Angela Gardner's poetry is the work of a contemporary Australian artist, already with an established reputation before she turned to published poetry. As a body of writing, it is largely represented in two book, a collection and a long sequence, plus some publication in limited edition artists' books from Light-trap Press (which she is a partner in). Gardner's statement about her overall artistic practice on the Light-trap Press website is very useful:
I produce works at the intersection of drawing, collage and print-making; paintings and poetry. In all mediums my overwhelming research interest is the disclosure of the history of mark-making and a layering of meaning. My work aims to articulate both surface reality and underlying meaning. I am keenly aware of the distinction that locates experience within the body, or haptically within the body's physical range, and can therefore be anchored to the experience of tactile surface or of colour to field of vision.
These are clear qualities that can be seen in paintings and prints by her. They can also apply easily to her poems: the seen merging with the sensed and the act of sensing, what is perceived merging from fields as forms from backgrounds, acts of verbal visual precision from what is real but nonconceptual. The fragmented line of post-imagist poetry can be translated as the equivalent of an artist's mark-making gesture upon the graphic field.
It is tempting indeed from the organisation of her first book, Parts of Speech, to link her writing very directly to art — the first section of this book, "Notes for a Day" hinges on a long poem presented as notes written in the various rooms of the National Gallery — amusing, perceptive & quite delightful. If written thus literally so, it was a very long and intense visit indeed. More accurately and usefully, I think is to also relate Gardner's work to other Australian poets using a similar apparently artless blend of notation of events, and also with underlayering themes/concerns. I am thinking here of Laurie Duggan, whose Crab & Winkle (Shearsman, 2009) provides a wry and provoking account of Australian exile to the marshy heart of North Kent.
The New York Poets (important to Duggan and his peers, eg Ken Bolton) provide a starting point here, one we know Gardner herself can use as poetic material in their own right: in the recent Views of the Hudson (yes, a significant title)
neon in daylight is quoted, and at once:
is a / great pleasure as Edwin Denby would / write comes echoing back from any reader of Frank O'Hara, the great New York poet (and art critic etc). So it's urban, contemporary ("Post Industrial" is the third section of Parts of Speech), often relaxed and amused/ing, capable of switching between formal experiment and great directness, and interested in the actual heterogeneous human-centeredness of the perceived world we live in. Should, gentle poetry lover, the parochial regime of taste imposed by standard English literary culture mean you are not picking up on my references to O'Hara and New York Poetry, how fortunate you are to be able to encounter them all fresh. Try The New York Poets: An Anthology, edited by Mark Ford and Trevor Winkfield (Carcanet, 2004). Enlightenment and great enjoyment await you. And the other Australian poets are excellent also.
At times, Gardner's writing is clearly very visual, and often gorgeously so, like her art. Interestingly, the long poem Paradise and Inferno, a response to the Invasion of Iraq, and partially published in Parts of Speech, picks up and foregrounds, like a lot of contemporary political poetry, the language of aggression, war, deceit and resistance. Gardner has moved maybe from something perhaps based on imagistic jottings to more complex responses in which images and bits of language are worked into a sequence of canvases — Views of the Hudson an expert and confident set of reports back from the trip abroad. The book's use of a very informal sonnet structure works like the choice of a single page or canvas size for a suite of artworks.
So — New York School might be a good way in. Or art. Or indeed contemporary Australian poetry. Or even try Welshness — no one escapes having been born in Cardiff. Or, indeed, accept this on its own terms as exciting and pleasurable contemporary innovative poetry.
Peter Philpott, December 16, 2009