Infused in Words: Emilie Collyer’s Your Looking Eyes
Review by Mark William Jackson
I’m not sure how I feel about the Australian Poetry Café Poet Program. On the one hand any publicity that poets and poetry receives is a good thing; on the other, the idea of sitting in a café like an exhibit while people come to marvel at the atrocity chills me to the bone.
However, if the Café Poet Program can produce works like Your Looking Eyes then I am definitely all for it.
Your Looking Eyes was written during Emilie Collyer’s residence at c3 contemporary art space. In keeping with the visual feel of the collection, the design, layout and artwork of the collection is provided by visual artist Eirian Chapman.
The first poem of the collection, ‘The Reader’, presents the issue of how a writer must create images in a reader’s mind. The poem is from the reader’s perspective. In this piece the writer is stuck for words:
She wants you to remember the thing that makes you squint
Sucking a lemon wedge
Fingernails on a blackboard
Draw a picture of your eyes
I hate the cliché Show. Don’t tell. It is too easily offered as advice but all it does is present the problem, what can be done with words? Collyer opens an illustrated collection written while surrounded by visual art by asking a question, what can a writer do to present an image to the reader, to get inside the reader’s head and make the reader smell the image, to hear the image. The poem closes with the reader’s fear:
Art that asks me to do something. Am I doing it right?
Is someone watching? Will they laugh at me?
‘Frames of childhood’ laments the lack of film of a childhood and expresses the limit of still images and memories.
There are no films of us as children
just photos and stories
how fast did my brother
sprint into that stone wall?
But the memories are stimulated by the photos and the associated questions; how fast? what expression? Remember lemonade icy poles, smelling skin, running hot tracks in the sun. The poem races like a barefooted girl through childhood:
children don’t grieve change
we crave it
Notice the voice/tense change, the opening stanza presents an adult looking back on childhood photos, lamenting the lack of film. The second and third stanzas are present tense, first person child narration. The fourth stanza drags us unwillingly back to adult present:
when does rear vision begin?
the trawl through albums and drawers and boxes
The poem closes ‘this thing we call childhood / belongs to adults’, this is a wonderfully sad ending, the technique Collyer employs in the piece regarding voice and tense takes us on a free-for-all joy ride as children. At the end we don’t miss our childhood years because we never knew we had them. Only now, as adults, can we recognise the years and paint them in a fond light.
And now, pure opinion… the best poem in the collection, spanning pages 22 & 23 – printed sideways so that you have to turn the collection as if you’re leering at a Playboy centrefold.
‘What does it mean?’ is visual, experimental, almost L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E, presenting a quizzical jumpiness into a central epiphany which makes the ride out of the centre like post meditation breathing exercises.
Now, here is what could possibly be the world’s first meta-referential review. I stepped out of the writing of this review to contact Alec Patric, asking him to seek permission from Emilie Collyer to reprint ‘What does it mean?’ in Verity La the day before this review appears.
Permission sought and granted. ‘What does it mean?’ is printed sideways and appears like a concrete poem. I don’t know what is says of my state of mind but it looks to me like a Rorschach test and given the title I wonder what it means. When you read the poem, turn your head sideways and you’ll see what I mean.
In technique, the poem drips letters upon letters, forming words, words forming indecipherable sentences, until the central epiphany:
One of the artists I spoke with considers it a positive thing when people don’t recognise his work as art. He says it means he is creating something new that has not been seen before. He likes this phenomenon. Can the same be said for words?
And then back out, the words fall away, fading like the Star Wars opening crawl.
Your Looking Eyes is a great introduction to Emilie Collyer’s work; 14 poems with strong visual aspects, the art-space literally infused in the words.
The first print run of 100 copies sold out. The second run is selling fast.
Your Looking Eyes
Emilie Collyer, 2012