Speaking to the Head and the Heart

Poetry Review - Angela Gardner

Blue Grass

Peter Minter
Salt, (UK) 
ISBN-13 978 1 84471 246 5


Peter Minter’s books are rich troves of experience and wonder. It is never sufficient just to read once and put them down because the inside, the gubbins, the nub, the doings of each poem reveal themselves gradually and are to be savoured through second and later readings. And his books are too densely populated with very good poems for any review to do anything more than skim the surface. So I have decided instead to concentrate on just a few poems as examples of the depth of all of the poems in this collection.

For some reason I always read the opening poem of a book as a signpost. This was true of the poem ‘Prologue v7.0.2’ which opened Empty Texas and it seems true of ‘Voyager’ the opening poem of Blue Grass. ‘Voyager’ is presented before the section entitled ‘History of the Present’ which may be significant. And in Voyager, a small poem of just twenty lines, Peter Minter has shown a schematic of the whole of human culture, its classical past, the outward thrust of the industrial age, its pinnacle - the exploration of space - which is a fragile standing on tiptoe, the last hurrah that, in the nature of these probes, will show as much how we tried and failed as it shows human optimism.

How does he do all this in twenty lines? Now, this is its magic, because I cannot tell you, all I can say is that he does. Elegantly, subtly, in words that are sayable and feel good in the saying. The finished poem, the made thing, is as three dimensional and perfectly realised as the marble-turned-to-skin of a Renaissance sculpture and in reading and re-reading it I occupy a virtual space that he has opened up for me where I marvel at the workmanship and art of this made-thing. And having opened up that space it remains open and available for me to walk in each time I read the poem. I truly wonder at its revelation. Here are the closing lines:

So goodbye, go out & find

what there is to say
of transformation, the sparkle, junk

& greenest hearts. Go out
before the world knows you’re not.
Voyager [p3]

The poem, the workmanship and art of this is its invisible fabric. The craft of it light, hardly visible, but with the tensile strength and beauty of gossamer. These poems work on the page, in your head and out loud…they are robust and translatable.

Peter Minter’s practice in some poems is to layer a collage of found words from other writers. This may involve homage but also shows how embedded reading is in the practice of writing. Art does not exist in isolation, it influences and involves: “the head is awake in the heart” ‘Garden Estates’ [p7].

In ‘The Sign as Nature Struck at the Capital Heart’ [p30] all the images work towards the same shape. Gauzy sound is matched by the tent itself:

the studio mics
light penumbra
under a stage tent
curled translucent

while later in the same poem there is a girl near the stage 'not hearing the song but/ holding its sense here'. As in all of the poems, there is a convergence in language, image and sense that is simple and satisfying. It is this that impresses. The poems are so complex and yet when read aloud, reveal themselves as crafted perfectly for saying and meaning. It is obvious that instead they are simplifying and perfectly describing what had seemed to be a complex task.

The intelligence that informs the poems does not lose sight of the way the intelligence is communicated. It reminds me of something that Kris Hemensley said a long time ago writing in Meanjin of the poems of Jennifer Maiden.  Like her, Peter Minter also has a vocabulary which reminds us of the poet’s first vow: to serve the language. His intention informs the word use and so comes full circle back joining the head to the heart, in the speaker and also for those who hear.

Nor is the poet isolated from politics but in a poem such as ‘On the Moida of Roni Levi...’ we are lucky to have someone who can craft the unspeakable and channel his cold rage into intelligent and suitable language. This is not direct translation; that wouldn’t work. It is, instead, something alchemical; it transforms the event and the reader. I am thinking when I say direct translation of film noir, documentary or the graphic novel. All in the end would fail to capture the tragedy of the event, the 'everlasting brands of limbic/permission' that are assumed in the possession of a gun. What Peter Minter is able to describe is this threshold of waste and the whole sad sorry mess that unfolded early that winter’s day on Bondi Beach so that we become involved through language.

A number of poems from this new book Blue Grass have been anthologised in collections of the best Australian poetry (I have seen both ‘Serine’ and ‘Voyager’ in two different ‘best-of’ anthologies). For me, any number of poems from this book could make it into a Best Australian Poetry anthology. Where do you draw the line?

Peter Minter is an important Australian poet speaking now about things that matter. His books are thought provoking and an enjoyable read. The head and the heart of the reader are both satisfied. Don't take my word for it, do yourself a favour and find out for yourself. Oh and don’t expect to borrow my copy, I’ve had to buy extra copies to give away to friends rather than be parted from any of his books!