“I got invited to a search party. I dressed all wrong, brought a gift.” (from The Search Party)
It’s only a matter of time before someone coins an adjective from Brendan Constantine’s name to describe the poetry of someone else who might have come close to something as original as Brendan’s work. Some observers are quick to point out the humour as being that which resonates and jumps from Letters to Guns (Red Hen) to Birthday Girl with Possum (Write Bloody) and now on to Calamity Joe (Red Hen). For me, in the latter, the humour plasters over a tragic sense of loss, of grasping at thin air, thrashing in water. How many times have you heard someone use a phrase like “If you continue along this street you will see on your left what used to be the post office.” Read ‘Before The Flood’ and tell me I’m wrong. Three poems before this, ‘Difficult Listening Time’ gives us that sense of desperation, of trying to keep things the way they were: “Let’s go/to the woods & hang a painting of this/room on every tree”. Various characters lead us through this book, from the father, mother and brother, Lily, the ghosts, the animals and, of course, Joe. I can’t tell you everything about this book, but I will say when you finish you will be as lost as you were when you started and want to start again, see if we can knock away that plaster, shake that feeling of abandonment as we wait in a wilderness for the children we have been to lead us out. Superb.
Face it, we all have opinion, and I’m going to say that poetry is not a young person’s game. Perhaps it’s not a game. You will counter and cite the achievements of, let’s say, William Hedrington, any of the Yale younger poets, or presently, Leanne O’Sullivan, who has for years been holding her own amongst much older peers. You might sway my mind into adding a few more. Then read Mel Weisburd’s A Life of Windows and Mirrors. There’s a chance you will, like me, look at your own poetry again and utter a soft expletive. Here is a man who was writing poetry when Dylan Thomas was still alive, and you’d be forgiven for thinking the Welshman had some influence on Mel’s earlier work such is the majesty and musicality of language in poems such as ‘Between Chicago and St. Paul’: “Trees are gangrene with throttled sun./ Farms are galvanized for war.” Here is a poet whose achievements, anecdotes and bio often detract from what is simply stunning poetry. In this book, over half a century of poems stack themselves on top of each other to give us a pillar of wisdom to lean against.