Diary's unique provenance.

Her real name epitomises the meeting of English and Portuguese culture in late Victorian Brazil. Someone online has called her the Jane Austen of Brazil, which is fine insofar as Helena in a few words or a quote delivers telling implications about people’s feelings, interests, and status. However, to confer such honour on a twelve-year-old girl is to overlook the sheer thrill of reporting, by candlelight, on the day’s events, with little more purpose than to get the story right. Her neighbours laugh at her just as she laughs at them, and life goes on.

This, in turn, raises the question, who is she writing to? Who is it she wishes to entertain and inform? The most probable inspiration is Helena’s grandmother, Dona Teodora, at whose place we find her more often than even her own home. Or so it seems. The Diary could only have been written in a highly conversational milieu, in which anything is source for a story, and everyone knows everyone else’s business, to the point of a fine art. This mixture of simplicity and sophistication, ordinariness and wit, appears to be a characteristic of Diamantina generally, though having Helena to write it all down is a blessing.

In the recent film ‘Brooklyn’, the housekeeper who cares for the emigrant colleens adds an Eighth Deadly Sin which she defines as “Giggling Girls”, and indubitably fits of uncontrollable laughter are the test for a lot of what is going on here. Helena, her sister and close friends, are prone to find most things irresistibly funny and this inspires her repeatedly when pen goes to paper. 

Helena is encouraged to write every day by those close to her. We know this because she tells us. She is very good at speaking her mind, which gets her into trouble sometimes. At the same time, a more arresting ability I noticed this time around is how Helena can recognise the changes in her own feelings. She is remarkable for her age in knowing her emotions, reading what they mean in the circumstances, and how they are related to one another. As a result, her understanding of what others may be going through grows empathetically, as the Diary proceeds over its three years (1893-1895).

Elizabeth, with her close attention to the subtleties of time and place, teaches us new lessons about her adopted country. She remains on or just below the surface of so much going on here, conscious of how her own adult choice brought her to Brazil, that energetic contrast to the cold northern lands of her childhood. We share her delight in discovering a life so very different from her own upbringing, Helena’s life, bursting with humorous talk, taking pleasure equally in dances and meals, church-going and carnivals. Though, like all girls her age, having to get good marks at school can be a bit of a pain.


Monday, 7 November 2016

An Ode to speechless Bob Dylan

This article first appeared in Eureka Street in early November 2016. Cartoon by Chris Johnston.

What is the purpose of awarding a philanthropic literature prize to a millionaire rock star? If you wish to draw attention to an unsung national poet, why choose one of the world’s most famous Americans? If it has to be an American, why not one who writes books? Argument about Bob Dylan has peaked for the first time in forty years or so, leaving a lot of people wondering if they’re still “forever young”, and which side of the argument is right.

Dylan’s relationship to literature is well known. He took his name from a Welsh poet. When he sang ‘Desolation Row’ Dylan was locking into the Beat world of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. He quotes from a range of writers without fear of accusations of plagiarism. Scripture is close to hand, but also the cornucopia that is the songbook of American popular music. He copies Woody Guthrie and parodies Elvis Presley. His debt to the blues and gospel is apparent, but also to Cole Porter.

The compliment is returned. The literary world has relished and lauded the work of Bob Dylan from the start, admiring his lyrical fertility and vocal ingenuity. On a good day, his gift for register and timing is still astounding. The poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion nominated ‘Visions of Johanna’ his favourite Dylan song, but then everyone has a favourite Dylan song. The poetry is, in that sense, common property, hence the popularity of the Nobel Prize decision in many quarters.

The Dylan bibliography is short. I read ‘Tarantula’ when I was a teenager and could see even then it was less a product of substance than of substances. A whole literature thrives on his impact upon popular music, with thorough analysis of the songs for religious, social and biographical meanings, a critical reception rivalled only by those other game changers of the Sixties, the Fab Four.

Arguments in recent weeks, that Dylan isn’t a writer, are contradicted by the evidence. He’s been writing since primary school in Minnesota. Yet dissatisfaction persists. Is he a writer in the way Patrick White or Boris Pasternak are writers? Is Literature about the personal relationship between writer and reader?

Books of lyrics are for the fans. Reading ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ in a cheap paperback is never the same as hearing that imperious, incomparable song in the original. We even follow the words to relive Dylan’s threatening intonation and deadpan dispatch. How many of his lyrics do we read for possible shades of meaning, as we would with a good poem? We leave Dylan to offer the shades, each time he does a new version. He is famous, even infamous, for attempting new interpretations of his songs through arrangement and emphasis. But is that Literature?

Most likely you go your way and I’ll go mine. The Nobel Committee has proven more flexible with its definition of ‘writer’ than its critics. Indeed, a comical aspect of this year’s Prize debate is the view it’s a slap in the face for the literary establishment, when it’s hard to find a more distinctive landmark of that establishment than the Nobel Committee.

Initial silence from Bob Dylan after the announcement led one of the Scandinavian officials to issue a complaint that Dylan was being “impolite and arrogant.” This declaration prompted even more vitriolic opinion online on all sides, from fans, litterateurs, Dylanologists, and other armchair grenadiers. Just as things were getting completely tangled up in blue Dylan himself broke the silence to explain that news of the award had left him speechless. So maybe he wasn’t that arrogant after all.

Speechless is probably the one thing a Nobel recipient must not be. About the only requirements of a recipient are that they show up, make a speech, and bank the cheque. Whether Dylan will follow the pattern of his predecessors by acknowledging his debt to American writers and talking about the value of his art, remains to be seen.

Speechless though is a normal state for a poet. We shouldn’t be surprised. The poetic act comes out of a state of speechlessness, out of asking how to say things that seem unsayable. Poetry has always been the verbalisation of things that we thought could not be put into words. Whatever we say about getting the gong, few people argue that Bob Dylan has succeeded over again in singing of things that leave us speechless.

This is when it gets down to personal favourites for any of us. Here are two of mine.

‘Just like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ opens “When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez and it’s Easter time, too / And your gravity fails and negativity don’t pull you through”, then tells a story of dangerous women, serious drinking, and general despair before deciding that ‘the joke was on me, there was nobody even there to bluff. / I’m going back to New York City, I do believe I’ve had enough.” This song could be earnest, dire, self-mocking, comical, or a spoof depending entirely on how it’s sung. It reminds me of Horace Walpole: “The world is a comedy to those that think; a tragedy to those that feel.” The poetry of the song relies as much on what is not said, what is withheld, that listeners will provide themselves.

Or there is the speechlessness of love, as in ‘Buckets of Rain’. Dylan speaks in childish wonder of  “buckets of moonbeams in my hand”, that he’s both “been meek and hard like an oak”, lyrical abbreviations of the changing extremes of a relationship. Then, just when he confesses “I like the cool way you look at me”, follows with “Everything about you is bringing me misery”. It’s the surprise disclosure of ‘misery’ that we suddenly see is the centre of the song’s meaning, even as he continues in light-hearted mode. It’s this kind of twist, this still point in the drama, that makes Dylan not just a good songwriter but a great one. 

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Max Richards shares: 9, Denise Levertov

Cuttings, held together by a slightly rusted paper clip, fall from his copy of Penguin Modern Poets 9: Denise Levertov, Kenneth Rexroth, William Carlos Williams. (Penguin Books, 1967). They include a typed version of 'The Rainwalkers', and photocopies of 'February Evening in New York' and 'The Cold Spring', the second with a note in Max’s hand "comp[are] with Dickinson ‘The Bustle’." Was he taking a class or writing a review? Then this one page hand-written set of notes about poetic construction. Are they Max Richards’ own responses or his summary of things by Levertov collated from her writings for reference? Or a bit of both? Whatever the case, the page has the feel of a trouvée poem:



Denise Levertov

on non-traditional metrics

free verse: impulse to flow, avoidance of the

interruption of pattern

But ‘wellwrought’…? ‘organic form’ 19th c.

a term taken over by shampoo manufacturers!

‘exploratory form’ giving us process rather

than results

sonnets etc. have closure, may sound

anachronistic if not used ironically

the line break & the dynamics of

perception & word choice

nonsyntactic pauses

dance/song rather than walk/statement

see Valéry

indentation too        hesitations

many epiphanies

effect on ‘melody’

pitch patterns combined with rhythmic patterns

fidelity to experience

& experiencing the experience

Monday, 24 October 2016

Faith and George Herbert

The George Herbert window in All Saints’, Bishop Burton, near Beverley in Yorkshire:
 ‘Lord I have loved the habitation of thine house.’ 

An address given at Evensong on Sunday the 23rd of October at St. Peter’s Church, Eastern Hill, Melbourne as part of a series on ‘Heroes of the Faith’.

[Poem: Superliminare]

Thou, whom the former precepts have
Sprinkled and taught, how to behave
Thyself in church; approach, and taste
The church’s mystical repast.

Avoid, profaneness; come not here:
Nothing but holy, pure, and clear,
Or that which groaneth to be so,
May at his peril further go.

The people who work on the other side of the hedge of the car park of this church come to learn there is life after politics. Or we hope they do. The poet George Herbert lived a life that could be described as before and after politics. “Power seldom grows old at court,” he says in one of his Outlandish Proverbs, and he experienced the truth of that saying in his own life. As a favourite of King James the First, Herbert was a great orator and may well have gone on to be a brilliant planner or diplomat for the newly formed British crown, anywhere in the known world. James conducted a court of best minds, in which open discussion of theology as well as the humanities of literature, statecraft and so forth, was encouraged. The authorised translation of the Bible, that has carried the King’s name ever since, was just one result of this ferment within the court.

When James died in the spring of 1625, Herbert’s chances of preferment slipped away and he chose to follow his other vocation and enter holy orders. I cite this as a first example of how we learn faith. Faith is about keeping the possibilities open in oneself and for others, about not narrowing our prospects in life, about being ready for what providence and chance, blessing and misfortune, may challenge us with. He once wrote

Why should I toil so perversely to be famous
When I could stand in silence for nothing?

This year the Australian theologian Ben Myers, who will speak in this place in a few weeks on Herbert’s starry contemporary William Shakespeare, listed on his Facebook page some of the writing that effected his childhood. And I quote:

“I read and learned many of [Herbert’s poems in his collected works called The Temple] during my early high school days. My mother was writing a PhD thesis on The Temple and she was always sharing some little morsel from Mr Herbert. I loved the poems because my mother loved them, and because of the plain speech. Later I loved them because I discovered that they were true. The Temple is still the most precise and honest account I’ve ever come across about what the Christian life is really like (not what it’s meant to be like: the problem with nearly all other books on this topic.)”

Unquote. Not many of us can boast of having the works of Herbert read to us by our mother by the age of 14, but it would have an effect. Our parents are likely to show, by example, as well as word, how to live inside faith, with the unknown, with God. Our parents are never going to give us everything, which is why as we grow we are drawn to others who may teach us about faith.

Lady Magdalen Herbert, George’s mother, was a civilised individual. It was she who wanted him to go into the church, rather than whatever else was the going thing. We can conclude that she herself perceived gifts in her son that he himself would only discover through time. The poet John Donne, who was a close friend of the Herberts and who delivered Lady Magdalen’s commemoration eulogy, praised her “loving facetiousness and wit,” as well as her “holy cheerfulness and religious alacrity.” Donne wrote: “God gave her such comeliness as, though she were not proud of it, yet she was so content with it as not to go about to mend it by any Art.” When we hear this description, it helps us understand George Herbert all the better, his own “holy cheerfulness” and lack of pretension. His mother instilled in him a focus on faithful living and on the potential for presenting this through words.

George Herbert was a kind of psalmist. He loved the Psalms for their variety of address to God: prayer, supplication, wonder, lament, argument, rebuke, wonder, praise. He left his English poetry in the care of his friend Nicholas Ferrar of the Little Gidding community, an act of faith in itself, and none was published in his lifetime. Yet it is how we know him best.

Herbert was fluent in several languages. He wrote poetry in Latin and Greek, which he himself regarded as better than his English poems. Only a classical antiquarian, or specialist critic, reads those now, while new imprints of the English poems come out about every other year. His gift to English poetry, and those desiring to learn more about our relationship with God, is its direct language, alive with subtleties of meaning and motion. He valued clarity, lucidity and transparency. He took from the Latin poets like Horace and Ovid the deft placement of words into structured  patterns: a few words doing a lot of work. In his day Latinate words were supercool and many of his peers dotted their poems, or rather lapidated them, with these features to look original and educated. What is marvellous, and even shocking, about Herbert is his indifference to looking supercool. The most ordinary everyday words are the quickest way to the reader, and to God.

[Poem: Love III]

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
            Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
            From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
            If I lack’d any thing.

A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here:
            Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
            I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
            Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame
            Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
            My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
            So I did sit and eat.

Articles, sermons and whole books have been written about these 126 words. But what do we find? How do we individually ourselves find them? We find that for Herbert faith is about relationship. Most of his poems, including ‘Love III’, describe or enact a relationship between himself, that is anyone, you or me, and God. God is “quick-ey’d Love”, the one who made the eyes to see, also the one who invites the perhaps worthy individual to the table because he makes them worthy. We find the psychological acuity of guilt, the to-and-fro that will develop if we only persist in our openness to change, to our simple readiness to accept and serve. We find a poem that describes the action of the Eucharist in just a few lines, where each line leads convincingly and truly from the one that preceded it to the one that follows. Because indeed it is Love that invites us to the mystery and does so wherever we happen to be in time and space, in our own difficulties. There are no rules, no favouritisms, no denials, only the possibility that the worthy yet unkind and ungrateful self may respond favourably to Love itself, in the person of the Lord who first welcomed us.

Like many in his day, Herbert set his words to music and played them on the lute. It is one reason why they are still so easy to sing. But, like musicians then as now, Herbert was a better performer and composer than he was an archivist. We don’t know the kinds of composition he employed, but we can guess because we hear the movement of the simple language, where the stresses fall and how the metres run, in the poetry.

[Poem: The Call]

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
            Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
            Such a Life, as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
            Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
            Such a Strength, as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
            Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
            Such a Heart, as joys in love.

Today, though we all encounter poetry at special times in our life, poetry itself is seen as a minority or even elite art form, the realm of romantic and modernist experiment, a means to self-expression but also to secret codes and private games. Herbert and his peers like Shakespeare and Donne would have found this peculiar, living in a society where such language art form was common and essential.

Why write poetry? Herbert flourished in a society where community life within a local parish was central. Knowledge of Scripture and regular engagement with English liturgy informs all of his poetry. Furthermore, he expects and believes his readers to know the same. We read his words and hear in them the ongoing life of faith, whether in affliction or beatitude, whether in company of others or in solitude, whether deep in prayer or simply experiencing everyday existence.

Herbert was a fortunate inheritor of the reforms of the English Church. As the biographer John Drury puts it, “Herbert was pre-eminently [a godly man, fit to be called forth for his talents], conscientious but pragmatic, who valued his Church’s stance between the extremes of dogmatic Calvinism and elaborate catholic ritual.”

While clearly poetry was Herbert’s gift and a matter of persistent play, when he handed his manuscript to Nicholas Ferrar prior to his death at the early age of 40, George Herbert said this poetry “may turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul.” I hear a priest saying these words, a priest who has gone somewhere outside Salisbury to work amongst those given into his charge, someone whose own prayerful experience of life in God has found its way into poetry. His time as a country parson was short. He would say he was going “to hide in Christ”, which is where faith, hope, and love may be found. He didn’t even know if anyone would read his words after him. And so I conclude with a reading of the second of two poems he entitled ‘Jordan’, a summary of the life of a certain kind of poet.

[Poem: Jordan II]

When first my lines of heav’nly joys made mention,
Such was their lustre, they did so excel,
That I sought out quaint words, and trim invention:
My thoughts began to burnish, sprout, and swell,
Curling with metaphors a plain intention,
Decking the sense, as if it were to sell.

Thousands of notions in my brain did run,
Off’ring their service, if I were not sped:
I often blotted what I had begun;
This was not quick enough, and that was dead.
Nothing could seem too rich to clothe the sun,
Much less those joys which trample on his head.

As flames do work and wind, when they ascend,
So did I weave my self into the sense,
But while I bustled, I might hear a friend
Whisper, How wide is all this long pretence!
There is in love a sweetness ready penn’d:
Copy out only that, and save expense.


Drury, John. Music at midnight : the life and poetry of George Herbert. Allen Lane, 2013

Herbert, George. The complete English works, edited and introduced by Ann Pasternak Slater. Everyman’s Library, 1995

Myers, Ben. The 7 best books I read before I turned 25. Facebook entry, 15 September 2016. Also on his blog ‘Faith and Theology’ on the same day. 


Thursday, 20 October 2016

Crossing sixty: Louise Nicholas, Andrew Sant, Susan Varga

Review first published in the Australian Book Review
October 2016

Louise Nicholas THE LIST OF LAST REMAINING Five Islands Press, rrp $25.95, 85 pp. 9780734051998

Andrew Sant HOW TO PROCEED : ESSAYS Puncher & Wattmann, price, 132 pp. 9781922186805

Susan Varga RUPTURE : POEMS 2012-2015 UWA Publishing, rrp $22,99, 95 pp. 9781742589091

Poetry as the solidifying of memory, poetry as a survivor’s sanguine amusement, takes a lifetime. Louise Nicholas relates autobiography through strongly considered moments in time. Her childhood is tracked by the small fears, confusions and elations that only later feel like turning points.

Aged thirteen,

          in the same year but not the day
that President Kennedy was shot in Texas,
I sit on the sidelines at my first high school social
wondering what to make of a new betrayal:
the flowered bodice of my favourite party frock
straining to contain an embarrassment of breasts
where once there was little more than the rise
and fall of my breath.

[‘Aged thirteen’]

Nicholas displays an accomplished skill with voice and line, has an unhurried delivery, and a hint of mischief. Travel to places like Israel, death of parents, the intrusion into private life of world events, these and other transformative experiences are addressed in turn with a pleasurable mixture of measured tone and telling detail.

Nicholas is most comfortable with the one-to-one of human encounter, be it person, object, or another poem. For example, she expects the following ‘On becoming my mother’:

Soon I’ll take to pinning my greying hair
in forties curls to grace the top of my head
then, lacking my mother’s years of practised flair,
wake to the pain of a bobby-pinned bed.

She knows what to say and when to stop. She begins ‘Window’, a poem shaped like the object it addresses, “Here’s looking at you, window, you square-eyed go-between.” Common sense toys with absurdity. “You capture the clouds and waylay the wind. You frame the moon and apprehend the sun,” she lauds, before getting more worldly, “Peeping Tom is your raison d’être, defenestration is your guilty secret.”

Her ripostes to poems express the same delight in personal engagement. ‘My Last Duke’ lets Browning’s Duchess have the last word from the grave, her satire ‘Sharon Olds is smiling’ gives that poet’s obsessive eroticism (“who sees sex / in a grain of sand”) a serve, and even manages to do something new, arresting and humane with Robert Frost’s most famous poem in ‘Two Roads Untravelled’.

Poetry as risk-taking, poetry as outcomes of self-knowledge, combine in intensity. Andrew Sant, a philosopher-poet, takes a break from such immediacy of expression through essay writing. Sometimes a poem refuses to be made from the load of thoughts, the time is not right, thoughts are too divergent or abstract for the present of poetry. We know Sant is a poet here by his selection of words, but more significantly by the pacing of his thoughts.

‘On Consuming Durables’ relates the ordinary delight of op shopping. One ‘opportunity’ was new furniture for his Melbourne residence, “But I kept the place TV free: more reality without one.” More reality without one could be a guiding principle for Sant, who shows every effort to go in contrary directions to convention, with a sense that the mystery will never find complete explanation.

‘On Curiosity’ extols the “chain of connections” that might lead to “a lifetime interest”, while warning against “its dubious relative, obsessive interest.”  Sant here is a great observer. Geared up with five hypersensitive senses, his mind filled with the minutiae of perpetual self-education, he observes the world with precision and delight.

And in the title essay, Sant opens with the view it is best to trust your own instincts rather than what you are told, to give “himself permission to think freely for himself, to go it alone,” only then to conclude with that most amusing and confusing long day’s journey into night, asking for directions in rural Ireland.

How to proceed is a quandary understood by poets. The creative act is not like baggage handling at Essendon Airport (Sant has done this).  It goes in fits and starts, usually a start followed by a fit, or nothing at all.

Not surprisingly perhaps, he goes on literary pilgrimages and his charmingly haphazard accounts of finding the holy sites in the lives of heroes like D.H. Lawrence and Elizabeth Bishop is another reward of this poet’s self-analysis.

Sant comes across as sane and solitary. He escapes total solipsism, being always too much in the world. He is a novice phenomenologist. He knows how to be the observer observed. As with Louise Nicholas, this collection slowly reveals secrets in his life that enlarge our appreciation. His mother’s suicide, his restless search for a sense of place, his philosophical reflection on a broken marriage, come as illuminating surprises, altering how we hear him and understand both his predicaments, and our own.

Poetry as therapy, poetry as a daybook of recovery, has uses. Susan Varga suffered a stroke, which is where her collection starts, in the ward. (“Sounds, words, sentences/ disappear like tumbleweed.”) Reconstructing memory is shared by poets and stroke victims; she pieces together those parts of the past she knows into verses of varying effect. Like most writers arriving late at poetry, there are hits and misses.

Varga is good with small details, summing up people and situations, settling in with the diagnosis. Her free verse thought patterns, when they work, give the reader enhanced insight into the daily individuality of existence. Like Nicholas and Sant, Varga has crossed 60, able to speak more forgivingly of others and of herself. She may track a difficult emotion, as in ‘Enemy’ (“Embedded in folds of skin/ sunk deep in red tissue/ imprinted in bones/ my enemy lies”) or renew affirmations (“Like a dog dozing/ waiting for night to/ swallow the hours./ Survival.”)

‘First Poem’, dated December 30, 2011, outside the time frame of the collection, explains the compulsion:

An old garden seat,
a new bed of plants
flowering into the New Year.

Old fears, new fears.

Small shoots of thought
sustain me.
Help me, words –
you always have.

Reading Varga raised for this listener the dilemma of how we hear the voice in poetry. Poets with a tale to tell want transferred the effect of their individual voice, something the page can flatten out. With Sant and Nicholas it is the chosen forms that aid in hearing their voice.  With Varga, the shifts in her attention, the exclamation marks, the small ironies that might be sincerities, rely for their impact on knowing her own speech. Some of the poems are obviously best done in performance, but how to learn her timing was sometimes a difficult ask. There is time yet for her to notice more “small shoots of thought”, perhaps by trying new forms.