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Sport 11: Spring 1993

River with Eels

River with Eels

Graham Lindsay, particularly in his first book Thousand Eyed Eel, picked up and processed a lot of Baxter—the barefoot on the ground realist, the commingling of the commonplace and the spiritual, of life in the suburbs and life breaking out of those suburbs.

page 140

black and white drawing

Lindsay is still walking the same floor as Baxter, only more self-consciously so. Whereas Baxter used the ‘Self’ as an anchor or poetic cornerstone, seeing and experiencing everything in relation to it, Lindsay acknowledges language itself as an unstable and unpredictable force within the poem, capable of relegating the ‘poetic self’ to the back seat. Baxter always handled language as though it was the surest, truest thing the poet had at his disposal (an unfashionable view in these postmodern times), whereas Lindsay has married the ‘identity’ central to his poetry with the ‘drift’ that language contributes. This lessens the poet’s ‘authority’, giving the work a more objective and ambiguous quality. The poem becomes a craggy and idiosyncratic mechanism but—and this is much to Lindsay’s credit—remains grounded in a common, or shared, reality. The reader is rarely left behind or lost in the slipstream.

Graham Lindsay comes closer to being the ‘the postmodern Baxter’ than anyone. His allegiance with Baxter has decreased over the years, but back in 1980 he was even prepared to send a few lines down into the ground where Baxter lies buried:

Can you hear me down there
There’re no lights on in the tophouse
now you know that the windows got broken?
Nga tamariki have grown up & left you old man
alone in that hole.

Oh I cd get you out
with a spade & a jemmy. I’d make that special trip.
Tho I guess yr hair is grey
and the flesh has dropt away
after four years what would be left
but bone & sack.
Still I would embrace you . . .

(from ‘The Embrace’, Public, 1980)