Walleah Press         Famous Reporter 25 (Jun 2002)         Michael Farrell         Geraldine McKenzie


Review—Duty, Geraldine McKenzie

Paper Bark Press, 2001

'Mrs Robinson & A??'

What do the question marks represent? A hand grenade? A light bulb? What does the culture want from women? – from poets? Two seconds of Peter Costello yelling in parliament and I’m ready for matriarchy. I don’t want to give the wrong impression: Duty’s not a tract – merely a brilliant piece of work.

It’s easy for poets – and other agnostics – to feel unnecessary: that is the impression I want to give – that of necessity: not hectoring or refutation – though a negation – but art.

The sculptor Lawrence Weiner says the role of art is to present reality so that – rather than be metaphorical itself – the reader of art can make their own metaphors of the relationship between themselves and life. He quotes a child saying the word ‘apple’ is written inside an apple. He tells a group of teenagers interested in graffiti that it’s not enough to say ‘Me Jose’: say rather ‘the sky is blue’ or ‘my children are hungry’.



these are strangers
with their awkward gaze claiming
kinship like an egg
teetering in rough

you signal



item: one pr. womens shoes
item: one pr. workboots
item: one pr. mens shoes
item: one pr. womens shoes (evening)
item: one pr. childrens shoes



I don’t think poetry
can save us
(‘the honey pit’)

I’m hungry for the avant garde, and for forms which are assured but don’t rest. Mrs Robinson had two outlets: an affair with a graduate, and the repression of her family. Geraldine McKenzie’s putting her money on poetry, and relatively speaking, it’s a good bet.

It’s no joke. I’m reader enough to notice ‘??’ parody the female form. And parody questioning itself. Hell, I want freedom too, and if I can raise the subjects of misogyny – or sexism if you prefer – and Order, then I will.

I don’t remember getting excited over ‘Adenfrorde – fragments’ when it appeared in Calyx 30 Contemporary Australian Poets (Paper Bark Press, 2000). Was I brain dead? Maybe just not ready...


here’s where the forest
lays down its arms & sings
for bread


are you familiar
with this—


a green horse
prised from meticulous
forest its slow canter
into cloud traces of this morning’s milk
star breathy over
the ridges
(‘Adenfrorde – fragments’)

What colour is your sky?

‘3. The lighthouse is no longer orange.
35. A sentence with teeth and a digestive system.
A sentence with all organs intact. Go on.
54. I’ll eat this mango slowly.’
(‘After Ritsos’)

‘O throw me an orange anyone’ (‘counting coup’)

McKenzie eats fruit like anyone, and won’t be reduced.

‘a sentence like a threshing machine
a sentence like the cigarette smoked absent-mindedly
                                                      over the body’ (‘a bit of fun’)

Like any reader of Gertrude Stein, avant garde heroine and world war veteran, McKenzie cares about sentences. If not ourselves, for poems are that, they are closely related.

‘4. We observed the insects carefully and one was aware of
     the ferocity of their existence.

5. After I saw the shocking cannibalism that always
     terminated the relationship of male and female insects,
     one never knew whether to be awed or simply
8. He bows his neck and raised his thorax.


death jump
oh jesus’ (“text/book/work...”)

It’s the cunning ending – and she achieves this over and over – that performs the feat of balance: not resolution or neutralisation, but ayurvedic satisfaction: salt, sour, sweet, bitter, astringent.


begin with hazel gathering to itself a clean landscape

the birds will sing us out’ (‘The Five Simplicities’)

It’s not possible to convey the range of forms packed into Duty, though the titles might give some indication: ‘ ”listen that is hear...” ‘, ‘the next dance—,’ ‘The Beloved: A Miscellany,’ ‘I-V,’ ‘Iconoclasty,’ ‘ “No.8” ‘; ‘this doesn’t have a name’:

lived experience. someone knows what this means.... THESE FIGURES HAVE BEEN RACIALLY ADJUSTED.’;

‘Full bore’:

‘Absence of daffodils. Colour as what we believe.’

Feel better? The world hasn’t changed, but maybe yours has.

Lawrence Weiner (Phaidon P:ress 1998)