Burning the House Down

Published : Thursday, December 09, 2010 | Label:

Wednesday 1 December, The Friend in Hand Hotel, Glebe. A wet night in the middle of a wet week. But fifty fine people turned up, one storey above the crab racing, to hear Judy Beveridge speak some carefully chosen and elegantly organised words to launch Fire Diary in Sydney.

Judy spoke from a larger essay she’s written on my work; when that gets published, you’ll be able to read what she makes of me. She spoke of the range of moods my poems cover; she spoke of me as a modern day “scop”, an old-English noun for the minstrel who turns up and, in deft song, offers praise where it is due and gives an account of himself. She spoke of me, too, as a poet of place—not just of physical landscapes and how we inhabit them, and they us, but of moral and spiritual geographies, landscapes of the body and mind. I was also delighted to hear her speak of Fire Diary as my second book of poetry—The Blue Plateau, in her view, being properly understood as a sustained work of poetry.

Thank you, Judy. I have never felt better understood—in my self or my work. Thanks to Dave at Puncher & Wattmann for publishing me. Thanks to everyone who came along and shared this with me.

In the Lotus Sutra, Buddha speaks of this life as a burning house. But stay in the house, he said; let it burn, as it must. Stay in the fire. Inhabit, “without guilt,” as I put it in one poem in the collection, “the trouble you’re in.” All that shelters us might have to drop away, if one is to leave one’s self behind and find the larger Self, the world, its terrible beauty and sometimes savage perfection. There are ways in which you could say I’ve seen my house burn metaphorically down, these last few years—ways in which Buddha would have said, I’m sure, it had to; there are ways in which we all, in a time of climate change, inhabit a burning house. Fire Diary is a witness I kept on my own, our own, burning house—this life.

But that makes it sound, perhaps, too grim. There’s plenty of levity and humour in here, too.

May the fire spread.

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