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Monday, 11 January 2016

Crankhandle: Notebooks November 2010- June 2012 - Alan Loney - Victorian Premier's Literary Award 2016 (Poetry)

As pointed out late last month the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award shortlists were announced in early December and I will attempt (postage pending) to read and review the poetry shortlist before the winners are announced on 28 January 2016.

Starting off with Alan Loney’s “Crankhandle: Notebooks November 2010 – June 2012”.  It is the latest part of an ongoing Notebook series, with Sidetracks; Notebooks 1976 – 1991 being published by Auckland University Press in 1998 and the longer unpublished section Melbourne Journal: Notebooks 1998-2003 fitting in between the two published works.   

We have a preface by the poet and an introduction by Michael Farrell to open this slim book, before you suddenly notice a meticulous attention to “visual design”, as our introduction points out, “this is not an aesthetic concern only, but one that enables reading: lucid aspect as well as articulated ‘cry’.”

Our ‘poem” or Notebook is primarily about the craft of writing, the mechanics, the creation, the fact that ‘a book’ becomes ‘a public place.

Writing as performance – not as theatre, or anything
acted out for another, nothing that can be seen by
anyone else – but the act of scribbling, or scrawling
marks on paper, independently of any semantic
reference or attempt to ‘tell a story’ or inform or
persuade or move – as a straightforward function
of the body that can be done well or badly – and
independently of intention or expectation or
nature or the politics of result

The placement and creation of wordscapes in evident from the first pages:

utterance = saying something                                     stutterance = not saying something

poetry = utterenace&stutterance                             revealing/concealing

As a collection of observances and awareness of current time and place the periphery plays an important role, words are signs, as you read you are frequently outside of yourself. This is a word sculpture, featuring double, or parallel texts, italics, open parenthesis with no closing, blank spaces of contemplation. So much so I could actually visualise this work on the walls of a stark open gallery, the thoughts, or notes, scribbled in various places throughout the space.

‘underworld’ = all the world one cannot see
or experience at any moment
‘peripheral vision’ = edges of the underworld
hem of the underworld

As I mentioned in the opening, this is a very slim work, however as Michael Farrell says in his “Introduction” (this also appearing on the back cover), ‘Crankhandle is a conceptually thick book, a book of thought, or as Frost might say, a book of ‘thinks’, that challenges writing’s potential triviality on a word-by-word basis.’

As previously mentioned there are open parenthesis throughout, alluding to a thought, a fragment that is “without end”, as we are told “the mind’s a graveyard”. But let’s not forget;

the poem as the last
unparaphraseable chunk
of language left to us
all the words
in all the tongues
from all the times
from every place
piled up in a heap
before you
you will make
of them

As you can see from these brief excerpts, the sections of this work are made of simple instantaneous moments, fragments, do they build to a cohesive whole? As our writer points out, all we have are moments, fragments, do they make a whole? A meditation on our environment and capturing that moment in writing, small vignettes, epigrams (speaking of which the writing system features in the epigram to this book), notes??? Food for thought? - yes. 

The book finishes with the ‘poem’ “& another thing” a three and a half page musing on writing continuing on from the larger “Crankhandle”, as though the art of creation, the written word is not restricted to a simple space, it leaks over;

do I
merely copy words down, another
Bartleby, who’d prefer to do
nothing else with is time
with his body

while the notebook

lies open and waiting for all the words
of the world to drop, like this unexpected

onto the page

I know a few Melville and Enrique Vila-Matas fans who would find that quote quite pertinent.

This is more than a book of poetry, it is a creation, sculpture, mulling on the transient nature of language, the written word, the printed word, (the Crankhandle of the title alluding to a printing press?) As our writer points out:

I a no possible poet of
place, and no longer care
what others think poets ought
to be doing

A revelation, a work to be revisited and mulled over many many times, as the publication alludes to, it is “without end”. Personally a highlight of my Australian poetry reading of the last few months and in my mind a substantially more important and enjoyable holistic work than any on the Prime Minister’s Literary Award Shortlist (I know they are from different years!!!) and that points to it being a serious contender for the gong at the awards night later this month, and then possibly the Prime Minister’s Award at the end of the year.

Source - Personal Copy - you can purchase the book direct from the publisher here.

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