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Sport 21: Spring 1998



Building a structure, a vantage point: that is the business of the poem—to lift itself beyond subjectivity and sentimentality by an inherently irrational process involving sounds, echoes and tremors, as well as sense. The end result: such towering yet immensely vulnerable structures as the poems of Guillaume Apollinaire and Blaise Cendrars. Like the small boy in Allen Curnow's poem ‘Survivors’, we are lifted onto the shoulders of the effective poem. We are held up there as the wind ‘freshens across the park, the crowd begins / thinning towards tomorrow. Climb up and see.’

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Which brings us to that most humane yet difficult objective of poetry: the recapturing of time, the repossession of past experience—in particular, childhood—and, beyond that, the unravelling of history, the renewing of its significance.

As a book by Louis Zukofsky, read on the floor of the Sydney apartment, December 1982, puts it:

To reach that age,

a tide
And full
for a time

be young.

The poem, then, is an opportunity to ‘be young’, to re-experience that which is familiar as though it was fresh, newly awakened.

In the belly of the aeroplane taking off there is a moment when we are all children again, defenceless, silent, our language (and all its reassurances) lost to us. And then, a moment later, we are safely off the ground and the drinks trays and dull magazines separate the adults from the children once again.

James K. Baxter offered a disgruntled account of such a trajectory in his poem ‘The Chariot’, the banality of aircraft offset by the ‘unreal vantage’ it offers:

Though the god Technology has lifted
Me above myself in the dead metal belly

Of the thunder bird, over the winding silted
River bends and grey feathered willows…10