And things, beings and events move in the mind of man.
Living in this half-transparent state triggers poetic reactions,
strong and beautiful poems like the ones you’ll find in Stuart Barnes’ Glasshouses. – Sjón
Glasshouses was launched by Matt Hetherington as part of Queensland Poetry Festival 2016:
In his essay, ‘The Great Reducers’, the French thinker Maurice Blanchot suggests that a writer cannot accept distinction, cannot be distinguished. He writes ‘To punish him, that is, to reward him by having him enter the elite of writers [is then to make] him accept the idea of an elite in which the truth of writing, which tends toward an essential anonymity, is lost. […] It is up to literature – to poetry – to put forward an experience of [profound questioning]…an experience such that we are put to the test of the absolutely other, of that which escapes unity.’ [Friendship, p. 63, 65, my under-linings, translated by Elizabeth Rottenberg.]
Is there another poetry collection published in Australia that so generously embraces the Other in all its variety, and which seems to seek such anonymity, and to strive towards an escaping from unity? Of all the qualities in this book, this largeness – this paradoxical humility – may be the central one, and that last year’s Thomas Shapcott Award should be given to it only serves, I think, to magnify and promote that particular quality. Having said that, there are a number of superb autobiographical poems in here, but these all elaborate on the multiple selves within the self…or as Stuart puts it, ‘Paranoid / even kin will taste your heart / beat uhth-er uhth-er’ [‘In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country’].
Under the ever-increasing warmth of the Green house Effect, we all live in glass houses, and as the work subtly reminds us, people in glasshouses should not throw stones, so perhaps the open-heartedness and democratic gentleness exemplified here is one of the best ways to minimize our ever-increasing hypocrisy. These pages glow with a deep appreciation of both famous and less-known folk; there are many, many lines interspersed from other sources, particularly from literature, pop music and cinema, and every second piece is either dedicated to someone, or a poem written ‘after’ another poet. [He even re-uses lines from his own poems in the book’s opening ‘Proem’.] This celebration of intertextuality, a ‘sampling’ and ‘remixing’ of others, whether in centos or not, supplies an energy that is equal parts instructive and provocative. Just like people in the world, you won’t love every poem in here, but you’re not meant to. What can occur after repeated readings, though, is that one sees that each poem has its own logic (or ill-logic), and its own seductive details, one of the more technically outrageous examples being the rhyming of ‘ghazal’ with ‘HAHA’.
Glasshouses is itself like a glasshouse; a transparent, vivid birthplace, where succulent, colourful language grows into unique, multifaceted life. There are a number of different varieties of sonnets, at least one villanelle, a senryu, a selection of proverbs, five centos or more, and a Post-Modern Baroque Double Acrostic which ends the book with these lines: ‘extensive fields: white spaces: the place where / chaos yields to order, where clouds are formed.’ There are also forms that I don’t know the name of, or that have been cooked up by – as he refers to himself –‘Stew-art’.
Just to finish, I want to give a brief example of the intelligence and linguistic playfulness in here:
‘… a song
(helical strings, apocalypse-vox), a doozy
: you glide over gravel like Marie Laveau,
or the way your physio’s fingers glide over breastbones,
ladders to out-of-whack clavicles (‘A brunette Chantoozie
once shouted me a bottle of red from Bordeaux’),
hook a left into the main drag,
pass the newsagency that doesn’t sell
The Australian or NME
Go back to Hell.’
: owner’s mantra, ‘Know thyself, know thy enemy’
… ‘Better the Devil You Know’’s
nimbusing your best friend’s parents’ living room, he’s
pogoing as you arrive:
regurgitated sherbert lacerates each nose;
it’s a long way to Afghanistan from Wizz
Fizz …), ogle the Commodores that drive,
that drive; packed with underaged eyes blinking syn
-chronously—[YOUR] [FCKN] [DEDD] (Joe
Schmoe, you pulled the same shit inside a cousin’s hotted-up Torana,
ripped on fear of a strike from the gear knob’s red-back and Cyn
-di Lauper’s ‘fuh-uhn’)—a white-hot model creeps obscenely slow,
and at a crossroads comes to a stop
and its white-hot model creeps watch,
and their lids arise
and their mandibles drop
like zombies’ …’
[‘In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country’: p.72 – ‘…a song’ to p.73 – ‘like zombies’]
So, we have this splendidly contemporary, obscurely triumphant, unapologetically erudite, stupendously eclectic collection. Congratulations to UQP and Stuart. Now, he’s going to ‘actualise oomph’, so please welcome up here the quietly trumpeting yellow star himself, and consider this collection LAUNCHED!
Glasshouses (formerly known as The Staysails) was included in Jane Sullivan’s Sydney Morning Herald article ‘Books for the year: The treats in store from Australia and overseas in 2016’.