HOME & AWAY 2010: Notes on Auckland and Sydney
Plenary: Ann Vickery
To mention once more that concept that has seemed so striking at this symposium, I would like to say that I too feel that I’m suffering from what Jack Ross called ‘impostors’ syndrome’ (although also feeling that it’s becoming like the claim in Python, ‘We’re all individuals’) although for different reasons than most of you here. I think it’s probably because I’m not a poet per se – I certainly don’t put myself out there publicly as a poet – although I seem to be forever arguing the case for poetry. So when I look at the ‘Australian Poets’ part of the program, that kids’ song, ‘Which one of these is not like the others?’ does sound off in my head. And so, as the non-poet, it’s perhaps fitting that I’m speaking last at the symposium – being able to offer some afterthoughts, or an afterword – not as a closing move, but as making another move or shift, a slightly different kind of bridging.
Having confessed that, I would like to say how wonderful it’s been to be included in the HOME & AWAY symposiums. What I think has become apparent through both is how ‘home’ itself is a shifting concept. And that there are second homes, or the home away from home. Sydney was my second ‘home’ after Melbourne and I feel more in a ‘comfort zone’ here than if the symposium had been held in, say Brisbane or Perth. And Philadelphia has been a third home to me, although far less a comfort zone than Sydney. But with both Sydney and Philadelphia, it took time to feel ‘at home.’ As Martin H said yesterday, place at first seems ‘abstract.’ The particulars come slowly. Maybe a sense of home is beginning to take on some of the inflections, the rhythms of a place, not assimilation or integration but a shift from a sense of solidity. To take on flexibility, openness, attention to detail. Jill, too, spoke of how a sense of home is layered and that one floats between the layers.
I think it’s important to note that there are places that are more likely ‘homes’ than others, places that we feel more quickly an affinity for. Certainly, that is true of New Zealand for me, and in particular the South Island, and more specifically, Dunedin – something to do with having friends there, but also, strangely enough, something to do with the weather. If things had turned out differently about six years back, I may well have been speaking from the New Zealand side of the ditch now.
Many of the papers at the Auckland symposium, and Martin’s at the Sydney one, have talked about living or being on the other side of the ditch and how that made one review one’s ‘home’ place. Australia seems to have been viewed as, alternatively, glamorous, robust, bitchy, a place of sometimes glib surfaces, while New Zealand has signified something a bit more daggy or restrained, small town sweet but with greater political clarity, more depth, a capacity to identify and move past colonial horror, and to embrace an attitude of tolerance. But these, as we know, are false binaries, clunky stereotypes. They should perhaps be, to quote Amanda, ‘at the edge of use.’ The aim of this symposium is to turn them on their head, to reveal ‘likeness’ as much as the disjunctions, and locate pockets of great affinity. To conceptualise past difference through national identity and start conceptualising poetic friendship, or perhaps poetic community, to move toward strategies of translation, collaboration, and even intimacy. I really liked Michelle C’s response yesterday when asked about how her community responded to having Hindu goddesses represented in her work. As she said, ‘I thought this was my community.’ And I would have to say that that is certainly the way I feel.
This is not to promote some naïve sense of unity, harmony, or similitude, but rather to think what ‘togetherness’ in the face of disjunction might mean, to think about what to do with the ‘fragment’ or fragments that Martin was talking about, or what Jeffrey refers to as ‘flotsam and jetsam.’ How do we read across dynamically? If the map of Australia is in pieces, how might we put together different cartographies? And this is what people like Mark have been doing with Otoliths, putting together a moveable, dynamic community that is porous and open. What I am interested in at the moment is discussing the relationship between affect and form, and perhaps, on a related level, sociality and poetry. I thought that the discussion around Martin and Lisa’s papers was quite thought-provoking in the way that feeling was talked about. And whether it is a ‘coward’s way out’ to use traditional tropes of desire, whether terms such as ‘love’ and ‘heart’ have been exhausted, or normalised, and in being ‘done to death, as it were, need to be closed down. John opened his reading with the declaration that he did not believe Romanticism is over or past. And I would have to agree with him: Romantic approaches or concepts are still very much informing contemporary culture, and being explored by numerous innovative poets. Romanticism is not ‘past’ just as ‘modernism’ is not past, but that they are constantly being put under pressure, interrogated, written across.
So what we have to think about is perhaps manner of use, or the malleability of such frameworks. I am still interested in approaches to sentimentality and why and how the sentimental is still figured as a kind of shallow, dross, second-rate form; to what degree is it separated from mourning, loss, or elegy? Do we only have the words of others, endlessly circulating and recirculating? Are we left foregrounding and playing with the gaps between, as perhaps suggested by Jack yesterday in the movement from Celan’s ‘Todesfugue’ to lunch? Can we find depth of feeling or anxiety foregrounded within? Or do we have strategies like Lisa’s suggestion of erupting ranges of affect. In which case, one might ‘body forth,’ to consider the acts we are involved in, and how such acts might constitute acts of ‘otherance.’ I want to end by saying that I do not want to jettison particular poetic forms or conventions, whether they be lyric or line endings, or get into a debate as to whether we perform or use them ‘well,’ but rather to start thinking again about available pathways: how to move on. Poets like Jill have talked about a ‘vertical plumbing,’ as a way of shifting past ‘overdone’ areas of the poetic map, to make connection with and recycle early ‘fragments’ of charge and affect left by writers like Sappho. Added to this, however, I want to emphasise the value of symposiums like this in foregrounding horizontal faultlines. And their value in generating realignments, or what could be called a provisional community: the idea of community that comes into being precisely through affect, the affable, and affinity.