- Title: Empirical
- Author: Lisa Gorton (1972) – Poet and Oxford scholar
- Genre: poetry
- Published: 2019
- List of Challenges 2020
- Monthly reading plan
- Bingo card: VIC
- Trivia: Shortlist 2020 – Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry
- #AusReadingMonth2020 @Bronasbooks
- #AWW2020 @AustralianWomenWriters
- Empirical means relying on observation.
- Book cover: Statue of Aphrodite as a symbol of the ‘beauty of the world.
- Goal book: Teach us to appreciate a different beauty no longer in its original form.
- Ms Gorton started Empirical in 2014.
- She had learned that the Victorian government planned an
- 8-lane highway through Melbourne’s Royal Park.
- Ms Gorton researched the colonial history of Melbourne
- …a young city on ancient land.
- She tries to understand how a feeling for place originates.
- Part 1: Empirical I-VII document the poet’s walks
- through the Royal Park where an eight-lane motorway
- through Royal Park is to be contructed.
- Part 2: Crystal Palace: poems that include meditations on t
- he Great Exhibition’s antiquities and exhibits.
- Poet walks in the mounds of rubble and shattered concrete
- dumped in 2-3 near a factory, train line.
- Poet describes the weeds and grasses that have
- taken root in these mounds: head-high fennel,
- milk thistle, dandelion and tussock
- Note: New Zealand’s native grasslands are tussocks –
- grasses that grow in the form of a clump.
- The tussock shape protects the plant, and helps it survive fire and drought.)
- Poet feels she is in an abyss and the weeds, grasses,
- mounds of rubble give the scenes a sense of place.
- It is a wilderness to itself, closed.
- Poet continues to walk in the acres of rubble and grasses.
- She ‘vanishes into my life again’ (imagination)
- …with thoughts of this place as it was centuries ago.
- She asks the reader if we see the figures among the stones
- ….their worlds covered in rubble.
- Poet sees fragments of vases or urns and imagines Caesar gesturing…
Summary: (again….very strange)
These words in Empirical I-II-III have NO emotional effect on this reader at all!
- Poet discovers a concrete table and chairs on the edge of the field
- She imagines the table set with various items: plates, cutlery, napkins in their rings, long stemmed
- glasses under a hanging lamp and a lion-footed salt cellar.
- Poet imagines ‘we’ (reader and poet?) sit and eat…..and ‘they’ (imaginary others??) vanish.
- The ‘others’ retreat and the ‘dining room’ is seen disappearing into a vanishing point, Droste effect.
- This effect represents the poet’s dream of landscape enclosing yet another dream of landscape .
Summary: (…it is not getting any better)
- Poet again describes grasses, seedbeds, and thistledown.
- She looks at the ‘front of now into the unreal scene out back’ and compares it to a
- drawing in perspective with lines shooting as far as the eye can see.
- Drawing on Empirical I the poet again refers to a factory, train line and envisages them
- ‘where your acts naturalise as monuments’.
- She compares them to a broken statues that ‘lies engulfed in grass’
- The entire scene is ‘a ruinable strangeness’
- that leads back to where she is sitting in head-high grass.
Summary: (…the poet is speaking in circles with emphasis ‘grasses’)
- Tussock, rattling fennel tendrils from the root
- —speargrass with a rain wind and the grasses moving many way like shivers.
Poet invents a landscape (imagination)
- …a ruinable see-through drawn into the plan in thought.
- Again the poet goes on about grasses:
- …in head-high grass, its pale seedbeds….
…the grass untidy, touchable, steeply its slant
…going in through leaf-clatter, corner branches out to where—
…privet (note: evergreen shrub) and the green palings (note: fences)
- Finally a lucid thought I can cling to:
“…the road will come through here—“
Summary: (…bizarre…completely out to touch with previous 5 poems)
- This is the only poem with a dedication : for Skye Baker
- Poet describes:
- cloud that is approaching and its shadow moves over
- (…of course more grasses)
- grasses, seedhead, tussock, milk-thistle and dry stalks of fennel.
- a cloud of ink and charcoal.
- The last words of the poem….baffling!
- “Battening over the hospital and the children’s prison—numb,
- ignorant rain falling (what is that?) from it without a
- sound the way it falls through mirrors.” (Huh?)
- “…She cuts the page in strips, pins them to a wall, would have them stained with hands”
- Note: I give up!
- …this book better improve considerably in part 2
- …or I’m tossing it in the bin!
Summary: (off-the-wall attempt for a ‘sense of place’)
- Poet describes:
- storm water piped down a gully filled with weed tracks.
- water flows to a standing pool
- water is pumped up to the golf course
- …that sometimes floods the creek
- a factory is surrounded by a cyclone fence.
- smoke from the furnaces moves upward
- rains….a screen on an leafless evergreen shrub, furze (aka gorse)
- I read that poetry is the best words in the best order.
- Ms Gorton seems to just scatter words willy-nilly
- …making no sense of place at all!
- Ms Gorton tries create her own inner land- and time-scapes… but THIS reader is left
- unsatisfied….and now thirsty.
- Water, water everywhere, Nor any drop to drink!)
- It just feels like prose with line-breaks added.
Furze (aka gorse)
Royal Park (longest poem in part 1, huge disappointment)
- This is a helicopter view of Royal Park’s history from 1835-1956.
- Ms Gorton uses 95% text from various historical documents
- mixed with 4% of words from the
- previous Empirical meditations and
- 1 % new thoughts captured in the last 100 words.
- Snippets about the original people
- involved in the history of Royal Park
- — descriptions of the map
- — descriptions of a watercolour painting
- An Escape from the First Gaol
- … all these snippets/descriptions
- do not make Royal Park a poem by any stretch of the imagination!
Watercolour painting: An Escape from the First Gaol (Tullamareena burning prison)
Part 2: Crystal Palace
Aphrodite of Melos (poem)
- Ms Gorton has used information that can be
- found on Wikipedia and filtered it through a poet’s eyes.
- No harm in that. She mentions where and who found the statue etc.
- The poet describes the statue “drapery falls from her thighs like folds in water” or “
- …golden earrings in the shape of flowers…”.
- Now I’m no poet….but these comparisons
- sound like they are lacking in imagination.
- The object most mentioned is the mirror…3 x in the poem.
- I was not impressed with this poem, c’est la vie.
Aphrodite of Melos
- Rimbaud’s Cities I, Imperial Panoramas
- This is nothing else but
- Ms Gorton’s translation of Illuminations – 19 – Villes
- L’acropole officielle by Rimbaud.
- Rimbaud’s Cities II, Imperial Panoramas
- Summary: Again….just a transltion of Rimbaud’s poem.
Crystal Palace (poem)
- Ms Gorton lets her poetic mind roam while
- contemplating the history of Crystal Palace.
- The first half of the poem is a lyrical
- description of the building and
- a large part of the second half of the poem
- …is a list of 14 bizarre images a reader might
- see in the clouds that pass over the glass
- windows of Crystal Palace.
- Again….I am not impressed by this poem.
- I cannot find many poetic features
- that can highlight tone and mood
- (e.g., repetition, rhyme, alliteration, metaphor).
- It feels like a regurgitation of facts with a whiff of imagination.
Mirror, Palace (poem)
- Again a poem that is based on the writing of Coleridge:
- Kubla Khan: or, A Vision in a Dream
- Note: Ms Gorton uses documents, quotes a few lines then
- gives her own interpretation of other unquoted lines….
- Marco Polo wrote: ‘…which he gives to his hawks…
- Ms Gorton wrote: “… carcasses for his gyrfalcons..”
- Last line of the poem sums it up:
- “I have annexed a fragment’ is a quote by Coleridge
- …..and that
- describes what Ms Gorton has done.
- I’m starting to sound like a broken record:
- Again….I am not impressed by this poem
Life Writing (poem? text?)
Of Coleridge’s Kubla Khan
- This is a confused text that I had to skim
- It was exhausting and after having read 95% of this book
- I did not have the mental energy to read this carefully.
- I stumbled on references to:
- King Arthur and the Round Table ( How Morgan Le Fay Tried to Kill King Arthur ) “…Arthur had
- gone to rest for he had fought a hard battle, and for three nights had slept but little,”
- Extracts from the Excursion: [Mist Opening in the Hills]
- By William Wordsworth “…The appearance, instantaneously disclosed,
- Was of a mighty city..”
- …and many quotes from other writings that I had no desire to read.
- Again…this was a jumble of quotes, facts and God knows what else!
- …not impressed at all, sorry.
Landscape With Magic Lantern Slides (poem)
- The poet uses words that have appeared in
- previous poems to give this poem a ‘bookend’ feeling:
- factory, landscape, train lines various forms of grasses and shrubs, statues.
- Ms Gorton quotes ‘You’ve seen the hands of statues that men have set by gateways”
- (note: quote De rerum natura On the Nature of Things.
- I am at the end of this book and glad I can say…
- I did read EVERY word even when I felt
- like throwing the book in the bin.
- Ms Gorton is a very well-read scholar but is she a great poet?
- Perhaps I have been spoiled after reading 64 poems by Les Murray.
- The difference between Ms Gorton and Murray…is stiff and stark.
- My advice? Read Les Murray…
I’m attempting to write a post about two books of poetry that I read during the month, but i struggle to find the right format for me. I don’t have the energy or fortitude to make notes on each one like you do Nancy. It might help me keep track of my thoughts, but I don’t, so I will have to find another way to share my thoughts….
It’s more difficult because I really engaged with one of the poets, but not the other…
This book was hard work.
It took hours to read it and make notes. I don’t do this for every poetry book….the best books that I read that reach me emotionally are easy to write. But Ms Gorton…radiated the warmth of a video of a Yuletide burning log…nada. Just for fun read the only review of Empirical on AustralianWomenReading.com…all Jonathan can say (twice) about the book is “color and movement”. I looked for the evidence and found none. Les Murray on the other hand….speaks from a warm honest heart, suc a difference. Advice about yor books to be reviewed….choose ONE POEM and write how it made you feel….that’s all that poetry does…it opens your heart. Thanks for your comment!
Great tip Nancy. I must have channelled your thoughts as I was writing my post yesterday 🙂