Alison CroggonAlison Croggon



Working Note – On lyric

     Must I not begin to trust somewhere?
                   Wittgenstein, ‘On Certainty’

     In the end, only love matters.




a poem is not a mirror but a breath in the world the world is inhaled translated and exhaled
a poem is not a representation but a mimicry of relationships in the world
it is in motion as a gesture is
lyric is not a category but a dimension of a poem
lyric might be thought of as the field of force of a poem
the conditions of its occurrence are potentially infinite
the freedom of the present of a poem is inverse to the extent to which the lyric dimension
     is eschewed […]

touch is the seed of feeling
the sense of touch is the root sense by which we know ourselves in the world
the light which touches our retina invokes sight the soundwaves moving through air
     touch the instruments of our ears the molecules of matter touch us into taste and smell
touch is the first thing we know and the last thing we know
it is the beginning and end of aesthetic and the beginning and end of our humanity
the poet is blind not in order to see but to feel
lyric is the poetry of touch

the vibrations of sound on the organs of the ear translate the imagined distance of worded
          image into the intimacy of touch
we respond to those vibrations even in the imaginary silence of reading
when we are touched by lyric we wake to the intolerable beauty of our world


lyric is a metaphor for feeling
the truth of lyric is particular to each poem and resides in the accuracy of its relationship

     to feeling
this truth may only be evaluated in the present in which lyric is encountered
it is impossible to predict or control
feeling is our vibrational responses to our relatednesses to our world
it is as incorrigible as pain and encompasses the totality of our responses moment to      moment
it is the consequence of the corporeality of each of us and as complex and mortal as our
a poem seeks to inhabit our corporeality but knows it cannot express it


lyric is indefensible
it neither seeks nor answers an argument but exists in the vibrationary exchange of feeling
the incorrigibility of feeling within lyric breathes unease into all totalities
even if all a person’s thoughts were legible to another that other would still not understand      the felt world of that person
the felt world of that person is secret
lyric does not disclose its secret its secret is enclosed and retreats as lyric is interrogated
it exists as a resonance which may resonate in the present in which it is read or heard
a poem may not be paraphrased or explained it may only be read again
it is the dimension of lyric which cannot be paraphrased
its meanings reside acutely in the relationships of the parts of lyric each to each other
lyric is the same question as “I am”
lyric is neither rational nor irrational as the rational has no ability to explain the incorrigibility
     of feeling
feeling is not irrational although its consequences are sometimes expressed in irrationalities
it has this in common with reason: that reason is forever without ground


the I of a lyric is neither a self nor a not-self
the I is lyric’s protection against totalities for the I is aware of its incompletion
the illusion of the totality of the self was always a misunderstanding
it is the mistake of those made uneasy by the lyric’s assertion of feeling
the I is what a person makes when translated into feeling which is released from the      constraints of exterior gaze
lyric is made when that feeling is translated into language
the relationship of words within lyric are the means by which it mimics the reality of feeling,
     which is how we know our relatedness to the world
the translations of lyric are always made in the humility of approximation
the metaphor is the most precise means of approximation
to unite two different things in one metaphor is to make a third thing which is at once      neither and both of those things
a metaphor can resonate across probabilities in a directed way which mitigates the self’s      control in either the writer or the reader
each lyric has negations which are particular to itself
a lyric’s negation is simultaneously an assertion
the existence of what is negated is felt in the present of the one whom lyric’s presence      inhabits
the gaps or the silences in the lyric are as important as the words
they notate the relationships between the words and indicate the lyric’s relationship to      reality
reality is what always lies beyond the lyric
it is the corporeality of the people who encounter the poem and the details of their      relationships to their worlds
reality is what the lyric encounters when it enters the present of another person in another      time or when it emerges in the present of the poet
the reality of a particular poem is always changing
lyric is not reality
it is real


is the eroticism of language
the consciousness of lyric is the consciousness of love
in lyric the subject and object relate equally
the subject is a consequence of the object and the object is a consequence of the subject
as the distinction between subject and object is dissolved in the embrace of lovers whose      discrete selves dissolve on a tide of sensation
in love the self embraces the otherness of the other but the other remains unknown
in lyric the poem embraces the feelingness of feeling but the feeling remains unknown
the feeling is the secret of the poem just as the otherness of the other is the other’s secret
feeling may only exist in its other presents when it resonates within the present of the      person who reads the poem
this resonance occurs independently of the conscious desire of the reader or the writer of
     the poem
a relationship of power is negated in the lyric
being negated it is simultaneously asserted
the assertion of power in a lyric is the assertion of the power of feeling
it is a tautology, just as the statement ‘I love you’ is a tautology
lyric is radically redundant


is berated for its lack of reality
although it is precisely its artifice which permits it to be real and precisely its lack of reality      which permits it to be courteous towards reality
it is blamed for its aestheticism
as if the conditions of feeling were understood enough to bypass their denials
it is condemned for its exclusions
despite its invitation to the present to open up to the world
it is dismissed for its beauty
as if beauty were a dimension which did not belong to everything
it is considered irrelevant

as love is considered a cliché
it is attacked for its glorification of the self
although lyric doesn’t have a self
it cannot be a commodity
as one cannot consume a condition of feeling
lyric can redeem and explain nothing
it is no consolation
it is useless









Divinations 1


A dog ran from the whistle a child tugged his mother’s skirt
the dog skittered through leaves of rain a bird cowered the child chased the bird
the dog circled the twilight deepened the child hit his mother
the bird hid the moon was gibbous the jasmine swarmed through the deepening air

a nub burgeoned with lips and fingers sucking life through its eyes of water
voiceless fearless sunless wingless branching into my blood
the sky tripled its risk folding the clouds in joyous omens
o black foot o little finger of fear
innocent like a lash of hair pricking the hidden eye

who was the wolf who paced the bedroom scarlet tongued and ruffed with hunger?
who was the child which fell into the riddling cabbages?
who was the mouth which steamed a duff of lies in the fuzzy nights?
who was the word which stamped and stamped until all thoughts were its footprints?
who was the eye which broke and bled as it fell on the polished floorboards?
who was the finger wriggling in and plucking out god like a tooth?
who was the thunder cracking the roof until all houses were shadows?
who was the witch who marched up and down with her lonely hammer?
what was the body which knew no names a bloom of nerves a barb of questions?


I listened for you in the throat of summer, in the fanfare
of trees I lingered and spelt their shadows

you rose out of my darkest soundings, inaudible fish
eyelessly twirling in warm currents

autumn cauled your arrival, tracking my veins with weariness
and floated you out on sad leaves of blood

down to the icy waters where gentle fingers
will never prise into bloom your promise

and my kisses will never spark your hair
into electric beauty

nor will the eager petals of your skin
char to brutal seed


Bidden from silence
where all things wait for lips
to blow their hungers
into the burning air
you touched me and your resonance
still moves my mourning body

nor can I remonstrate
your refusal
although your death is written
in my blood


We wake up from what is endured
patiently, without hope, and find
that old hunger waiting with its pinched face
and radiant eyes – nothing will drive it away,
it will simply transform
and implore us again. What can be done?
It cannot be fed and yet it begs us
and hurts us, like an angry child,
and there is nothing to eat.

Poor fruit, these windfalls
rotting in the garden of love.
They swamp the mouth with death.
Remember, once there were apples
confusing the sky with pure savour.
Remember, the thighs of saplings
interrupted the air’s foolings.

The ghost of a child
lingers and its wan voice
has no language.
It nags us like an old grief
which will not lessen and no tears
will silence its complaint
chiming out of the shadows
in this torn place:
which never shall be
and never was.


Even the sun
may not return
to eyes risen
for its blessing

and this vine
winding our bones
rustles ceaselessly
in absent winds

yet this leaf
is damp still
from the torrent
of its becoming


Divinations: 3


This hand was the flower on your mother’s breast
rooted in the dark river
and it was the crucible
in which the sunlight hardened to a crystal

you have placed this hand with involuntary pity
along the cheeks of those you love
and felt the language break
like flocks of birds spelling out the winter:
a cold sky, a breast of twigs

an eye stricken by sight


(for Rilke)

You spoke out of that deep cleft,
sexed and unsexed, where carnivorous petals
caress the strangeness of dream –
but what nocturnal meetings
deliver you here, emptied so finally of yourself,
poet whose gaze was self

o cruel love, coldly tended in solitude,
forcing out of the chilled root
its delicate bloody garland:
and night moves through you, inhuman, voiceless,
bleakest of gods, deaf
to the continuously dying self delivering
its first and only cry

and the gladness in your being
grows tired and folds itself away
and all the names you mine out of silence
retreat into the sounds of themselves
the earth raises its horizons
so close to your mouth you cannot speak
and the roses shut before your fingers
alien, innocent, illegible

and you fall towards the dark
unwinding genitals and tongue and eyes
to feed the faceless wind that scours you:
for who can say what ripens
tenderly in stone, or what flames
sleep beneath black water, or what mouth opens
its articulate springs after the last
songless winter


You open the blue gate
in the wall of stone
and pass through the dense
birdhaunted forest

the rhododendron drops
its scarlet tongues
through the green heavy perfume
of rotting earth

and the branch which snapped
under your swinging thigh
is falling again
into the distant summer


The swallows too are bending the light
calling the blossom out of the frost
with their precise magnetic eyes
and wings of articulate hunger

out of the panic and twittering
emerges the sun and the splitting cell
shapes an eye for its mirror

and children with voices of water
carelessly inhabit the light
time for them is a bird
piping its promise on the edges of sleep

where soon the bitter ghosts will stand
like bodies of rain in the falling light



Divinations 4


You always spoke for me
so how could I name
what happened later

the earth was generous:
her rising hips
burned with flowers

and clouds darkened on her skin
summoning the springs
of an intolerable compassion


Returning, it seemed
that eyes bruised
against the dark of flesh:
that hands flaked to ash
in unsensed fires:
that now we stood
helplessly as strangers
locked in a season of frost:
a beat, a gesture, an eyelash
and the sky empties:
the word flies out
and is extinguished


What is this empty face?
this dry inscription?

these cold echoes splashing
on the floors of dream?

is there no kindness here?
no delivering hand?

this eye rots in sleep
this mouth opens

this heart walks unshriven
through its own winter


A Requiem


                                 Cassandra: Useless; there is no god of healing in this story.
                                                                       Agamemnon, Aeschylus

that crowd of ears
scurrying past the screams and brutal metal

through shivering walls the street talk burns us
none pity not one

plates rattle on walls the dust the stink
day after day after day

I who policed my murder
and now I write my shame

but my wife went to the trains
but my daughter dies in my dreams again and again

how meekly I bargained with death
who will live to spit on my ashes?

through the wire her face emptied
my wife said nothing


o littlecunt your brows so even
slagged by war you stare a thousand fathoms

a word
a shard of song
a leaf
the linking odour

her white throat sliced open
her black panic smoking on the stone
dragging you here

silenced nevertheless
or nevertheless unheard
or nevertheless muttered at knee height
to erupt through the bronze talk of weapons

you step
towards the fatal palace
and steadily you know

longing for the gilled sleep 
before the appalled womb spat you
into this shattered hall of mirrors

this the gate of love
and this of hatred

this the mouth of offense
and this of healing

this the portal of dream
and this of disenchantment

this the long farewell
and this the endless greeting



Dies Irae

                               so light is the urging, so ordered the dark petals of iron
                               we who have passed over Lethe.
                                               Ezra Pound, Canto LXXIV

I stand in the door of my house
I walk through its sleeping rooms
I number the beats of its breath

my hands brush
the shaft of a knife
the edge of a bowl of fruit
my daughter’s tangled hair
the hair of my husband

animals that each night
embrace me with their scent
hands that clasp my neck
mouths that devour me

o livid planet pocked
by the veneration of wars
you are not innocent


The child lay in his bed buttoned up for sleep
his hands folded under his head like a little boat
and I lay next to him on the raft of his breathing

All I could feel was the cold ocean under me
so deep that at the bottom no currents moved
the light bones that lay there

A steady vapour of fear drawing me closer
to the green water’s unreflecting surface


We toy with silence, that seductive bell – pouring its molten alloy into the pit of
ourselves, holding our breath for the unflawed pitch – but the world is loquacious. How
many voices are we?

How impossible to be rid of desire for a pure rebellion! What to do with that angel who
boots me towards the absolute?

Yet cunning cloaks us with reason. We press the button out of spite.


This is utopia dreamt by the burnt visionaries

These are their hells where the pale rider pauses at his calculations one third and one third
and one third and one third the infinite divisions

This is the pit of human skulls and these are the trinkets of ears and teeth and here are
screams in amber the prettiest of all

This is the hydra hand that breaks into millions and this is the one voice pricing the fruit of
equations this is the mouth that gobbles the sweat of slaves this is the suit and the

This is the blinding cloud of ash the revolting unstoppable flower

This is the one just man who died on the final day of a war that never finished


the cloth is rent and the table is split and the appletrees are blackened and broken
and the cradle is tipped and broken in the roofless bedroom

the sniper flicks a last cigarette into his stinking burrow
daughters and sons return to cities that no longer see them

the chapel is stained with foreheads pressed into their own blood
bindweed creeps on the empty roads like a child afraid of the light

and daffodils sneer in meadows that behave as if nothing has happened
bursting from sleep to bless the mildest of skies

though bootless feet stopped at their rims to flower
in greens and blues and purples that signalled the end of exile

the earth is indifferent as usual
dissolving coffinless children far from their cities 


what moves through light and water?
o laughter and night
and what comes after

what a violin’s lone voice
might illuminate
with its pitiless

liberties, a wood’s lost forest
axed into the flight
and warp of sorrows

a burned and chiselled violence
to amplify the bright
desolate silence



                                 Praised be your name, no one.
                                 For your sake
                                 we shall flower.
                                               Psalm, Paul Celan

the dreaming boy hears in his pillow
mad echoes of hoofbeats

the heart of Varus is eaten raw
his head grins from a stump

the trees blanch like a scream
untimely ended


the citadel is not taken
the citadel was never there

the beautiful Europeans
scribbled the earth with churches

they believed the text was immortal
and God heard their singing

who is to say they were wrong?
in the middle of nowhere

blue irises bulb
from the eyes of the dead


one candle bleeds enough warmth
to keep a body breathing

in the coldest

although the mind may be damaged
by the constant repetition

of lighting one candle
again and again


a man is weeping in an alley of stone
the alien ground thickens with his noise

to his fathers it was a desert
and his mother is buried far away

and he doesn’t know what angers him
or why his tears seem a refusal of blessing

except that at last something is clear
that he should have known before he left

when the household gods flew out
and the door swung shut behind him


who is asking questions?
throw them out

where is the ancient song?
forget it

what violets slumber still?
possess them

lock up safe
swallow the key


the night’s small teeth
ate my hands and my hair

I was a pebble of faith
the moon’s little sister

storm blew open the door
but no one could find me


the hand that touched you through the words
that wrote the words that vanished in their saying

the mind that stroked the hands that moved
the lyre that sang the words into silence

the night that opened in the heart that sang
that opens in the night that is endless


yellow star the trench is deep
that cowls your shyness

birches whiten as the spade
unveils your hair

yellow star your clean brow
leans over a black well

your eye opened and closed
the day stalks in

a blaze of witnesses
to consecrate your absence



                      I show you a new world, risen,
                      Stubborn with beauty, out of the heart’s need.
                                              Taliesen 1952, RS Thomas

The oranges are pale moons. The wind
sings them into eclipse and calls them
back from the black leaves.
I envy their voicelessness, the sweet
fertility that falls
mindlessly to the grass.

I am not gentle tonight.
Tonight my calling is useless,
foreknown and foresuffered. If my face
chills in its blood, if my eyes startle open,
it is because all this sobbing will fall
to inhuman water.

They will say they are redeemed.
They will crown my absence with their suffering.
But I remember a crowded table
and a plate heaped with oranges
and how generous hands reached out and tore
open the common flesh.


Some of these poems have appeared previously in journals and other publications, including LINQ (1994), Stand(UK 2000) and The Blue Gate (Black Pepper 1997).


Bio: Alison Croggon was born in Carltonville, South Africa in 1962, and moved to Australia with her family when she was seven. Alison trained as a journalist with the Melbourne Herald, and worked as a freelance journalist and Melbourne theatre critic for the Bulletin in the 1980s. She has two published poetry collections, This is the Stone (Penguin Books 1991) and The Blue Gate (Black Pepper 1997), a novella, Navigatio (Black Pepper 1996), and has just completed her second novel and begun her third. This is the Stone was awarded the Anne Elder and Mary Gilmore Prizes. She has received many Australia Council Fellowships, and this year was 2000 Australia Council Writer in Residence at Pembroke College, Cambridge University (UK). Alison was the founding editor of the literary arts journal Masthead, and poetry editor of Overland Extra (1989), Modern Writing (1991) and Voices (1996). Her poetry appears in various journals both in Australia and elsewhere, and in the anthologies Contemporary Australian Poetry: An Anthology (ed. John Leonard 1990), Australian Verse: An Oxford Anthology (ed. John Leonard 1998), Calyx: 30 Contemporary Australian Poets (eds. Michael Brennan and Peter Minter, Paper Bark Press 2000) and New Music: Contemporary Poetry (ed. John Leonard, Five Islands Press, forthcoming 2001). Her operas, The Burrow and Gauguin, both with score by Michael Smetanin, have been performed to critical acclaim in Perth, Sydney and Melbourne, and plays have been performed in Melbourne (Melbourne Festival 1997) and Adelaide and broadcast on ABC Radio National. She recently completed a translation of Rilke’s Duino Elegies, to be published by Salt/Folio. Alison lives in Melbourne with her husband and three children.


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