Review: Silently on the Tide, Pete
Walleah Press, 2005
Silently on the Tide is Pete
Hays second poetry collection. Containing a number of favourite poems already
encountered in journals and anthologies Night Rain, with Owl,
Dove Lake Tanka, Remembering Murphy, amongst others the
volume is a welcome addition to his list of published works.
The title comes from Hays poem
On the Gordon River Cruise, and the cover artwork is a detail of Tim
Burns painting, Silently on the Tide, named from the same poem. This
interchange incorporates the spirit of Ekphrasis, a transcription from one medium to
another, here a circular process of creativity. Other examples are Ironman
(after Peter Stephenson, Ironman 1 & 2), White Words (after
Peter Stephenson, White Words 1, 2 & 7), and Desirée Fitzgibbons
painting The Smirr of Gulls Down on the Breeze ( inspired by Hays
description, a smirr of gull-down on the
breeze, p.27). The colour plates enrich our reception of the poems, and vice
White Words sets the tone of
the collection, a plea for conservation and social concern in an age of data and
dead hills (p.13). We are bombarded with words from the media:
This is a time of words for the killing.
Icons of a chameleon
Walled within words.
In a time when all trespass
who seek the blistered
we die in a white chamber of words.
could feel the weakness of
was the next targeted
to give us no hope
The poem, like the painting, is framed
with media jargon, powerfully making its point, and fleshed out with images such as
the hourly extinction of natural resources, (But not on
the Moodys rated, deficit-funded news,
Ironman celebrates the
unmythed life of the outback, man pitted against the encroaching forest and
the racketting rain driving hard and without cease:
Who would know the wall of beckoning
his iron fence,
his iron walls,
thin and running red? (p.10)
Hay calls us back to the present:
You can see his land from here.
It is safe here
for this is a city gallery,
and here is his
land safely panelled
While his focus is the indomitable will
of this man of iron, it is underscored by a knowledge of the land triumphant:
Here in ridged and dinted iron
this man gets through a
He has wrestled with
the land the way he knows,
and he will lose, the
way he knows.
Perhaps, for us, there is the further
implication that this is no longer the case today the green embrace
will not continue to self-renew.
Hay writes about the interconnectedness
of all existence, as in Sheoaks (p.4), where the persona experiences the
bones of a time/ when the penal station worked
its farm here. He reminds us of the importance of rivers and
mountains, and the devastation posed by man-made attempts to shackle them. Nailing
Pooranateré (an Aboriginal naming of the Mountain) addresses the most recent of
continued schemes and proposals to erect a cable car on its slopes:
This mountain now. Assume it rich and
of mood. Let it nudge the morning talk
Let it slip within the old towns
From the steps of the House of Blah I see
a fret of green life reaching forward
from the upturned shield of rock and
Then hear the edict of the oddly wise.
This beloved thing of stars and snow and
has to go. We will tread it under.
Clap it in irons. Put out its wildering
The outcome of such interference is
beautifully summarised in lines from In Memory of William Paterson, a poem
otherwise about Tasmanias ancestors:
We have rendered the
and it is not to be
It is the very land that grieves,
gathering us up.
Another strand of Hays writing thus
takes in the history of the islands people. On the Gordon River Cruise
records the story of the last Vandiemonian bushrangers, and of Reg Morrison, descendant of
the West Coast piners, who opposed the proposed Gordon-below-Franklin dam
(p.83), equally putting paid to the success of his own personal ventures:
The ghosts of old piners drift silently
on the tide;
in the wall of forest the bones of
with moss, fern, root are twined.
Arthur River Suite invokes
the last days of Truganini. Intertwined is the story of the Aboriginal family driven into
the bush after refusing to surrender to the mission Aborigines, but ultimately giving
themselves up. Modern-day landscape and politics are poignantly connected with the
spiritual desecration of these last tribes:
There are days
encased within banality,
despatching the unimportant,
mark of a life
through the small meanings
of Carping Johns country.
I am saved
on such days
by the machinery of dreams.
I ship upon a westing stream,
on a blustering morning north by west.
There is salt-smoke off the sea,
a smirr of gull-down on the breeze
and the Black Bull Scrub astir
It is not mine to know
not mine to know why the last free
William Lanneys family,
chose a social death
to the solitary sorrow
of the ghost-fled scrub.
The tracks of the people blur for want of
the ghosts retreat
to still places
in the distant heart of trees,
in the mat of sunken scrubroot.
A concern for the land and the history of
its people is the hallmark of Pete Hays poetry. Stylistically, he favours strong
colloquial beginnings (as on p.7, This mountain now. or
p.10, Travel to this cantilevered land.),
followed through with stanzas of compelling lyricism. Hay is, however, a master of
experimental diversity. A number of his poems are written in the vernacular of the diarist
or speaker (e.g. Home to Williamsford, In Memory of William
Paterson, Back Town Dying), and William Paterson Adds a Coda to a
Poem goes beyond sub-history to create a personality as well as a voice
challenging the poet:
The poet stays busy
and I become the town.
I will not have it, this spurious life
of a literary artifice.
spurn a false posterity.
I will plague the poet. Snag his every
I was wag/prude
Such a stance goes to the core of the
Hay also glances at other poetic forms in
Caucasian Haiku and Vladivostok Tanka. Without the explanation (in
Some Ruminatory Afterthoughts, p.85) of its quotation from Richard Flanagan
("Give me the music/ Of the lost folk
of Europe."), Caucasian Haiku might not have come off. But
it does, and is haunting in its complexity:
We are forgetting.
Sunken holes in the forest.
All that grows in blood.
Turnips in kitchen gardens.
Streets of boiled sausage.
Wolves, or rumours of.
You die young, or you should have.
The old fled children.
Which brings us full-circle to the
significance of the opening stanza:
In any village
Massacres in muddy fields.
I first came across Pete Hays
poetry back in 1996, when co-editing Midday Horizon, and am struck afresh by his
talent and empathy for the things that matter each time I renew the acquaintance. In a
world of dwindling horizons, his is a voice we cannot afford to ignore.