Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 3. 1965.
Packer Poetry Peevish
Packer Poetry Peevish
Prince Of The Plague Country, by Richard Packer. Pegasus Press 1964. 58 p.p, 15/-. Reviewed by Alastair Bisley.
His publishers claim for Mr. Packer that though he is "deeply concerned with the terrifying plight of the isolated individual in a collapsed culture, forced to confront a world which denies every human affirmation," his verse progresses "towards Catharsist and Gnostic concepts of self-transcendence." The achievement is somewhat less impressive.
Frequently his indignation is unobjective, substantiated only by vague discontents and disturbances, or by the hopeful recitation of the names of ancient heroes. Legend may be used to enforce or embody a legitimate disgust; it will not add consequence to an obscure grievance, however, and when we read in "Prelude" of a trumpet urging women to dance "for dead Orpheus, whose gay they dripped for sandwiches on desks, and whose sweet blood they'd thieved to guzzle from thermos flasks inside air-conditioned crypts"
we can only grieve that such assiduous mythology should have been put at the service of so much peevishness.
The poet is also often guilty of appalling gaucheness: little of Nefer's vanished beauty remains in her "applauded knees"; and lines like "even boozed they're narrow" (from "Long before Nightfall"), besides displaying an interesting attitude to drunkenness, achieve adolescent awkwardness, not a recklessly brutal diction.
There is a considerable sameness in Mr. Packer's all-embracing Indictment; but if his charges do not often vary, his morality frequently does. It is difficult to reconcile the implied praise of Praniteles "who sought a whore's embrace" and the young man's new found freedom in "Someone Special" ("beer and sundry misses restored him suddenly to the drunkenness of being free") with the disillusionment with lechery of "Through Dark Glasses" or "On The Seashore." Mr. Packer has mixed a large dose of wine and roses with a quantity of vanitas vanitatem, and seems fiercely determined to get the worst of both worlds.
Of the few poems which map a positive vision "Sestina" is wordy and diffuse, and "Lament for Elinor Wylie," while it contains more memorable lines, is scarcely powerful enough to weigh against the floods of pessimism. Probably the most considerable fusing of the attitudes of hope and despair is however "The Night after Wormwood." which incorporates most of what is said elsewhere in the book. Yet even this is not entirely successful. At the beginning of the poem the dramatic form is forceful, the cosmic disaster, described in Mr. Packer's more vigorous verse, must be urgently examined and guilt apportioned; but the dialogue becomes turgid and Everyman's recognition of his implication too pat.
With Everyman's cry of "Give me your name!
Answer, you whose presence blurs these phalluses of grizzled lime ..."
tension sags into interminable apostrophe: and the short lines "I see no crime is greater than choosing not to choose" are neither particularly forceful or particularly original. The self-indictment dissipates itself in vague and stereotyped images of violence.
Altogether, though Mr. Packer has occasionally caught the striking phrase, his observation is too often incorrect his pessimism too often wilful and his repetition too often boring. It is difficult not to hope that he will in future find some new attitude to strike.