Friday, March 14, 2014

Ralph Wessman reviews 'True Thoughts' by Pam Brown, Salt Publishing, 2008
in Famous Reporter, No 40, December 2009

‘Counterculturalist’ seems as good a term as any to describe Australian poet Pam Brown whose lifetime of oppositional poetry and politics - the legacy that culminates in her latest collection True Thoughts (Salt Publishing, 2008) - points to a decidedly individualist nature, to one whose choice has been the road less travelled. True Thoughts is 72 pages in length, a hardback collection of twenty-three poems freewheeling through a landscape distinguished by wide-ranging cultural, political and philosophical references.

Pam Brown has been a practising poet since the early seventies, was for five years the poetry editor of Overland, and in latter years the associate editor of John Tranter’s Jacket. Such exposure guarantees she is well acquainted with the various trends of Australian poetry, ('I have read practically every poetry book recently published in Australia.': P. Brown, her blog 'the deletions', Oct 2009), with its factions and subcultures. Yet for Brown - deeply conversant with (but largely blasé about) the reductionism of labels - it’s mostly about the writing.

droning on is not
my way,
mine’s more a kind of
or maybe,
simply, to make art
through spaces,
without notes to myself –
none - myself to myself),
chasing the unknowable,
(from 'Death by droning')

Brown's writing – not only in this collection, but overall - is neither coercive nor shrill. The predominant approach is for the personal, observant, matter-of-fact; 'essayistic' is the term David McCooey uses in the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature, 2009 to describe her poetry. Innately political, Brown extends beyond advocacy to reveal a poet very comfortable both with her ouevre, and herself; intelligence and intensity are on parade but there’s little effort at salesmanship, the writing remains respectful and accepting of others’ points of view.

he says (in 1940) that he lives
that politics is useless,
& talking politics, worse.
he’s right,
I drop my fervour.
[from the poem ‘No Action’, referring to Samuel B. Beckett]

Utilising the full width of the page and accompanying white spaces, Brown is in turn generous, astute, inventive, unaffected, ironic - does the uncapitalised reference to ‘littlejohnnyhoward’ suggest anything so much as ‘diminished’? It’s a poetry of the everyday, refusing to take itself too seriously yet characterised nonetheless by a je ne sais quoi perhaps appropriately termed integrity:

then Samuel B. Beckett
the apolitical and became active,
dangerously, in
the resistance &, later, in the maquis
against the Nazis.
not fighting for ‘France’,
fighting for his friends’ liberty.
a person
any artist or poet
could only hope
to be as
courageous as
or, at most, as definite

True Thoughts is a well-designed and handsome hardcover publication from Salt Publishing, a welcome new work from a poet whose last major collection, Dear Deliria, was awarded the NSW Premier’s Prize for Poetry (2004).

Pam Brown : True Thoughts. Salt Publishing 2008. ISBN 978 1 84471 427 8

Return to Reviews or the deletions or Pam Brown site