Kate Lilley grew up in Perth, on the western edge of Australia–surely the most remote city on earth. To the north and west, the endless expanses of the Indian Ocean; to the south, Antarctica; to the north and east, a million square miles of rock and desert, with the nearest city one and a half thousand miles away. Her parents are both writers, though not of the usual literary sort. Her father had been a cane-cutter and merchant seaman with a passionate adherence to left-wing ideas and working-class beliefs. Her mother, Dorothy Hewett, is a well-known novelist, poet, and playwright, and was a member of the Australian Communist Party for more than twenty years. In her early teens, Kate moved with her family to Sydney; she later won a scholarship to London and eventually Oxford University, where she completed a Ph.D. on the topic of Elegy. She wrote vigorous and attractive poems in her early twenties, then academia buried her talent under bushels of work for more than a decade. She has emerged a stronger and a better writer. These poems are taken from her new book Versary, to be published in England by Salt Publications. They give us the richness and vigor of the English Renaissance in the service of a complex set of postmodern concerns; scholarship as a handmaiden to art; and literature galvanized by passion. We get an alert, sharp-edged poetry, electric with allusion and irony, compulsively readable.
As the plot rocks back and forth on a pinhead
count to fifteen very slowly.
By that time you should be alone again
contemplating your evening.
You could go for a ride and take a fall,
break your back and welcome an addiction–
or ask Miguel to serve drinks by the pool,
that hunky contractor might stop by.
Finally there’s a knock at the door,
a lady policeman shows her badge.
She’s asking if these unusual cufflinks
belong to the father of your children.
Where Was I
High speed trains aren’t meant for looking:
if you try to solve the blur you’ll get a headache.
Masks are popular if you’re feeling infectious
or prophylactically alert.
Sit back and practise mind-control instead,
turning the pages of a cartoon novel.
This one has pictures of lunch boxes emulating
regions and seasons, ingenious snacks
sold on certain days at certain stations.
Don’t try to escape allegory
or over-read the vending machines.
You’ll regret it later, and you’ll miss a lot:
pre-mixed cocktails, blood-type fortunes,
bandaged schoolgirls shitting on Teacher.
volunteers fan out along the shore
the water’s surface dimpled with flashlights
on the lake floor twisted in weed
the trail goes cold
the hinge of the locket a tiny sluice
one silver word
As I brushed your arm and walked so close to you
I imagined meeting up with the author
of the classic statement on dance halls
When I asked about his research into bachelor communities
he answered interminably
Linda likes 36 boys 29 like her
the rest don’t care for old time feeling
>whipped preferably pussy anything
liberal touches of baby powder
just because I’m lonesome
You’ll settle down some day and find I’ve gone away
all the fortune cookies equally cheerless
if you’re passing by the doctor wants your blood
in exchange for a little morphine
it’s not cheating just common sense
Birds start warbling bright and early
yonder a crash on the highway
I can’t help it if the journey seems unreal
sure as I’m sitting here
the burden of the refrain will fall on me
even the blossoming tips of fruit trees
weep when they taste the exceptional flavour
that last aperitif was too much
I’ll throw up the late harvest and ruin the season
are those two sisters now or were they ever
why don’t you just shut up and run the test
when I bite through the striped seam of the gel cap
it is bitter to the nth degree
The waterfall attracts its share of losers.
Nearby flowers recite past favourites unselfconsciously,
bowing their heads to the grass as the mercury falls.
Jocund and lowing abreact,
whistling charms the furrows.
The aesthetics of picnics gather parks
and trays embossed with birds and branches.
Lunch is served in the royal enclosure
by costumed swains and youths glad of the work.
Dishevelled planets grow up in arrears
and shed their light like imported brocade
used in the manufacture of evening bags.
Mouthfuls of shame like an understudy
my secret solar system
courier of lightning’s borrowed oeuvre