Thoroughly Modern Poets in Triptych: Blemish Books' Triptych Poets Issue Two

Review by Mark William Jackson
On my bookshelves, after my chronologically ordered issues of Overland, Meanjin, Going Down Swinging etc., after my poetry collections, alphabetised by poet’s surname, sit the anthologies in no particular order other than size. An anthology could easily get lost in the melee, unless it is read frequently. I can always put my hand on my copy of Penguin Modern Poets issue 5 featuring Gregory Corso, Lawrence Felinghetti and Allen Ginsberg. The Penguin Modern Poets series of books were published between 1962 and 1979 to introduce contemporary poetry to new readers. This was a first as, before Penguin, poetry was published in obscure chapbooks or expensive hardcovers.
The Triptych Poets series, published by Blemish Books, returns to this tradition. An annual release started in 2010, issue 2 was released on 6 October 2011 and features the work of Stuart Cooke, Bronwen Manger and Ouyang Yu. From the Blemish Books website, ‘We’re hoping to highlight the contrasting and often complementary nature of contemporary poetry.’ This goal is certainly achieved in issue 2.  Three very different poets that work well together; the anthology flows beautifully.
Paying homage to Neruda and Chilean poetics, Cooke’s poems are steeped in surrealism but he also retains a grip on an Australian tone. These combine to create a unique voice.
In ‘Sonnet to Rain (son del silencio)’ Cooke draws the image of a dry land:

Hushed metal crescendo hear the cowbells clang

ing occasionally for the hell of it as if f
alling spirits weren’t caught by anyone but picked

 up from earth by hard white hands it’s

hard, yes, to talk about the dust, about what

Cooke’s enjambment is jarring and breathless, the lines are roughly iambic, the standalone ‘f’ at the end of the second line doesn’t count as a foot but adds to the stammering, thirsty drawl of the poem.
The combination of the two tones is evident again in ‘The Love Song of Judith and Pablo’ where text is taken from Judith Wright’s ‘The Man Beneath the Tree’ and Pablo Neruda’s ‘Oda a la Bella Desnuda’ (the author’s translation). Cooke takes from the two poems and marries them wonderfully.  However, what I found most amazing, aside from the perfect flow that is achieved, is what the lines chosen reveal about the poet. Like a child of divorced parents it is difficult to live, and indeed, love, two countries. Cooke merges lines from Wright’s first stanza:

Nothing is so far as truth;
nothing is so plain to see.
Look where light has married earth
through the green leaves on the tree.

And the first line of her last stanza:

Oh, love and truth and I should meet,

with Neruda’s first lines:

With chaste heart, with eyes pure

and the closing lines of his second stanza:

Your eyelids of wheat
who discover
or close
two countries deep in your eyes

to create a longing for the two countries that hold his love:

Oh, love and truth and I should meet
with a chaste heart, with pure eyes
holding the sea-music. Nothing is so far
as truth: your eyelids of wheat revealing
or hiding two deep countries
in your eyes – love for which the wisest weep.

Bronwen Manger’s section of the anthology takes is into the reality of Australia. In ‘Kinglake 2011’, for example, the memories of the Black Saturday bushfires remain two years later, but the signs of rebirth are beautifully illustrated, especially in the opening stanza:

The charred stakes of former trees are now haloed
in soft green leaves, each cell a vial of sunlight
glowing out defiant optimism. The secret heartbeat
of this old land is too young & too foolish
to stay sombre.

In a nice twist, Manger provides an ode to St. Kilda (‘St.Kilda’), a love/hate relationship sounds too balanced as Manger shouts from the start:

This place,
gaudy as an open wound,
wears its weather beaten halo

and continues with such barbs as ‘regurgitated out/onto the footpath’, ‘shadeless, limbless trees/strain into a stricken sky. Fevered/ cafes sweat people with brass skin /and concrete eyes.’  But the close provides a knowing smile to the face of the reader:

But I found one night
once, years ago we
laughed immortal and absurd,
disbelieving and joyful in some vineless

We laughed;
and St Kilda,
I forgive everything.

While reading Ouyang Yu’s section he immediately jumped into my favourite poets category. Yu writes in the deceptively simple, yet multiple interpretive Chinese style. Short poems are titled only with numbers, they read like a softly moving creek, and flow like a comfortable conversation. Yu shares his thoughts, such as:


unless you want
to be
the greatest of obscure authors
waiting to be discovered
for the rest of your death

I adore the humour in the work:


it’s now time for commercial break, we’ll be right back:
buy poetry bye poetry buy poetry bye poetry buy poetry bye



to think of some of my favourite writers
to think of how forgotten they are
unlike shakespeare who is being exploited without getting paid

Yu uses Chinese characters, which cannot be copied here, but are mentioned purely because they are interesting in that they don’t need translation; they offer a mystique to the poetry, a licence to interpret as you see fit.
The depth in the deceptive simplicity is highlighted here:


all i need to do

to prove eternity doesn’t


is to strike this



Last quote from Ouyang Yu:


how many people does one make love to all his life
how many friends does he make
how many enemies
how many strangers does he
encounter how many pigs
or cows does he eat
i had a head-on collision with this question
when my car reached the end of the freeway

I wish I could go into more detail here – these three poets deserve reviews in their own rights as each section of this anthology is a worthy collection in itself. Suffice to say, the Triptych Poets Issue Two holds its own in the tradition of the Penguin Modern Poets series, allowing the reader to compare three very distinct voices that combine to flow in one wonderful collection.
Triptych Poets: Issue 2
Stuart Cooke, Bronwen Manger and Ouyang Yu
Blemish Books, 2011
, $15