Bloody newspapers! Having settled into my summer of crime I had little patience for newspapers or the news. The Weekend ‘Australian’ felled a forest in my palm. I looked sourly at the ‘paper’s unrelenting jaundice, directed uniformly in denunciation of the new mob who will steal government from the present mob. In this mood the ‘Australian’ deplores democracy. Deploring busily myself, I turned to the non-news. This is to be found in ‘Review’, the newspaper’s excellent weekly look at books and pictures and movies and dance and music and television shows. In short, the arts.
Looking cursorily I leafed through the pages. As I did so I felt cursory; the accursed ‘Review’ was full of attractive material. I came to poems. Poems are hard, like algebra. Unlike algebra the trick is not to try to solve a poem, first listen to the music. Here (‘Review’, page 22) was Barry Hill, himself guilty of poetry, reviewing a book by another poet, Paul Kane. No, I hadn’t heard of him either. Kane’s book, ‘A Passing Bell: Ghazals for Tina’, is a lament for the poet’s wife, Tina, who died a few years ago. Barry Hill likes the book; I loved Hill’s review. I want to give you a taste of Hill on Kane on Tina, but what to choose? Better, what to omit? Not a word is dispensible. Here, at random:
It comes in the form of ghazals, the ancient lyric common to the Sufi poets writing in classic Persian (or Arabic, Turkish or Urdu), whose lines fell down the page in couplets that came to rest with a fresh mention of the beloved or the Beloved (sometimes called Master).
In any case, the Sufi exalted the visible as a song to the invisible.
Hill’s language is pregnant, heavy with knowledge and understandings, gravid with a scholarship I can only envy. Hill chooses the following lines by Kane:
“He never meant to write this, it simply took shape and wouldn’t let him go until it was over. But it will never be over for him, his heart inscribed with the name of the beloved, Tina”
“At night I lie awake and call to you,
but you don’t reply, except in silence.
The night bird is not silent but sings
A simple single note. His mate does not sing back.
I do not understand this silence, as if God
Has departed and taken you with Him.
I have no words to form a prayer
That could reach you or Him.
Two wine glasses sit on the counter top –
One is full then only half full.
Without emptiness the glass could not exist.
If you should speak, Tina, the glass would shatter.
And back to Hill:
…Meanwhile, the ghazals, their pace and suspension, create a sense of time stretched to some mysterious limit, or of language floating on the waters of emptiness. “What words are these that well up like tears not shed?”
It took me quite some time before I could go back to Peter Temple’s ‘Dead Point”, my first Jack Irish novel. My first, definitely not my last. And now I’m on to Jane Harper’s ‘The Dry.’ Bloody crime writers writing literature. It’s enough to drive a man to Algebra.