Fire Diary

Published : Friday, January 07, 2011 | Label: Books  

My first book of poems, Fire Diary, was published in November 2010 (Puncher & Wattmann).

It gathers 49 of the poems I’ve been writing over the past few years and arranges them in four sections: “The Perfect Body of the Beloved”, “As Near to Stillness as I’m Ever Going to Get”, “The Rain on the Face of the World”, and “The Black Terrain Between”.

I left out more poems than I put in; I hope to make a second book soon and bring in 2012.

Judy Beveridge launched my book in early December 2010. Her launch speech explores and explains my book better than I can.

Judy Beveridge has sent me the text of the speech she made launching my book of poems, Fire Diary, in early December in Sydney.

I know Judy is hoping to work this up into an essay, but what she said speaks so kindly about my work, and understands it (and me) so well, I asked her if I might post it here in the meantime.

Judy understands so well that work of poetry is a practice (in part, a spiritual practice, a way of being), as well as an art: line breaks count; so do apt metaphors and right language. They count because they are ways to the kind of truth, or resonant emptiness, a poem wants—one wants in and of one’s own life.

Judy understands well, too, how in my poetry I goad myself, and ask of each of us, not to hold life cheap, or to want to move through it lightly, glibly, tidily. Hold everything dear, John Berger wrote it in an essay once. The right words and the right life do not come cheap. Until Judy mentioned it, though, I hadn’t realised how this idea is close to the keynote never uttered, but always implied, in Fire Diary, start to finish. Don’t go hoping to get off lightly. A good life will cost you. Beauty is an exacting discipline. As is love. Poetry, for that matter.

And Judy refers to me as a “scop”, an Anglo-Saxon word for bard: someone who, with words, gives form to what is otherwise formless—his life, the landscape, the nature of the times. I turn up and give an account of myself and of where I am, and I give thanks. I speak, she says, our needs; I give our thanks.

Here are her words:

FIRE DIARY Mark Tredinnick

Launch Speech December 1st 2010 Judith Beveridge


This is a great delight for me to be launching Mark’s first book of poetry Fire Diary - (well, in actual fact I don’t really think it is his first book of poetry, because anyone who has read Mark’s book about the Blue Mountains - The Blue Plateau, will know that that book is really a long and very beautiful poem) - and in some ways Fire Diary carries on from what Mark has done in The Blue Plateau - again, he gives us nature writing at its finest, and Fire Diary must surely establish Mark as one of our great poets of place - but not just of geographic place, but of the spiritual and moral landscape as well.

I think it was Wallace Stevens who talked about the extent to which he believed that “the soil (was) man’s intelligence” - well, we could say that Mark Tredinnick believes that “the soil is man’s soul” and I think that Mark would certainly agree with that old adage that says: we don’t know who we are until we know where we are.



Fire Diary is full of the most exquisite descriptions of where Mark lives in Burradoo, which is in the Wingecarribee Shire, near Bowral. There’s a wonderful sweep in his work - you get weather, you often get time of day, you get season, you get river, you get trees, you get snakes, spiders, foxes, horses, cows, birds and hens, you get children, you get the moon at night and the daylight moon, you get sun and sunshine, you get stars, you get the varying colours and slant of light, you get lots of rain, you get smoke and mist and you get more rain - you get brilliant metaphors, and perhaps most brilliantly of all, you get mood. I really can’t think of any other poet who gives us quite so many subtle modulations, dispositions and humours in each single poem as Mark does - the mood can change from delight, to melancholy, to wit all within a few lines. And here’s an example from Wingecarribee Eclogues:
My daughter, not yet one,
crawls to my chair and takes my pens
and tries to steal the book I try to write in. This could be a metaphor,
but who knows? My son, fresh from the bath and naked yet,
steps into my boots. This could be another, but I hope not. I sit in the corner
of the thick of my life, and I think I’ll keep on writing till I run out of pens.

One minute he’s rather phlegmatic, the next expectant and hopeful - as in these opening lines from “Paradise”

Once I lay in the lassitude of summer,
rocking the sky’s slow boat
looking up the skirts of a sorority of poplars. The wind rose
and the grey leaves panicked
in a silver school and swam south,

But not far south, and the sky above
was a lapis scrim of unbroken
The American poet James Wright coined the phrase - “the genius of place” - by which I think he meant the spirit, the power, the prevailing mood or dominant individuality - even oddness - that a place can be beset with. Mark is so good at capturing the temper of a place and seamlessly yoking it to the world of troubles, of human hope and disappointment, of doubt, love and desire.

It’s clear that Mark’s power as a poet comes out of his ability to capture an extraordinary number of extras or windfalls because he is so aware of what is going on in his language - the metaphors he creates are stylish, funny, inventive, sure-footed and they carry enormous intensity of feeling.

There is in Mark’s work a superb handling of utterance and this comes through mainly in his use of a long, sinuous, flowing line. I am so glad to see that the Publisher has kept integrity with this long line by making this book wider than most normal poetry books in order not to break up the lines but present them in their fullness. Most publishers wouldn’t do this - The rhythms are just lovely, the lines are lulling, gentling - even restful:

Listen to this from Wingecarribie Eclogues: and see how beautifully balanced it is, how poised and assured the rhythms are: and if you are following it on the page - page 20 parts 7 &8 have a look a how skilfully Mark uses the line breaks:
So windy today you’d swear
it was August. So warm you’d call it spring.
The winds walking in from the desert. Here is never the entire world
one belongs to. Or now, for that matter. The present moment
is a frantic mosaic of the broken pieces of the past and future. It’s made
of birdsong, trace elements of a hundred epochs. And oneself.
Everything’s in motion
today. The river, The birds, the atoms and the slaters
in the firewood by the door. Memory. Predation. Hibernation. The place
composes itself over and over in quavers and rests.
The birch at the south window is the morning’s percussion. Plainsong
on the cd player is as near to stillness as I’m ever going to get.

The Anglo-Saxons had a word for the poet and that was the word “scop” - the scop was a shaper, someone who imparted form or “scape” onto what he might find shapeless, whether it be the land or the demands and chaos of life; and as it is said of the scop in the poem “Widsith” which is one of the oldest poems in English - the poets of mankind go through many countries,
speak their needs, say their thanks.

We can see from Fire Diary that Mark Tredinnick is indeed a scop - someone who speaks their needs, says their thanks. These poems from Fire Diary are about a man accountable for the way life is, or has been framed; they are about finding that transaction with something out there - whether landscape, love, family, work, poetry or all those things - Mark’s poems give us all the nuances of that calling. What is so pleasurable about these poems is the way that Mark binds outer weather to inner weather, they are not just poems of place, but poems of the human heart; they are rhythmical and dynamic dialogues, poems that urge for a transfiguration of life in the living of it. The poems in Fire Diary are perhaps dramatic enactments of Goethe’s great dictum: in life “one learns nothing, but one becomes something”. Mark is a very disarming poet and I think that the weapon he would most have us renounce is the sense that we can perhaps get through life cheaply. There is also a sense in Mark’s work that the proper study of Mankind is perhaps - Hens.

A well as exquisite descriptions there is also as I said earlier, a great deal of humour - quite a bit of this humour comes through in Mark’s aphoristic tendencies - here are a few of them:
The world is a mystery occluded by reality.
Nature is an idiot savant/ profoundly gifted/ at the mathematics of being
Time that bad idea is passing away like water
I sit here writing poems like cheques wondering if they’ll bounce
Landscape - another deregulated market
Five children and three or four/ expensive habits -/ one of them life

This is a profound book of treasures, and I’ve barely begun really to touch on them - that’s for you to do now when you read and re-read the book. It is a book of gorgeous poetry. These poems are anthems to nature, to family, to love, to the beauty of language - they speak to all our needs and they say their thanks.


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