Thursday, 18 October 2007

Sarah Tiffen's Mythica (available from the Ginninderra Press Web site) "continues to probe the spiritual and social themes revealed in her first book, Learning Country: Song Cycles from the Heartland".

"Stories of her home country, on the western plains of New South Wales, reveal a powerful response to place and a visceral sense of nostalgia, landscape and love."

Publication of her second book was "supported by" a grant "obtained by" the Poets Union. Tiffen participated in an ABC Radio National broadcast on 9 September 2006. Otherwise, there is no notice of her online. It's a pity. Her poem 'Rain Event in the Whispering Country' in the October 2007 issue of Quadrant is exquisite.


Leeton, where Tiffen lives, is in the Riverina, a bioregion and electoral district. Along with most of NSW (80 per cent according to a recent broadcast) it is in drought. Of particular note, and to my astonishment, the town was designed by Walter Burley Griffin, the accolyte of Frank Lloyd Wright who also designed our nation's capital, Canberra.

'Rain Event' opens with a long, earnest paean to the moon ("woman-steeped", "bringer of blood") that slides around narratives of birth and incorporates flashes of landscape, agriculture, and companionship ("'this means rain,' he said"). What more perfect utterance than this:

       Her rich tangerine fullness, like a swollen areola
in the full breast of that night.
She leaked her salty hindmilk down
spilling out on the brooding cattle country,
on sweet-faced Angus, and
filling the Lachlan languid through dark floodplain.

The octosyllabic third line quoted is stunning (I overuse this word - must find synonym to exploit). It is unusual in English, I think, but I'll need to look into this some more to cope with the poem. I certainly intend to buy her two books.

And "Lachlan languid", though blatantly obvious, works to good effect especially after "filling": the rivulets wash down before us, standing on the banks. Tiffen is not afraid of the self-evident, and this is both rare and refreshing.

In the second section, "The rain rose like a crowd/calling itself joyously", so we can hear the patter on tin (Colourbond?) and the frogs starting up in unison, sleek celebrants of the downpour. In fact, "the chainmail of rain" convinces us of it, despite daily notice to the contrary. It's as though it had never rained. Those ads from the seventies ("It's Saturday night, the work is done, we're going into town") crowd up before us but the metallic savour of their blank appeal is missing and, here, we feel a rush that is both sexual ("the matched rising in our bodies") and martial ("the downed shields of glassy puddles").

It's a meeting of disparate elements, where the pure phenomenon of light becomes fleshy, muscular, intimate, to be applied with a palette knife:

It fell in smoky curtains of cloud,
the land pressed lavishly by the spun velvet of
blue upon grey upon darker blue and purple,
horizons of indigo shades backing onto themselves,
fold after fold of the thick, mohair light,
mauve and darkling, close and pregnant with knitted moisture.

In the third section the rain is over and the land "soak[s] the water into itself" and, again, the sexual imagery ripples like sultry laughter across your skin: goosebumps:

Round and shiny, like a milk bottle lid,
the pinned two-dimensional moon, incandescent, small and hard
against the night's felt board,
channelled the brittle frosted light from beyond the Universe's
darkest holy blue.

Alas, there are only three sections. Gerard Manley Hopkins? Certainly, this is 'nature' poetry, possibly even the woman is a practising Christian (are all our best poets believers?), and definitely post-Romantic.

There's nothing safe here, except that it is a woman's poem: assured, independent, but comfortable in the endless clasp of companionship that is keen to keep it endless. Nevertheless, miles better than "Yummy farm chicks fcuking in the stables", which is a recent contribution of the 'Net to my innocent inbox.

3 comments:

Ex-Leetonian said...

Leeton may well be a "bioregion and electoral district" (although the second point is debatable).

What it mainly is is a town.

Dean said...

You misread the text (on purpose?). It is the Riverina being so described.

ex-L said...

My apologies. So I did.

Why I would want to mis-read the text "on purpose" is not clear to me, though.