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Jacket 16 — March 2002   |   # 16  Contents   |   Homepage   |  Catalog   |    

Overland magazine feature

Laurie Duggan: ten poems

No name

A jazz trumpet sounds The Last Post
(at least tonally, from here
four flights up).
                                    The river is clay-coloured
(after heavy rain).

It’s a smaller world than imagined.

Walk the same path each day
noting ripples, a new accumulation of flotsam
along the bank
                                (once cleaned up
like memory, it’s gone

Who is left, scratching for a narrative
along this river side
along this river side
under a cathedral ceiling
registering the traffic;

whose face
assembles every day in the mirror.

At three in the afternoon

Smell of roasted peppers
a mid-afternoon stillness
save for the sound of traffic.
There is a place for professors
of philosophy, corporate lawyers,
cleaners, ferrymasters,
intersecting realities out there
beyond and within the wind
where a tentative writing
has none: it assembles
and is assembled by the arbitrary types
it invokes; is unread, mostly,
its claims often ludicrous.
At three in the afternoon
marks on a wall like Motherwell’s,
shapes of dried blood, or simply clouds
morphing silently, a ring
of cicadas, aromatics from
some unplaced kitchen.

Die Welt über dem Wasserspiegel

The book of the great poet
travels towards me slowly
as posthumous blottings and erasures
from a familiar humidity
where the body functions as barometer.
Not this cool month
when light goes early:
pelicans shadow the trawlers
up river, down river.
All tracks and diagrams
are false lanes in a street directory
set to deter plagiarists,
phantom telephone booths,
parks planted where there are none.
A closed book that never arrives
contains part of my history.
Allowed to remain as evidence,
my place is the place of bent syntax
high above the river.

August 7th

Warm light through tall windows,
tin roofs bleached
under a pale sky,
verandah shadows.
It is the day of the Census
in which we get
to make our lives up
as though there were more
than atmosphere in the account.
Coffee, a newspaper
(the death of Christopher Skase
or should that read ‘death’
the tycoon cunningly
disguised as a funerary urn).
I read back over
poems written from memory
casting years of a life
in terms of events
and discover I’ve got
the situations wrong,
I’m out, in fact
two to three years
in one poem, between
recollection and historical event.
Should I alter the detail,
unravel what
false memory has set up?
or would this allow
too much weight to poems
as documents. The sixties
and seventies for my students
are a blur of seemingly
related events and styles
— for me they’re periodised
by year (except for this
mistake I’ve made in my poem)
so should it matter?
(should it matter to see Elvis
as sequinned from birth,
a product of Vegas, not
Tupelo: RCA Elvis,
not Sun Elvis?). This
is where duration
overrides chronological time,
the space it takes
to drink a cup of coffee
versus what goes down on paper
in parallel, but opening out;
language exiting
through lexical doorways,
living its diverse lives,
enveloping, dissolving even
the maker of mistakes,
his view of rooftops
tricks of light
over an inner suburb.
The very unsettledness
distils a great calm
as though after crawling
through ducts, one had
stepped out into
limitless space.

Little History

Endless rain
as a drought breaks,
metallic horizon clouds
lit from an obscure place.
Is sense made simply
through binding together
disjunctives - as though
fragments of pictures
will always make a picture
whatever the source,
weather, texture, opinion,
not an argument certainly,
at least some trace,
not narrative even,
the wild sky, lightning
through mended Venetians.
A trail of ants
of unknown origin
and unknown destination
appears briefly in the kitchen.

November 11th

the sound of garbage
dumped, the chute
three floors down,
some heavy item

when the rain lifts
will mosquitos breed
in borrow pits?

(borrowed vocabulary:
it’s found in the fake poet
‘dead’ now half a century)

voices rise
a quire of paper,
the hills there is
a peculiar aura over,
limpid, like a vestibule
funnelling vision from dark
to light, as songs
carry the weight of promises
not made


Thirty degrees
out on Lincoln Mall
at midnight
and the hotel air-
conditioning icy,
Miami Beach,
last days of the season,
where I bought
The Arcades Project
(so far from the lit
lamps of a northern city:
a place where beat boxes,
torsos, cruise in buggies
through art deco ambience
desperate for the last
pick-up of summer.

The Last Days of Déjà Vu

Watching the shared-house movie
unsure of genealogy
(as I always am with movies)
and those people, full of art
who do not seem to have jobs.
The grumpy French guy
in bed with both sisters,
though why they find him attractive
is hard to fathom. He’s horrible
even with a upturned colander
on his head, dancing in the kitchen
to African music. The house
seems like a stage set
as though none of these people live here
except before the camera lens,
even that boofy young guy,
the new tenant (I don’t believe
he really needs those glasses),
who teaches piano
and, unconvincingly, shouts,
as though to indicate he
really can play his instrument:
‘Hey! Jelly Roll Morton!’

Comparative atmospherics

The N.Z. landscape defeated the impressionists
(either its light was wrong or
wind blew the easel over

in the U.S. Twachtman
dissolved north of Boston
into a white smudge

here eucalyptus haze
did the work, and David Davies
showed landscape as temperament.

Harlem Nocturne

A light-show flickers
from a window in the General Grant Apartments

as Bill Evans times his clusters
to sparks from the El — People

Who Need People — blue glare
of television, dull red of drawn curtains

beneath a purple sky
never knowing light’s absence.

Laurie (Laurence) Duggan was born in South Melbourne, Australia, in 1949. He studied at Monash and Sydney Universities, completing a PhD in Fine Arts at Melbourne University in 1999. He has worked as a scriptwriter and art critic and has taught media, poetry writing and art history. He has published ten books of poems as well as Ghost Nation, a work of cultural criticism. In 1987 he participated in a reading tour of the USA organised by Lyn Tranter and partly funded by the the Australia Council and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and in 1990 he was a guest at the Wellington NZ Festival of the Arts. In 1992 he lived for three months in Manchester (UK) and three further months in Washington DC. He currently lives in Brisbane.

Editor’s note: the ‘borrow pits’ mentioned in ‘November 11th’, above, occur in the work of the 1943 Australian hoax poet Ern Malley. See Jacket 17 for Malley’s complete oeuvre.

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