Cover of the shadow's keep
the shadows keep
John Anderson

a haunting perfection

Jennifer Maiden, Overland
a radically independent and unfashionable devotion to poetic essence
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Book Description
Les Murray described John Andersonthe forest set out like the night as a distinctive experimental text, one which is bound to be influential’. the shadow's keep is again a radical text. In his third collection he has gathered single lines received in dreams and retained on waking. He taps an unusual vein which runs through certain poetic cultures. The one-line poem is a form sometimes used in Aboriginal poetry, often associated with dance ceremonis. The Japanese haiku may also be seen as a one-line form. Andersons lines are aware of these traditions and draw also on Western psychology.

Each single-line poem reads like a mystifying maxim or injunction, without the closure of the epigram; the language is honed, subtle and volatile. Singly, each line is resolved and hermetic. Clustered, they form a complex mosaic, the coruscating facets of which both illumine and shadow. The effect is to startle and subvert, to confound and resonate.

His accompanying essay the beginning tincture of what I wrote (see below) describes the genesis of this strange and tantalizing work. It is a lucid essay on the origins of poetry.

In the final section he gives us eight pantoums fashioned from the dreamlines. Here they achieve a formal grace and powerful lyric intensity.

As original and ambitious as any writing today.
Alan Wearne, Eureka Street

ISBN 1876044128
Published 1997
60 pgs
the shadow’s keep book sample

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I    the shadow
s keep
II    the beginning tincture of what I wrote
III    a zephyric alphabet
          DEEP SEA FAITH

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Precise Evocation and Tantalizing Elusiveness Delight and Challenge
Werner Senn
, Vol. 12, No. 2, December 1998

In an essay placed between Parts I and III of the shadow’s keep, John Anderson discusses the two kinds of problems he (and the reader!) faces in his poetry. First, many of the single lines that constitute Part I do not easily (or not at all) yield the ‘core meaning’ Anderson attributes to them (pg. 47) but are more notable for ‘their inherent ambiguities’ (pg. 46); second, the sequence of lines seems arbitrary and hence the ‘subliminally present narrative’ Anderson claims (pg. 47) is hard to detect. The lines remain self-contained, discrete items, and their wide spacing suggests a shying away from contextualization.

The author himself seems in two minds: on the one hand, ‘the understanding of any line would be influenced by the lines placed around it’, on the other, ‘the lines are complete in themselves, and are often more roundly suggestive when taken singly’, their possible significance thus not likely to ‘be lamed by an inappropriate juxtaposition’ (pg. 45). But what, one wonders, is the appropriate juxtaposition? The rationale behind this striking ‘relaxation of conscious control’ (pg. 48) on the writer’s part outdoes Coleridge and all romantic ideas of the autonomy of poetry. Anderson claims that most of his lines were ‘received’ in dreams or dream-like states: ‘It is as if I am registering a language... that has rolled through from somewhere further back’ (pg. 43).

The refusal to tamper with these intuited lines results in a variety of linguistic forms, ranging from the straightforward sentence: ‘we both of us know how to take a journey around a bathtub’ (pg. 28), through the simple or complex noun phrase: ‘metabolic essay’ (pg. 26), ‘the young and negacious Q’ (pg. 30), ‘the long kitty with only the dab in tune’ (pg. 23), to the grammatically deviant: ‘the pod, that once no more than wasn’t, was’ (pg. 39), to the correctly formed but semantically nonsensical sentence, as in ‘to self hatred yields a higher dingo’ (pg. 21) or ‘he makes porridge of his name’ (pg. 21). It may be that for Anderson ‘the lines are their own best authority’ (pg. 48) but in the absence of any linguistic (let alone narrative) context, they often leave us at a loss.

Randomness and discontinuity are highlighted in Part III, where many of the earlier lines, repeated in the formalized order of the pantoum, ‘find themselves in shifting contexts’, which allows them ‘to reveal facets of themselves much more clearly than I could’ (pg. 46). More than in Part I, this enhances the playing off of individual lines against each other while at the same time implying that (changing) context is the basis for the signifying practice, that is, that meaning is endlessly deferred.

Reading the shadow’s keep is a puzzling, tantalizing, and challenging experience. Its playful nonsense, however, cannot hide deep seriousness. Again and again, individual lines impress with haunting elusiveness and powerful suggestion: ‘words that feather us’ (pg. 7); ‘no one dug an island more deeply’ (pg. 31), or with an almost Blakean ring: ‘the world cannot be overcome by the analogue ‘I’’ (pg. 13); ‘boredom is the fatness that irritates the soul’ (pg. 22).

Perhaps Anderson’s art is best characterized, in a phrase of his own, as one ‘of a pure and monastery lineliness’ (pg. 14). the shadow’s keep also stands as a curious monument of a radically independent and unfashionable devotion to poetic essence.

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A Miscellany
Michael Sharkey (editor)
Australian Book Review, No. 201, June 1998

I have saved the best until last. John Anderson’s book is profoundly satisfying. Like Bev Braune’s, his collection’s title holds a clue to its writer’s passion for the exact word. I read Anderson’s poems with a note of inescapable regret that he is no longer with us. His first collection (the blue gum smokes a long cigar, 1978) contained some of the most individual poetry of its era and since: lyric, sensual, and absorbing contemplations on the phenomenon of ‘reading’ one’s own response to ‘nature’. It was never enough to refer to Anderson’s works as ‘nature’ poems, as it is never enough to say the same of Philip Hodgins’ ‘pastoral’ poems or Les Murray’s ‘translations’ from the natural world. In subsequent books (the forest set out like the night, 1995; and the volume under review), Anderson continued the exploration of the poet’s modes of perception.

the shadow’s keep is a book of jewels of phrasing, laid out, in the first forty pages, in spaced single or double lines ‘received in dreams and retained upon waking’. They commence with ‘this is some of the territory from which we strayed in our quest / for the land of prayer’. To read the lines sequentially, in the discrete groupings Anderson arranges, is to be increasingly aware of a writer who makes no concessions to a browser’s expectations. He demands, deserves and repays the strictest attention. His lines continually delight with their surprises: ‘I’d like to coax some answers apart / the mistakes give the work of art ventilation / You, the new poem, stalking on your why’s ways’.

This last line is reprised in the book’s last poem, one of eight pantoums which comprise the final section. Here, lines encountered in the first section are reassembled into tight verses containing refrains and ‘rehearsing’ the theme suggested by the title: the work which occupies the mind as ‘shadows’ until it puts on substantiality in a work of art.

The middle section of Anderson’s book is an essay on the process whereby the ‘dream phenomena’, shadowed in the lines he presents in the first section, constitute poetic form. Here, as in the first pantoum, he shows himself a poet’s poet. He offers his approach to keeping the ‘dreamlines’ in their contexts and juxtapositions, and discusses his ‘composition’ of lines ‘which might have arrived years past’ [which] can ‘seem to ask to be placed together’ - while other lines ‘seem to have no obvious place beside any other lines at present, but which may find their own company in time’.

As I’ve implied, I’m grateful for all Anderson’s lines, arranged together as he saw fit, in the third section of this book, or queued up, in abeyance, in the first. His work is valued by those who heard him and read him; the number in the latter category will, I hope, increase.

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The limits of dream imagery
the shadow’s keep
Geoff Page
Panorama, The Canberra Times, 18 April 1998

The final book by Melbourne poet John Anderson (who died unexpectedly last year) is one of those which promises a little more than it gives.

The title sequence, which runs for 40 pages, is a compendium of individual lines which came to the poet, as he says, ‘at the cusp between sleeping and waking’ - dream images, in effect. In one sense they are all individual poems; in another, they have been collated by Anderson to form one single extended poem in which the adjacency of lines affects the way we read them while at the same time providing no overall sense of direction. Some of the lines have great resonance (‘The Aborigines. They weren’t fishing on the same surface’); others seem irretrievably hermetic (‘voice making soul, with’). Strung together by the idiosyncratic vagaries of the poet himself, they prove frustrating as a whole even while often being illuminating separately.

In a way this is Keats’s idea of negative capability taken to an extreme. It certainly makes more room than is usual in Australian poetry for dream rather than reason. One problem which is evident in the first section, but not in the last, is the unavoidable incoherence of dreaming. Anderson solves this in the book’s closing pages with a series of pantoums using some of the most memorable lines from the earlier sequence. In the poem ‘I am a thistle with open arms’ Anderson takes several lines which all have a landscape dimension and strings them together with judicious repetitions, thus generating a rhetoric reminiscent at times of the more philosophical passages of the great American poet Wallace Stevens. The overlapping elements of imagery and stately permutations generate a poetic unity which is rewarding in a way that the lines by themselves are often not. Admittedly the coherence is still not quite at a rational level, but this is unlikely to disconcert most readers. There has always been some obscurity in poetry (ever since the use of magical incantation). In these later poems Anderson seems to reduce it to a manageable amount while still allowing his dream imagery its full independence.

Anderson has made an important, if not always successful, experiment. How far can a poet push the subjective dream element of poetry and still communicate? To judge from the shadow’s keep the distance is longer than we might previously have thought.

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The Seductive Microcosm
the shadow’s keep
Jennifer Maiden
Overland, No. 150, Autumn 1998

John Anderson’s the shadow’s keep has a haunting perfection, too [like Alison Croggon’s The Blue Gate]. It is tailored from lines ‘received in dreams and retained on waking’, but the juxtapositions are profoundly more fecund, logically wittier and have profoundly more sleepy grace (the atmosphere of real dreams is actually much brusker) than that genesis would suggest. Cumulatively, the mismatched words and lightly altered clichés build up to a clear, generous personal universe which has an authentic spiritual sweetness and refreshment about it. The lyricism is expansive because it is based on the privacy of questioning as much as on physical observations.

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Well versed in everyday themes
Poetry Review
Julie Richards
Herald Sun, 2 February 1998

For those with a little more stamina and a preference for rougher terrain, take a trip with Emma Lew or John Anderson.

Both published by Black Pepper, Lew’s The Wild Reply, and Anderson’s the shadow’s keep are challenging in their use of language and imagery.

They depart from the usual highways and offer a somewhat harsher view from the top.

The experimental nature of Anderson’s use of ‘dreamlines’, received during the first stages of sleep, and his arrangement of these lines ‘so as to let them expand infinitely into their own universes’ yields some pretty volatile material.

Almost echoing surrealism, it expresses the workings of the poet’s subconscious, laced with fantastic imagery and unusual contrasts.

It’s a demanding and unconventional read, but perseverance and tolerance will be amply rewarded by the originality and ambition of this exciting and fresh new perspective.

With Barbara Giles [Seven Ages], John Anderson and Emma Lew, there is the distinct feeling of being privy to a special moment in an ordinary life and going on a memorable journey of discovery, for both poet and reader.

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On The Edge Of Sleep
the shadow’s keep
Heather Cam (poet)
The Sydney Morning Herald, 31 January 1998

Riffling through the pages of these three ‘little press’ books [Pam Brown, 50-50, Fay Zwicky, The Gatekeeper’s Wife, John Anderson, the shadow’s keep], you are immediately struck by the visual differences in lay-out, line length, and the overall approach to the poem on the page. Each poet presents a distinctive voiceprint and typographical appearance...

In contrast [to Brown and Zwicky], the isolated, virtually unpunctuated threads of poetry in John Anderson’s title section are ‘dreamlines’ salvaged from the verge of sleep. They appear to be randomly arranged, not fitting into any larger, over-arching structure. At the centre of the shadow’s keep, the essay, ‘the beginning tincture of what I wrote’, explains how Anderson receives or captures, seeks to understand, and eventually arranges these potent lines into poetry. A deliberate poetic structure emerges in ‘a zephyric alphabet’, the last section of this unusual collection, where some of the floating ‘dreamlines’ have been woven into formal, tightly knit pantoums.

What each poet’s page layout superficially reveals is reinforced by reading:...

Far removed from Zwicky’s witty conference contrivances and Brown’s worldly wise, highly self-conscious banter are Anderson’s dreamlines. Akin to automatic writing, these lines, we are told, were received by the poet when his conscious mind was literally at rest: ‘The lines gathered here represent a variety of dream phenomena. Most can probably be explained at a mundane level by my sleep apnoea, which prevents the normal onset of deep sleep. This brings about prolonged spells of relative alertness to events taking place at the bay of sleep.’ ‘ The dreamlines work best for me as the building blocks of Anderson’s pantoums: then the ‘gift’ of the dreamlines is combined with the poet’s conscious effort and artistry and arranged into the strict verse forms that conclude the shadow’s keep:

Quiet ruin is the conversation of the bulbs
Then axeman builds as rust-man stalks them
An apple seeming to the wasteful falls
The old watertight roads have sandbars along their edge

the shadow’s keep is a valedictory. Late in October, shortly after this bock’s publication, Anderson died, aged 49, of leukemia. Much of the work gathered here in this last harvest has a prophetic, haunting resonance:

I believe in life after death because things always are, they always extend
An apple seeming to the wasteful falls
The everywhere the moon always was and rests
Quiet ruin is the conversation of the bulbs

In Anderson’s final poems, the dreanlines glide out into the whiteness of the page; each one is embedded in the surrounding silence of blank space, approaching sleep, and, ultimately, death.

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Views & Reviews
the shadow’s keep
Dmetri Kakmi
Heat, No. 7, 1998

John Anderson, in his essay on the gradual evolution of the hermetic lines that constitute the first part of this, his final book, gives the impression that he acted as a kind of radio transmitter, a not so passive recipient, who was rewarded with ‘the most exquisite and alert little fish’ while drifting ‘at the bay of sleep’. And, indeed, reading these crypto/mystical transmissions one feels that a translucent medium presence is at work, excavating the wisdom of the soil and of the spheres - a perception that has become particularly difficult to shake off since the poet died of leukemia in October last year.

In the first part, ‘the shadow’s keep’, Anderson records, in no particular chronological or narrative order, the short, sharp lines he wrote on waking from various dream states. The glyphs he salvaged, however, are not merely dream recordings, but insights that tweek nerve endings which continue to reverberate on a subconscious level, so that an initially puzzling line reveals itself, with any number of often contradictory interpretations and permutations, when you let go the line and allow the bait to drag and float with the currents. As he observes, ‘If I relaxed and simply let the lines happen, they seemed eventually to explain themselves in ways that were more surprising than any I could have arrived at consciously’. Yet these are not the wafty dream babbles I feared on initially reading his essay. They are twigs and buds caught in the door jamb of the rational and irrational.

In the third section of the book, ‘a zephyric alphabet’, Anderson conflates the Dionysian upsurge of his dreams with Apollonian reason, as he carefully extricates his brains that ‘sleep in the marsh’ from the rocks that pierce an ‘ocelli’ in his blood, to learn what any artist should know before launching themselves before a public: mainly that the initial inspiration may knock your socks off, but the silt has to be cleared before a reader can receive it second-hand, or, as he succinctly puts it, ‘Mud is a writer - lightning is a writer’. Thanks to his alertness, he brings order and coherence to the disparate lines by harnessing them into the pantoum form - a verse form of Malay origin, in which the second and fourth lines of each stanza become the first and third lines of the next, and in the last stanza the form comes full circle as the unrepeated first and third lines of the first stanza are used as the second and fourth lines. With its possibilities of mood shifts and capacity to underline obsessive themes, the pantoum has a circular motion that serves Anderson’s subject matter well; but you sense his reluctance in doing this when one line, in particular, seems to implore against such interference, asking that he not alter, ‘but preserve it in its sweet sleep, its inventive mind’. He frets that he may be only a custodian of the lines, and has no right to create a drawbridge between the dream-like flow and conscious control, in order that a wider audience may receive them.

Zen is often misunderstood in the West, as a result, haiku has suffer a great deal in untrained Western hands. Orthodox Christianity places the soul of man in direct opposition to God and states that a union is facilitated with the Divinity only through contemplation and love. Even so, absolute union and the Beatific Vision is not granted until after death. In Zen, union with the Absolute and with Nature are one and the same thing and no intermediary is necessary. In ‘Let the Spring Breeze Enter: The Quest of Zen’, Takahashi Ikemoto says, ‘Zen is clarity itself’. A clarity that Anderson aspires to through his adoration of the immeasurable open spaces or, in his words, the ‘geology of contrary responses’ afforded by the Australian bush, from which he drew constant inspiration for his work. When he remarks that ‘the ironbark is slow to go up in beauty / the ironbark is slow upon the land’ we know he is rooted in a land where Aboriginal ‘aloofs are not compatible with Australian journalism’, and as he fixes on the ‘black ducks’ which ‘fly over in the night and create stillness in a / body’, he is inwardly transfixed by, and perhaps flying with them, toward an Eastern realisation: ‘My fingers curl towards the East / the mountains took a long roll outwards / they were a fan in my heart’.

As in the cult of Shinto in Japan, Anderson’s veneration of trees, mountains, birds and waterfalls holds sacred the sense of Nature and her cycles. He reflects darkly on human interference: ‘the moon plows red / and what of man? So long as he holds influence the earth / dreads its very own water babies’. But when he records that ‘the old watertight roads have sandbars along their edge’, he is aware that unstoppable natural elements are encroaching and undermining man’s efforts to seal his fortress - a cyclic stock-taking or Darwinian turbulence of give and take.

Ikemoto also suggests that, perhaps, the essence of Zen is best captured by this classic poem: ‘Transmission outside doctrine, / No dependence on words, / Pointing directly at the mind, / Thus seeing oneself truly, attaining Buddhahood’. Of course, as a poet, Anderson’s tools are words, but the function of his utterances is to create word-images that point ‘directly at the mind’ and, since the West locates the heart as the true seat of intellect and love, melts dew-drops that reflect the indivisible moon, down to that central organ.

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the shadow’s keep
Richard Hillman
Sidewalk, No. 1, 1998

Alternatively [to Andrew Sant, Album of Domestic Exiles], John Anderson’s the shadow’s keep does not suffer from a pretentious groping for unsatisfactory detail; his language may be a dream reached on waking but as an experimental text it is a constant poetical challenge, brilliant, leaving nothing for the Jungian to fondle with, to analytically sexualise (it cannot be analogised) - but, it might be asked, Why does Anderson think anyone will be interested in his dreams? Do they represent a PSYCHE at millennium’s end, or beginning? Are these poems sounds, someone overwhelmed by words? Does this poetry simulate an enviable journey - ‘I wish I had written that / it’ - or simply mirror a form of wishing thinking? the shadow’s keep excludes the personal even though it invites, because it keeps to itself. Beyond a sense of alienation, the shadow’s keep is sustained by a beautiful, creative voice - perhaps the sound of things spoken in silence.

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book review
the shadow’s keep
Lucinda McKnight
ArtStreams, December 1997/January 1988

To enter John Anderson’s world, in his poetry collection the shadow’s keep, is to enter a world of dream.

In his explanatory essay, ‘the beginning tincture of what i wrote’, Anderson even calls his lines ‘dream-lines’, explaining that they are vivid fragments released when drifting between waking and sleeping, fragments he has ‘received’ and channelled for us.

Even without this explanation, though, the reader who is absorbed by the first section of the volume will recognise its dream influences.

Anderson explores the incongruity of dreams both within each fragment and through his careful juxtaposition of lines, expressing his strangest thoughts matter-of-factly, like a dreamer just woken from sleep. The reader, puzzling over each mysterious image, relives the disorientation of dreams, as the fragments, unrelated to, yet resonating against those coming before and after, collectively create a larger meaning. This meaning is likely to be private, and different for each reader, as the images operate subtly on our memories.

the shadow’s keep combines uniquely Australian imagery, recalling the magical stillness and glow of the bush at sunset with the frenzy of the poet seeking ‘the generous minimalist of the poem’s surprises’.

By presenting us with ‘the black sons of water lilies’ and ‘folded blankets’ or fridges and cleverly playing the exotic off against the mundane, Anderson enthralls the reader for a while, but it is easy to become blase about the intensity of the imagery, even when the lines have space around them to ‘expand infinitely’ into.

By the time the reader finishes the following explanatory essay and delves into the third section, with the same lines rearranged into ‘a Zephyric alphabet’ or scries of more traditional poems, the lines appear crammed together and it is easy to become lost or to feel you have over-indulged on Anderson’s rich and peculiar feast of language.

The best way to experience the shadow’s keep may be to read it slowly, aloud, savouring ‘the indomitable spark of message in it’, and the ‘angel pips and squiggle pips of meaning’. This collection provides a rare opportunity to share the story of the artist’s creative process and explore how the re-organisation of words changes their impact.

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the shadow’s keep
Liz Winfield
Famous Reporter, No.16, December 1997 (pgs 104-107)

[Text not yet available]

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A Dense, Word-Haunted Forest
the shadow’s keep
Martin Langford
Ulitarra, No. 12, 1997

In the shadow’s keep, John Anderson has written a curious book. It is composed of individual lines and phrases that occurred to him either between waking and sleep, or in dreams. The lines and phrases do not necessarily make literal sense, though sometimes they do. They all participate in various types of poetic sounding language:

tomatoes, potatoes, my rapscallion heart


three hour jumping frog workshop with Sigmund Freud


angel pips and squiggle pips of meaning

In some, an abstract comment or idea is made attractive by the quirkiness of expression:

The aborigines. Their aloofs are not compatible with
Australian journalism


The day got through the day without the sun

At the end of the book, there are several pantoums, where Anderson plays with suggestive juxtapositions of the lines.

Overall, I think that his fragments represent only one stage of the creative process. It is as if he has locked onto the phrases at a time when, while they may hold maximum interest for the writer - still with an intriguing sense of being unformed, fresh with a sense of mystery - they could nevertheless not be said to have been developed sufficiently to compel the attention of the reader. The phrases are interesting, but not satisfying. They actually beg the question of intelligibility, by insisting that the author is only interested in that place where meaning begins. I would argue, however, that it is precisely at that stage when the author’s responsibilities come into play.

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Judges Report, Poetry Book Club of Australia
Judge’s Report
First Selection: the shadow’s keep
Jennifer Maiden
Poetry Book Club of Australia

This was a rich and varied batch of poetry collections from some individual and very powerful voices. To provide the two commended works however I would nominate Alison Croggon’s The Blue Gate conveying a profound and exquisite microcosm of personal experiences and the hint of a macrocosm to come and John Millett’s Dragonfly Tie which is further evidence of his long and energetic efforts to encompass the macrocosm of experiences and styles from country town eroticism to the Holocaust. Any of the thirteen books could have been selected as the final nomination but I have at last decided that John Anderson’s the shadow’s keep is the most appropriate choice. It was Anderson’s third poetry collection and crystallizes the haunting accomplishment of his style. It was designed from lines ‘recorded in dreams and retained in waking’ but that genesis does not indicate the careful assembling, tender humour or languid, logical (never somnambulistic) grace of the final achievement. The deliberately mismatched, unusually matched or intentionally too- usually matched words and distorted clichés build up to a well conveyed personal world of refreshing spiritual clarification and evocation with a different function but some of the physical and exploratory qualities of the last work of James Joyce. The physical observations are lyrical and fecund and the questioning is poignant with an air of private rather than rhetorical reflection:

Just as the lines can seize me at the cusp between sleeping and waking so they can seize me in the midst of a dream which is not related to them in any way. It is as if I am registering a language with its own strange undertone that has rolled through from somewhere further back, from some other plane of dreaming.

With a discipline unrelated to automatic writing Anderson utilizes and explores areas of the mind not usually examined. The confidence this process gave him resulted in the great respectful beauty of this final volume. Whilst we may always regret that he himself could develop it no further, there is still the comforting hope that his skill and the surprising voluptuousness of his method will seed such attempts in other writers

You the new poem stalking on your why’s ways
Because this was said to an egg timer this was said to perfection
People in the gallery laugh to see it written on marble
The beginning tincture of what I wrote

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the beginning tincture of what I wrote
The lines gathered here represent a variety of dream phenomena. Most can probably be explained at a mundane level by my sleep apnoea, which prevents the normal onset of deep sleep. This brings about prolonged spells of relative alertness to events taking place at the bay of sleep.

The experience of receiving these lines is often close to that of everyday thought. They are like thoughts. I am composing my thoughts and then something seems to be doing it for me. Unmaking the thought and making something else.

It is as if the rather desultory images swimming before my eyes, marbled grey and brown, suddenly undergo a sea change and become the most exquisite and alert little fish, glowing in the palest shades of pink and blue and green.

I have become practised in the capture of the bubbles of words, the sputterings that slip by me. Even so, they usually escape, and I surrender to sleep.

Other lines are much more powerful. The sense of the words being conveyed, and the importunate edge to their delivery, are so startling as to always awaken me.

Just as the lines can seize me at the cusp between sleeping and waking, so they can seize me in the midst of a dream which is not related to them in any way. It is as if I am registering a language with its own strange undertone, that has rolled through from somewhere further back, from some other plane of dreaming.

It is not a visual language. It is one of word and tone.

On those rare occasions when there has been a visual component, a line is set within a dream. Such lines seem diminished when presented without their dream context.

For example, the words the peacock's physician were accompanied by the image of a butterfly beating through rainforest, each wingbeat disclosing now deep red, now rich blue iridescence. (See my appropriation of the words and image within the text of the forest set out like the night, p101.) The image seals an understanding of the words.


For me, the dreamlines share many of the qualities of poetry, and some stand as individual poems. They have an aptness of language (even where a word is the concoction of the lines themselves), a decided tone, distinct rhythm and vibration, surprise and resolution They have the power to awaken, as poetry can.


The first lines I recorded were, by a shade, the most peculiar, the most cryptic. Although I always felt privileged to be receiving them, they at first disturbed as well as fascinated me.

At the beginning I was more inclined to seek to understand and, if possible, be true to whatever they were trying to tell me. However, contrary interpretations could often feasibly be drawn from the same line.

If I relaxed and simply let the lines happen, they seemed eventually to explain themselves in ways that were more surprising than any I could arrive at consciously, and in a more subtle and richly suggestive language which, as I gave into it, gradually became less Rhadamanthine in its overtones, softer and more playful.

For instance, I had puzzled over the line: don't alter, but preserve it in its sweet sleep, its inventive mind...

If this were a comment about the reception of the lines, did it imply that the lines weren't mine to touch, that they were endogenous and that I was simply some kind of receiving station, with attendant responsibilities nonetheless as to how they were to be communicated to a wider audience? Or, obversely, was it an interdiction, a demand that I agree to keep silent?

To an extent, however, I found myself incorporating the lines into my work.

Vital words or phrases that would complete or progress a poem might sometimes (if rarely) be contained in a dreamline. It seemed that such lines would only be generated when my writing had reached a particular pitch.

I might have to manipulate the wording of the line in question to fit my purpose, but I could feel that the dreamlines approved, that they had presented themselves to be just so used, that my writing had been elevated by their inclusion.

Simply writing the lines down on the page in a sense altered them, severed them from their medium of dream, from whatever words had preceded or would have followed if I had not woken and exposed them to a critical waking consciousness. Even if grouped in the pristine chronology of their occurrence, they might be rendered mere specimens drained of their richness and colour, like stones that need to be put back in the water before they gleam.

How were the lines to be arranged for publication?

The understanding of any line would be influenced by the lines placed around it.

And yet the lines are complete in themselves, and are often more roundly suggestive when taken singly. Days or weeks may have intervened between their occurrence in real time, but the reader would be experiencing them crowded one upon the other.

Lines that had affected me powerfully, their possible significances slowly stealing upon me, could easily be lamed by an inappropriate juxtaposition.

If I could, I would arrange the lines so as to let them expand infinitely into their own universes, infinitely in all directions. But I was faced with the knowledge that any arrangement could, by subjecting it to a subordinate status in a consciously wrought greater structure, corrupt the understanding of a given line as a discrete utterance.

This said, clearly there are lines of a kind which seem to ask to be placed together.

Lines that might have arrived years apart.

And there are lines that seem to have no obvious place beside any other lines at present, but which may find their own company in time.


A chronological presentation of the lines would be very different. Lines of a common tone or concern would show some tendency to correspond with distinct periods in my life.

Played against biographical details, a fuller and more accurate divination of their meanings might have been possible.

But to present them in even an approximate chronological sequence would be difficult now.

I never dated the lines. They were written down hastily on scraps of paper, scattered through notebooks, collated months or years later.

And while in a sense the lines ghost my personal history, it is equally true that each one emanates from its own time, its own dream-continuum.

Typically, a brooding line is followed in rapid succession by one of a joyous, optimistic nature, a line about the process of writing, a line about the lines themselves.

A chronological presentation could appear as a jagged graph of seemingly unrelated material.


The pantoum form (see Part 3 below) offered me a way to present the lines in a kinetic relationship with each other.

The pantoum takes as its starting point that the understanding of any single line will be influenced by the lines placed around it. It allows the lines to find themselves in shifting contexts and, in so doing, capitalises on their inherent ambiguities.

Writing the pantoums brought about a different kind of engagement with the lines. It involved sifting and re-sifting them to find which lines interacted most suggestively.

I had not wanted to present them as a catalogue. Often, on waking, I wished that I had been able to let the dream voice run on a little further, to see how one utterance led on to another.

The pantoum provided a means to suggest extended dialogues by sleight of hand.

It allowed the lines to talk among themselves in their own language, to reveal facets of themselves much more clearly than I could by writing about them.

Some individual lines seem like keys, ciphers - unlocking, unravelling other lines, and in the pantoum I could activate and explore this effect. It was a form that enabled me to do with the lines something that dreams do - explore the paths not taken. By venturing line against line, I was able to build a narrative path, or landscape, or argument with its own hermetic logic.

A line might have been used in a different combination or in another pantoum and have led to another place.

Writing the pantoums engendered a spate of lines about writing, lines like the beginning tincture of what I wrote, which in turn provided the theme for a new pantoum.

When I received the line, You, the new poem, stalking on your why's ways, while composing this piece, I was tempted to take it as confirmation that I had, as far as possible, become the agency of whatever it was that the lines wished expressed. Perhaps, by writing the pantoums, I was participating in, creating an epi space, where the legend itself, Art, can be freely thrown about.


I am sure that writing the pantoums gave me confidence for the task of arranging the lines in the first section of this book, given the considerations mentioned earlier in this essay.

The experience alerted me to the possibility of assembling them as a complete poem, grouping lines of a kind in drifts, or as loosely linked poems within a longer poem.

And it gave me practice in the art of composition, the tuning of line to line.

Some of them are particularly chameleon-like, more charged with possible meanings, for example It is an impossible question. Don Juan let go of it only to interfere all the time. They have the potential to powerfully affect the reception of the lines placed around them.

The art was in finding the optimum combination without violating what I understood as each line's core meaning.

In the end, I hope, a verisimilitude was attained: But the introduction of a certain almost subliminally present narrative flowing through the whole tended to override all the little narratives that were attached to each individual line. Those lines, for example, which were situated within dreams, spoken by a variety of dream characters, and which were now appropriated by the one voice. So what I have created is in part a fiction. The lines could have been arranged differently to other effect. But while some of the qualities of these lines may have been diminished by the mode of presentation, I feel that their dreamlike and often delicately poetic nature has been enhanced.


How do the lines relate to my life?

The lines have their own life. Many are clearly generated in part by the concerns of my writing with the natural world and more with the process of language and writing itself. And yet I don't feel I can claim an identity with them. I have a certain privileged understanding of quite a few, but as many leave me guessing. A casual reader's interpretation of a line can often be more open and less conditioned than my own: I am also an outsider, a reader who can draw parallels between the lines and his life but who is not their authority. The lines are their own best authority. They have their own understanding of me, of themselves and the world. For example, they understand life in terms of reincarnation. I can imagine life in their terms but not with their certitude, although I may have claimed such certitude for the purposes of a poem, wishing to explore the state of being that such a belief allowed. See these lines:

I believe everything has been told
I like to hear the ripples of the telling
the croon of the gums
the violet magpie songs

(See p.70 the forest set out like the night. The first two of these non-dreamlines were also imported into the pantoum Deep Sea Faith - see p.58 this text.)

This said, there is a heightened state of receptivity to ideas and the poetically right phrase when deeply involved in the act of writing that is like the dream state. It involves a relaxation of conscious control. It is a waking state you must work to achieve.

You wish the writing to flow like a dream. Your aim is to throw everyday logic all to the winds, to write as if you knew, to have the words just drop into place, to allow something to come through.

You are prepared to claim the preposterous; to assume the grandest airs, to try any strategy; if it will let you see a little further, draw into prominence something of what is more often undervalued.

And this is similar to what the dreamlines do. They jockey, they chide, they tease, they exalt - anything to gain your attention. They scout the neglected territories. They illumine the mundane...

the choice of a subject like the choice of a glance

An underlying equivalence of concerns between my dreaming and waking states can perhaps be shown by the following dream:

I was at the court of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain. I was pouring two identical piles of coffee crystals on the table before them, and saying of one pile, "This is the Earth" and of the other, "These are the Crown Jewels."

I remember a vignette from a children's version of the story of Christopher Columbus. Columbus, representing the earth and its roundness with an egg, demonstrates to Isabella and Ferdinand by the tracing of his finger the feasibility of reaching India by sailing west.

To me this dream is about the folly of singling out any one part of the earth as more precious than the whole.

As a poet I have attempted to declare something of this truth. One of the things the dreamlines do is chart a writer's progress in the task that he has -set himself.


At the same time as describing the realm from which the dreamlines emanate, the line the shadow's keep (received as in the shadow's keep), for me bears particular geographic connotations.

I was hitchhiking back from Central Australia through the Flinders Ranges.

I was musing on the diaspora of the redgums. Their presence - huge, isolated and absolute in the desert spaces, rising as a wall along the dry riverbeds.

Their slow retreat into the deep gorges of the Macdonnell Ranges.

The mountains themselves, pared down, elemental.

Although this land had been substantially degraded by years of overgrazing, there was a feeling that here a vast integrity reigned. The redgums had never been culled. There were few roads or buildings.

In many places there seemed to be just sand, low bushes, space. My daydream was interrupted by the reception of the line, in the shadow's keep.

The sandhills, the plains between the ranges, the ranges themselves - all were abandoned to the absolute, in the possession of the shadows.

However, it was in relation to the mountain gorges that the line assumed its greatest significance.

The observer walking above them was bathed in the most intense light. But below, the gorges caught majestic pools of the deepest shadow: He would have to shield his eyes and squint to make out the forms of the pines, the cycads, the rock features that lay within. The redgums, so visible on the plains, had become the underneath - in the shadow's keep.

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