Gregory Day—multi-award winning novelist (The Patron Saint of Eels), poet, nature writer, fisherman, bard, Yeatsian, and place tragic—made a speech at the Melbourne launch of my poetry collection Fire Diary back in late May, a speech in which I felt so recognised as a man and a poet that I could find little to say afterwards—in my gratitude and some deeper feeling I still can’t name—except “thank you”. Greg’s words created a silence you want your poems to create—into which I turned and read some of the poems Greg had taken so deeply to heart. Poems whose suffering and joy and levity and gravity and music and doubt and lapsed silences he had found. Whose jokes he had laughed at.
Very astutely, Greg noticed in my poems an aspiration toward Zen-like minimalism, a kind of shadow presence of the kind of economy I am always going to be way too loquacious to pull off. A talkative kind of Trappism, a voluble kind of meditation, a restless kind of yoga. (See, there I go again...)
Anyway, Kris Hemensley, at whose poetry bookstore, Collected Works, in Swanston Street, Melbourne, we held the launch, has now posted Greg’s speech on his (Kris’s) blogspot. Here’s the link: http://www.collectedworks-poetryideas.blogspot.com
In a while, I’ll post Greg’s speech, itself a work of art ("the work,” as he says of my book, “not only of a wordsmith I admire, but of a mature person, someone who’s lived and decided to live on")—here on my website. For now, though, I’m going to quote a few passages to give you an idea why Greg thinks Fire Diary and me so uncool, and why he thinks that kind of uncoolness so, well, cool, and necessary.
“Mark’s belief in the sanctity of nature, which is everywhere implied in these poems, this almost boyish heartfeltness integrated with the grownup accomplishment of his poetic craft, is quite special. With these talents converging, Mark becomes a singer, motivated by, and loyal to, the impulse of beauty in the world.”
“A quality I’d like to emphasize about Fire Diary, beyond its pretty uncool delivery of wisdom into the ironic heart of contemporary poetry, is how well Mark knows the world of which he speaks.”
Greg speaks of the difficulty faced by any artist confronted by what I have called the autism of nature, its profound self-possession, and yet who wants to witness nature, to speak out of gratitude and in the hope of saying something worthwhile about, doing something useful for, the much put-upon earth. He thinks I manage to render the world I love and yet leave it intact, through “an exactness about the phenomenological experience of the emotionally struck human figure in the massive midst of stars, birds, storms, dawns, trees, both European and Indigenous, and rivers both fucked up and restored.”
But, what, Greg concludes ”Fire Diary has above all—what I admire so much—is its personal vulnerability. For me, it’s a capacity, simultaneous with his geomorphological understanding, astute metrics and attention to imagistic detail, to love and cry on the page, to be embarrassed on the page… I sense a lack of fear behind the writing of these poems that perhaps, amongst other things, a musical ear and a private suffering can give you: it gives Mark access to his art, and a sense in it of him, living his own dedicated life, perhaps not his first life, and perhaps not even his second or third ("your new life is just your old life with a book in its hands")—but therefore a life he has made himself, a poetry he has chosen and laid himself open to, with the inspiration of the earth...”
Someone once said of James Galvin, a North American poet I admire, that his poetry has in it what every writer would hope for: a voice and a place. Each distinctive. Rare. Voice and place are what you’ll find in Greg’s writing, too: books that never leave you. And voice and place have been my quiet aspiration; I guess I’ve hoped my writing might have something to say, without fear, in a voice not heard before, from a distinctive place, itself a large part of any wisdom and any music my own voicing sings forth. Thanks Greg, for finding me (my self-determined, fashioned, if not fashionable, third or fourth self)—and my country—in my lines of fire.