Pitt Street Poetry, $28 pb, 77 pp
These strange years of pandemic and lockdowns certainly brought challenges and unusual experiences – those of constraint but also, surprisingly, of opportunity and richness. The curious spaces we occupy in the ether have become a seedbed for conversation and exchange; for connections that otherwise might not have found a field in which to prosper. Despite or perhaps because of the limits of the digital, perhaps even because we were undistracted by physical proximity, these spaces seemed to offer the potential for a raw honesty – lacunae of sotto voce conversations which brought us ironically into a form of seemingly unmediated communication. From the hermetically sealed bubble of lockdowns, digital connect took on the intensity of embodied dialogue, the intimate voice in the ear.
This is apparent in the new collaborative volume by poets Audrey Molloy and Anthony Lawrence. ‘Are there things you never knew you loved, / until our lives were altered, / the new jargon of social distance / too big for our mouths?’, they ask in Ordinary Time. What essential understandings and experiences were we suddenly able to touch in the strangeness of that time of isolation? As Lawrence and Molloy tell us in the preface, they had not actually met until the launch of this book. Early in the pandemic they commenced an exchange of work, one poem at a time, building slowly and inexorably a fabric of intense poetic and personal connection. Like a kind of ‘epistolary love letter’, these poems, and the synergy of book which they have produced, embody this kind of space in which physically separate individuals weave conversations together that challenge notions of what being ‘together’ might actually mean.
The rhythm of these one-for-one poems embodies this dance of connection. There are moments when it seems possible to tell ‘which poet is which’, to differentiate styles and hear the distinctive cadences of the older established male poet and the younger Irish-Australian female poet. However, as in the deep textures of any relationship, we also hear both voices melding together as ‘Anthony’ and ‘Audrey’ throw words, images, ideas, the art of textual poesis into the crucible of their shared space, the tabula rasa of electronic forms of communication. Something in one poem is responded to, or riffed on, in the next and thus the conversation meanders and returns. For instance, one voice begins: