Laurie Duggan

I’ve been fortunate enough to talk to a number of older poets, many of whom are no longer with us. I count myself fortunate to have met poets such as Carl Rakosi, Gael Turnbull, Ed Dorn, Jonathan Williams, Lee Harwood, and Tom Raworth. If I could use a time machine, I’d like to talk to William Carlos Williams, especially about the radical work he produced in the 1920s.

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In all of his books, Laurie Duggan has tended to avoid the ‘well-formed poem’. His poems are not of the kind that unroll like carpets: replete with interconnected images, sonic patterning, argument. A large part of his poetic approach emerges from an attempt to not speak over what is already there, or, as he writes in one poem, to ‘not neutralise / the effect of atmosphere’. This might be described as permitting the incidental, letting things in, but it’s also – Duggan being a self-described minimalist – much to do with omission. The model his oeuvre provides is one that prioritises listening (and looking) over speaking, and in that sense it is anti-bardic. ‘The poem’ as a discrete object is often, and almost entirely within this collection, given over to the series, allowing Duggan to retain qualities of the short lyric while building long-form structures whose rhythms become apparent over years or, in the case of ‘Blue Hills’, over decades.

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In The Resistance to Poetry (2004), James Longenbach claims that ‘Distrust of poetry (its potential for inconsequence, its pretensions to consequence) is the stuff of poetry.’ The Australian poet Laurie Duggan has based a career on a creative distrust of poetry, or at least a certain kind of attitude to ...

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1

Camperdown’s for dogs,
Friday evening in the park off Church Street

a barefoot man
carries a plank:

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This collection of poetry is similarly accommodating. It is shaped by four quite different tonal movements: ‘All Blues’ (eight lyrics closely observing the ‘still life’ within season, art-work, society and self), ‘Trans-Europe Express’ (a travelogue of past times and places where conscious reflection momentarily counters the movement and cross-currents of historical process), ‘Dogs’ (where Diogenes’ cynicism is invoked to ‘lower the tone’, reminding me of the blues singer’s injunction to ‘laugh just to keep from crying’) and ‘More Blues’ (where episodic vistas of ‘blue hills’ unfold from Tailem Bend to Mount Segur). The collection ends with a nine-part retrospective called ‘The Front’ which is partly about the art of making poetry or music in the face of ‘prevailing imagery’. Here a littoral between performance and reputation is reached as today’s determined play with a language is set against inherited ‘fixed ideas’.

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