In her latest collection of poems, Empirical, Lisa Gorton demonstrates – definitively and elegantly – how large, apparently simple creative decisions (employing catalogues or lists; quoting from the archive; engaging in ekphrasis or description) can produce compelling and complex poetic forms.
Empirical shows continuities with Gorton’s two earlier collections, especially with regard to a repeated concern with places and things. But the use of a ‘transcriptive poetics’ of bricolage – in which Gorton quotes from and adapts literary and archival works to produce original poetry – is a new development. Gorton is not, of course, the first poet to engage in the transcriptive poetics of found poetry. Conceptual poets such as Kenneth Goldsmith have long produced poetic work through the transcription of non-poetic material. And numerous poets have raided their national and regional historical archives to find, through poetic bricolage, the utter strangeness of what was once simply factual or administrative writing. Such a project is clearly open to post-colonial critique, as the work of Indigenous writers such as Tony Birch and Natalie Harkin shows.
Gorton’s use of the archive is concerned with poetic transformation itself, employing basic poetic strategies such as catalogue, translation, and ekphrasis (or description). Part of the power of Empirical is the way in which it subtly allows critique to form within such poetic forms of transformation.