poetry is resolutely 'literary' and although it's probably preferable
to have some knowledge of rhetoric, semiotics, and postmodernism it's
also quite possible that you can get a huge variety of pleasures from
reading "Versary" whether or not you know anything at all about
poetics and its influences. [continue reading here]
"Sapphics" begins with a psychoanalytic axiom "Transference
fucks with your head" - and can be imagined as a kind of minor mental
breakdown. It uses fragmentation - stanzas and lines that are like diaristic
scraps. But it's fruitless looking for pentameters or dactyls in this
sapphic. It seems that Kate Lilley makes a conjecture of her own practice.
It is as if she tells the reader 'I know the terms of reference but these
are the poems I want to write, this is the way I use them.' Many of these
poems play on traditional and sometimes rare poetic form for instance,
"Mid-century Eclogues" , "Elegy" and "Georgic".
There are also many examples of stanzaic structure like the tercets that
comprise "Black Letter" and the apparently incomplete poem of
only two quatrains, "Formes Frustes", where the incompletion
exemplifies the title, and a set of pantoums called "Mint in a Box".
Mostly though Lilley ditches fixed stress, syllables and rhyme schemes
and opts for a kind of allusive jumbling of tradition so that the reader
is neither distracted by it nor has to tolerate it.
playful, celebratory use of language is rich yet never dense or florid
the poems are actually all economical and sparse each phrase
or sentence is deliberated with finesse. Lilley's lingo-revelry is often
camp, incorporating bizarre advertisements ("The vanishing SOLIDA
Non-plus-ultra Hairnet with Transpa-Knit makes all other hairnets obsolete")
and objets d'art which reveal an interest in kitsch. The author's notes
say "Nicky's World is the name of a collector's plate commemorating
the long-running American soap opera, The Young and the Restless".
The poem "Nicky's World" (which is the book's opening poem)
is a darkly comic and pleasurable critique of the tv soapie.
Many of these poems are rooted in the white blues music of Country & Western. Many of the poems are performative. That's not to say that they'd always work well or "better" in performance than on the page but that Lilley is signalling performance via titles like "Illocution" and "Prosopopoeia" and that she revels in the awkward romantic theatricality of Country & Western - a genre of disappointment and lost love - "When she holds the microphone to her lips/ and whispers mine is a lonely life/ it sounds like a radio tuned to the end of the world". It's also a genre of desired escape and transition through travel. Hank Williams' song "I Can't Help It If I'm Still In Love With You" provides the first line in Lilley's poem "Hobohemia" "As I brushed your arm and walked so close to you". The title "Hobohemia" itself invokes the 1930s songs of Jimmie Rodgers about unemployed itinerant "hobos" jumping freight trains in the USA to find work (the Australian version of this being the swagman). And the cover image suggests the travelling side-show an aerial carnival ride with little decorated cabins suspended aloft above the world, awaiting spinning. "Versary" puts paid to the widely-expressed complaint (in Australia) that cultural studies has pushed poetry off the list in the academy . This is a poetry that combines a multifaceted pop culture and the higher arts of poeisis in a refreshingly uncontrived way. They seem to have been written effortlessly.
back to Attention Span back to ensemble back to index