16 April 2012

Tuesday poem: 'Rawshock' by Toby Fitch


This week I'm not actually posting this poem right here in my blog, but rather linking to it on the Meanjin site, where you can see it in all its glory (click the link above).

This poem, or more specifically the reading of this poem by the author and another poet (Jessica Wilkinson), was one of the highlights of the long poem symposium I went to a couple of weeks ago. I found out later that this was the first 'paper' Toby had ever given, but you certainly couldn't tell. It even included audience participation: he showed us some Rorschach inkblots and asked us what we saw in each of them - a fun and revealing exercise in a group of people you barely know!

If you go read the poem, you'll see that each section is in the shape of a Rorschach inkblot - difficult shapes to recreate in words. They also echo the inkblots not just in shape, but in images transformed into words (ie bats, wolf masks, animal rugs - all things that can be seen in the inkblots).

Lest you think this poem just clever wordplay in a clever shape - it is also a modern retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, one dripping with symbol and resonance. On the page, it isn't an entirely easy read - the way some of the words are broken up makes it difficult to know how to read them, but it's fun to try. I don't think it's essential to know this, but each section is written in the voice of either O(rpheus) or E(urydice): E, O, E, E, O, O, O, E, E, O. Hearing it read out was amazing - especially cool were bits where the two readers crossed their voices over each other. It was all videoed, so when it's up on the NZEPC I'll share the link. My garbled explanation does it no justice.

I was stunned by some of the beautiful lines in this poem, and kept writing bits down. Both Emma and I independently wrote down this phrase that occurs just after Eurydice enters Hades: 'a man pushes the weight of his suicide up a hill'. We wanted to include it in our beach poem somehow, but we ran out of space (and I was relieved, because out of context it is just too tragic - not that it's not tragic in context!).

And in the final poem it all starts to break down: the words are literally pulled apart, as O(rpheus) is pulled apart by maenads, and his head floats off down the river, still singing.

Toby Fitch is currently working on a creative writing doctorate at the University of Sydney 'on Rimbaud, Mallarmé and various poetic tropes, including mistranslation, concrete and absinthe poetry'. His poetry collection Rawshock is being published this very month. You can find out more about him, and read more of his work here: http://tobyfitch.blogspot.com.

On a different topic, the last lines of the Tuesday Poets second-birthday collaborative poem are being written. Ah, I've just checked back, and Mary McCallum has just rounded it out with the last lines before midnight. Hurrah. You can read what we've written here: http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.co.nz/ and you can also check out other Tuesday Poems from the sidebar.


Mary McCallum said...

Hurrah indeed - oh penultimate-line-writer of the Tuesday Birthday Poem Nice stuff, Helen. And thank you for this amazing post here - how challenging is this poem! How provocative! How stunning! Thank you so much for all your introductions to poets and poems over the past 2 years of Tuesday Poem - your generous insights too - and your own poems, always fabulous. Mary & Claire.

Rachel Fenton said...

I love the idea of the poem - off to read it now. Thanks for the insight.

Helen Rickerby said...

Thanks Mary! It's been a great thing to be involved in for the last two years, and here's to many more in the future.

And thanks Rachel, I hope you enjoyed the poem!