Murray described John
forest set out like
the night as
experimental text, one which is
bound to be influential
shadow's keep is again a radical text. In his third
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. Anderson
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
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
tincture of what I wrote
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
As original and
ambitious as any
the shadow’s keep
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I the shadow
II the beginning tincture of what I wrote
III a zephyric alphabet
QUIET RUIN IS THE
CONVERSATION OF THE BULBS
THE WORLD CANNOT BE
OVERCOME BY THE ANALOGUE “I”
I AM A THISTLE WITH OPEN
STRANGE AND ERUDITE SOBS
MAINTAIN THE RULES OF THE
DEEP SEA FAITH
THE LONG CHEAT IN OUR
THE BEGINNING TINCTURE OF
WHAT I WROTE
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Evocation and Tantalizing Elusiveness Delight and Challenge
Vol. 12, No. 2, December 1998
In an essay placed between Parts I and III of the shadow’s keep
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
(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
significance thus not likely to ‘be lamed by an inappropriate
juxtaposition’ (pg. 45). But what, one wonders, is the
juxtaposition? The rationale behind this striking ‘relaxation
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:
of us know how to take a journey around a bathtub’ (pg. 28),
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
semantically nonsensical sentence, as in ‘to self hatred
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
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
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.
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
as one ‘of a pure and monastery lineliness’ (pg.
also stands as a
curious monument of a radically independent and unfashionable devotion
to poetic essence.
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Michael Sharkey (editor)
Australian Book Review
I have saved the best until last. John Anderson’s book is
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
, 1978) contained some of the most individual
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.
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
They commence with ‘this is some of the territory from which
in our quest / for the land of prayer’. To read the lines
in the discrete groupings Anderson arranges, is to be increasingly
aware of a writer who makes no concessions to a browser’s
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
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
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
‘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,
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The limits of dream imagery
Panorama, The Canberra
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
between sleeping and waking’ - dream images, in effect. In
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
seem irretrievably hermetic (‘voice making soul,
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
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
series of pantoums using some of the most memorable lines from the
earlier sequence. In the poem ‘I am a thistle with open
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
the distance is longer than we
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The Seductive Microcosm
No. 150, Autumn 1998
John Anderson’s the
has a haunting perfection, too [like Alison
]. It is tailored from lines ‘received in
retained on waking’, but the juxtapositions are profoundly
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
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
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versed in everyday themes
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
and Anderson’s the
are challenging in their use of language and
They depart from the usual highways and offer a somewhat harsher view
from the top.
The experimental nature of Anderson’s use of
during the first stages of sleep, and his arrangement of these lines
‘so as to let them expand infinitely into their own
some pretty volatile material.
Almost echoing surrealism, it expresses the workings of the
subconscious, laced with fantastic imagery and unusual contrasts.
It’s a demanding and unconventional read, but perseverance
tolerance will be amply rewarded by the originality and ambition of
this exciting and fresh new perspective.
With Barbara Giles [Seven
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
Heather Cam (poet)
The Sydney Morning Herald
Riffling through the pages of these three ‘little
press’ books [Pam
Fay Zwicky, The
, John Anderson, the shadow’s keep
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
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
Far removed from Zwicky’s witty conference contrivances and
worldly wise, highly self-conscious banter are Anderson’s
Akin to automatic writing, these lines, we are told, were received by
the poet when his conscious mind was literally at rest: ‘The
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
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
ruin is the conversation of the bulbs
Then axeman builds as
An apple seeming to the
The old watertight roads
sandbars along their edge
valedictory. Late in October, shortly after this bock’s
Anderson died, aged 49, of leukemia. Much of the work gathered here in
this last harvest has a prophetic, haunting resonance:
believe in life after death because things always are, they always
An apple seeming to the
The everywhere the moon
Quiet ruin is the
conversation of the
In Anderson’s final poems, the dreanlines glide out into the
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
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
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
eventually to explain themselves in ways that were more surprising than
any I could have arrived at consciously’. Yet these are not
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
conflates the Dionysian upsurge of his dreams with Apollonian reason,
as he carefully extricates his brains that ‘sleep in the
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
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
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
Enter: The Quest of Zen’, Takahashi Ikemoto says,
‘Zen is clarity
itself’. A clarity that Anderson aspires to through his
the immeasurable open spaces or, in his words, the ‘geology
responses’ afforded by the Australian bush, from which he
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
rooted in a land where Aboriginal ‘aloofs are not compatible
Australian journalism’, and as he fixes on the
‘black ducks’ which ‘fly
over in the night and create stillness in a / body’, he is
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
mountains, birds and waterfalls holds sacred the sense of Nature and
her cycles. He reflects darkly on human interference: ‘the
red / and what of man? So long as he holds influence the earth / dreads
its very own water babies’. But when he records that
watertight roads have sandbars along their edge’, he is aware
unstoppable natural elements are encroaching and undermining
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,
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
No. 1, 1998
Alternatively [to Andrew Sant
], 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,
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
personal even though it invites, because it keeps to itself. Beyond a
sense of alienation, the
is sustained by a beautiful, creative voice - perhaps
sound of things spoken in silence.
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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
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.
uniquely Australian imagery, recalling the magical stillness and glow
of the bush at sunset with the frenzy of the poet seeking
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
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
Zephyric alphabet’ or scries of more traditional poems, the
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
The best way to experience the
may be to read it slowly, aloud,
indomitable spark of message in it’, and the ‘angel
pips and squiggle
pips of meaning’. This collection provides a rare opportunity
the story of the artist’s creative process and explore how
re-organisation of words changes their impact.
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December 1997 (pgs 104-107)
[Text not yet available]
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Dense, Word-Haunted Forest
No. 12, 1997
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:
potatoes, my rapscallion heart
hour jumping frog workshop with Sigmund Freud
pips and squiggle pips of meaning
In some, an abstract comment or idea is made attractive by the
quirkiness of expression:
aborigines. Their aloofs are not compatible with
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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Report, Poetry Book Club of
First Selection: the
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
’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
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
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
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:
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
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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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
were accompanied by the image of a butterfly
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
, p101.) The image seals an understanding of the
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
This said, clearly there are lines of a kind which seem to ask to be
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
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
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
, which in turn provided the theme for a new
When I received the line, You,
new poem, stalking on your why's ways
, while composing
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
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
Some of them are particularly chameleon-like, more charged with
possible meanings, for example It
an impossible question. Don Juan let go of it only to interfere all the
They have the potential to powerfully affect the
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:
believe everything has been told
I like to
hear the ripples of
of the gums
(See p.70 the forest
set out like
. 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...
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
(received as in the
for me bears particular geographic connotations.
I was hitchhiking back from Central Australia through the Flinders
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
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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