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November 27, 2020


#Poetry Empirical

by NancyElin



  1. Empirical  means  relying on observation.
  2. Book cover: Statue of Aphrodite as a symbol of the ‘beauty of the world.
  3. Goal book: Teach us to appreciate a different beauty no longer in its original form.
  4. Inspiration/timeline:
  5. Ms Gorton started Empirical  in 2014.
  6. She had learned that the Victorian government planned an
  7. 8-lane highway through Melbourne’s Royal Park.
  8. Ms Gorton researched the colonial history of Melbourne
  9. …a young city on ancient land.
  10. She tries to understand how a feeling for place originates.



  1. Part 1:  Empirical I-VII document the poet’s walks
  2. through the Royal Park  where an eight-lane motorway
  3. through Royal Park is to be contructed.
  4. Part 2: Crystal Palace: poems that include meditations on t
  5. he Great Exhibition’s antiquities and exhibits.


Empirical I

Summary: (believable…)

  1. Poet walks in the mounds of rubble and shattered concrete
  2. dumped in 2-3  near a factory, train line.
  3. Poet describes the weeds and grasses that have
  4. taken root in these mounds: head-high fennel,
  5. milk thistle, dandelion and tussock
  6. Note: New Zealand’s native grasslands are tussocks –
  7. grasses that grow in the form of a clump.
  8. The tussock shape protects the plant, and helps it survive fire and drought.)
  9. Poet feels she is in an abyss and the weeds, grasses,
  10. mounds of rubble give the scenes a sense of place.
  11. It is a wilderness to itself, closed.




Empirical II

Summary: (strange…)

  1. Poet continues to walk in the acres of rubble and grasses.
  2. She ‘vanishes into my life again’ (imagination)
  3. …with thoughts of this place as it was centuries ago.
  4. She asks the reader if we see the figures among the stones
  5. ….their worlds covered in rubble.
  6. Poet sees fragments of vases or urns and imagines Caesar gesturing…


Empirical III:

Summary: (again….very strange)
These words in Empirical I-II-III have NO emotional effect on this reader at all!

  1. Poet discovers a concrete table and chairs on the edge of the field
  2. She imagines the table set with various items: plates, cutlery, napkins in their rings, long stemmed
  3. glasses under a hanging lamp and a lion-footed salt cellar.
  4. Poet imagines ‘we’ (reader and poet?) sit and eat…..and ‘they’ (imaginary others??) vanish.
  5. The ‘others’ retreat and the ‘dining room’ is seen disappearing into a vanishing point, Droste effect.
  6. This effect represents the poet’s dream of landscape enclosing yet another dream of landscape .


Droste effect


Empirical IV:

Summary: (…it is not getting any better)

  1. Poet again describes grasses, seedbeds, and thistledown.
  2. She looks at the ‘front of now into the unreal scene out back’ and compares it to a
  3. drawing in perspective with lines shooting as far as the eye can see.
  4. Drawing on Empirical I the poet again refers to a factory, train line and envisages them
  5. ‘where your acts naturalise as monuments’.
  6. She compares them to a broken statues that ‘lies engulfed in grass’
  7. The entire scene is ‘a ruinable strangeness’
  8. that leads back to where she is sitting in head-high grass.


Empirical V:

Summary: (…the poet is speaking in circles with emphasis ‘grasses’)


  1. Tussock, rattling fennel tendrils from the root
  2. speargrass with a rain wind and the grasses moving many way like shivers.
    Poet invents a landscape (imagination)
  3. …a ruinable see-through drawn into the plan in thought.
  4. Again the poet goes on about grasses:
  5. …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)
  6. Finally a lucid thought I can cling to:
    “…the road will come through here—“






Empirical VI:

Summary: (…bizarre…completely out to touch with previous 5 poems)

  1. This is the only poem with a dedication : for Skye Baker
  2. Poet describes:
  3. cloud that is approaching and its shadow moves over
  4. (…of course more grasses)
  5. grasses, seedhead, tussock, milk-thistle and dry stalks of fennel.
  6. a cloud of ink and charcoal.
  7. The last words of the poem….baffling!


  1. “Battening over the hospital and the children’s prison—numb,
  2. ignorant rain falling (what is that?) from it without a
  3. sound the way it falls through mirrors.” (Huh?)
  4. “…She cuts the page in strips, pins them to a wall, would have them stained with hands”
  5. Note:  I give up!
  6. …this book better improve considerably in part 2
  7. …or I’m tossing it in the bin!


Empirical VII:

Summary:  (off-the-wall attempt for a ‘sense of place’)

  1. Poet describes:
  2. storm water piped down a gully filled with weed tracks.
  3. water flows to a standing pool
  4. water is pumped up to the golf course
  5. …that sometimes floods the creek
  6. a factory is surrounded by a cyclone fence.
  7. smoke from the furnaces moves upward
  8. rains….a screen on an leafless evergreen shrub, furze (aka gorse)
  9. I read that poetry is the best words in the best order.
  10. Ms Gorton seems to just scatter words willy-nilly
  11. making no sense of place  at all!
  12. Ms Gorton tries create her own inner land- and time-scapes… but THIS reader is left
  13. unsatisfied….and now thirsty.
  14. Water, water everywhere, Nor any drop to drink!)
  15. It just feels like prose with line-breaks added.

Furze (aka gorse)


Royal Park  (longest poem in part 1, huge disappointment)


  1. This is a helicopter view of Royal Park’s history from 1835-1956.
  2. Ms Gorton uses 95% text from various historical documents
  3. mixed with 4% of words from the
  4. previous Empirical meditations and
  5. 1 % new thoughts captured in the last 100 words.
  6. Snippets about  the original people
  7. involved in the history of Royal Park
  8. — descriptions of the map
  9. — descriptions of a watercolour painting
  10. An Escape from the First Gaol
  11. … all these snippets/descriptions
  12. 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)


  1. Ms Gorton has used information that can be
  2. found on Wikipedia and filtered it through a poet’s eyes.
  3. No harm in that. She mentions where and who found the statue etc.
  4. The poet describes the statue “drapery falls from her thighs like folds in water” or “
  5. …golden earrings in the shape of flowers…”.
  6. Now I’m no poet….but these comparisons
  7. sound like they are lacking in imagination.
  8. The object most mentioned is the mirror…3 x in the poem.
  9. I was not impressed with this poem, c’est la vie.


Aphrodite of Melos


  1. Rimbaud’s Cities I, Imperial Panoramas
  2. Summary:
  3. This is nothing else but
  4. Ms Gorton’s translation of Illuminations – 19 – Villes
  5. L’acropole officielle by Rimbaud.
  6. Rimbaud’s Cities II, Imperial Panoramas
  7. Summary:  Again….just a transltion of Rimbaud’s poem.


Crystal Palace (poem)


  1. Ms Gorton lets her poetic mind roam while
  2. contemplating the history of Crystal Palace.
  3. The first half of the poem is a lyrical
  4. description of the building and
  5. a large part of the second half of the poem
  6. …is a list of 14 bizarre images a reader might
  7. see in the clouds that pass over the glass
  8. windows of Crystal Palace.
  9. Again….I am not impressed by this poem.
  10. I cannot find many poetic features
  11. that can highlight tone and mood
  12. (e.g., repetition, rhyme, alliteration, metaphor).
  13. It feels like a regurgitation of facts with a whiff of imagination.


Crystal Palace


Mirror, Palace (poem)


  1. Again a poem that is based on the writing of Coleridge:
  2. Kubla Khan: or, A Vision in a Dream
  3. Note: Ms Gorton uses documents, quotes a few lines then
  4. gives her own interpretation of other unquoted lines….
  5. Marco Polo wrote: ‘…which he gives to his hawks…
  6. Ms Gorton wrote: “… carcasses for his gyrfalcons..”
  7. Last line of the poem sums it up:
  8. “I have annexed a fragment’ is a quote by Coleridge
  9. …..and that
  10. describes what Ms Gorton has done.
  11. I’m starting to sound like a broken record:
  12. Again….I am not impressed by this poem


Life Writing  (poem?  text?)
Of Coleridge’s Kubla Khan


  1. This is a confused text that I had to skim
  2. It was exhausting and after having read 95% of this book
  3. I did not have the mental energy to read this carefully.
  4. I stumbled on references to:
  5. King Arthur and the Round Table ( How Morgan Le Fay Tried to Kill King Arthur ) “…Arthur had
  6. gone to rest for he had fought a hard battle, and for three nights had slept but little,”
  7. Extracts from the Excursion: [Mist Opening in the Hills]
  8. By William Wordsworth “…The appearance, instantaneously disclosed,
  9. Was of a mighty city..”
  10. …and many quotes from other writings that I had no desire to read.
  11. Again…this  was a jumble of quotes, facts and God knows what else!
  12. …not impressed at all, sorry.

Landscape With Magic Lantern Slides  (poem)


  1. The poet uses words that have appeared in
  2. previous poems to give this poem a ‘bookend’ feeling:
  3. factory, landscape, train lines various forms of grasses and shrubs, statues.
  4. Ms Gorton quotes ‘You’ve seen the hands of statues that men have set by gateways”
  5. (note: quote De rerum natura On the Nature of Things.


Last Thoughts:

  1. I am at the end of this book and glad I can say…
  2. I did read EVERY word even when I felt
  3. like throwing the book in the bin.
  4. Ms Gorton is a very well-read scholar but is she a great poet?
  5. Perhaps I have been spoiled after reading 64 poems by Les Murray.
  6. The difference between Ms Gorton and Murray…is stiff and stark.
  7. My advice? Read Les Murray…


Read more from #AusReadingMonth, poetry
5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nov 27 2020

    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…

    • Nov 28 2020

      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…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!

      • Nov 28 2020

        Great tip Nancy. I must have channelled your thoughts as I was writing my post yesterday 🙂

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. #AusReadingMonth2020 Wrap-up | NancyElin
  2. AusReading Month – Wrap Up Post – Brona (This Reading Life)

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