“I describe my writing practice, and myself as a writer, as methodically itinerant – that is, my writing consists of structured periods of editing and researching interlaced with freer periods of writing and thinking. The way I think about my poetic writing involves three distinct, not unrelated approaches: academic, exploratory, poetic. Poetic is listed last because it is what arises after the excitement of the other two more energetic approaches has died down – poetry for me expresses the essence of what remains to be said.”
Claire Potter grew up in Perth, Western Australia. She moved to Sydney when she was twenty and completed an Honors degree in English Literature, before being awarded a French Embassy Scholarship to complete a Masters in Paris, on the setting/scene in psychoanalysis and tragedy. In 2006, Potter was awarded an Australian Young Poet Fellowship, from the Poet’s Union and the Australian Council for the Arts. Her first chapbook, In front of a comma, was published and launched at the 2006 Sydney Poetry Festival. In 2007, her second chapbook of poetry, N’ombre, was published by Vagabond Press. Potter is currently reading a joint doctorate at the University of Western Australia and the Université de Paris VII, where she is writing about Thomas Hardy. Potter’s first full-length poetry collection, Swallow, will be published by Five Islands Press in October 2010.
Not so much Bahktinian as echoing Blanchot’s conception of literature, Potter states that her poetry is “completely dialogic”, forming a conversation with the work of other poets, writers, artists and film-makers. Each book she writes follows an architecture aimed at creating a space in which this conversation might evolve. While her basic approach to poetry – shape over form, sound over lyric – often leaves her work less than ‘immediate’ in the way of Romantic or Modernist forms of lyricism, strains of European and Australian lyricism are apparent parts of the conversation she has entered into. She is in a line of Australian poets, running back through Kevin Hart and A.D. Hope, and resonant with Keats and Shelley, while creating a poetry itself perhaps more akin in tone to a layering of Antigone Kefala and Francis Webb, with Dickinson, Celan and Mallarmé. For that, perhaps her closest interlocutor in many ways is the remarkable contemporary American poet Andrew Zawacki, alongside whose work Potter's poetry can be in many ways favourably measured.
Potter is methodological in her approach to the writing of poetry, layering a range of interlocutors across the shape of the page, creating a polysemous work textured by its reading – academic, poetic, experiential and otherwise. While this is nothing unusual in itself in contemporary Australian poetry – think of poets as varied as John Tranter, L.K. Holt, or Michael Farrell – Potter’s work is emerging as an interesting addition for her gifts in cross modulation and counterpoint, not least in terms of her conscious working and weaving of the symbolic and the semiotic that brings to mind Soller’s “double causality” that Kristeva developed as “simultaneously ‘outside’ and ‘inside’ the subject, divided in such a way that the subjective ‘unity’ in question is expended, expending, irreducible to knowledge, ‘bordered’ by laughter, eroticism, or what might be called the ‘sacred’”. With discussions recently heating up over the re-emergence of the lyric as a central form in Australian poetry, with especial emphasis placed on the perceived rise of a generation of young female poets (baroquely dubbed by one critic as “The ladies of the lyric”), and the question Pam Brown raised whether this “re-emergence” is “a reaction against the innovations of postmodernism and the resultant north American, but globally influential, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry movement that had its heyday over 20 years ago”, Claire Potter’s work manages to fit into none of the hastily arising camps.
While commenting on the “new lyricism” in Australian poetry, Potter noted, “I don’t see myself as part of the young (female) lyricist movement supposedly emerging in current Australian poetry scenes. I was born in the seventies, a decade before this, and I read only a few young poets . . . My writing is not so immediate as the new-lyricist poets, but I have read only so little of their work, I am hardly qualified to comment. I find the word fashionably used, a lyrist to me is someone who has to be at least over 50. There is something grave about the term. Something Orphic rather than Sapphic.” More Sapphic than Orphic itself for its passions, playfulness and fragmentation, Potter’s work appears to take Kristeva’s revolution in poetic language, which inspired much of the innovative work of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E school, as a starting point to a conversation in which, going on Potter’s definition of poetry and considerable work so far, much may yet remain to be said.
In front of a comma, Sydney, Poet’s Union, 2006. ISBN: 0957856474
N’ombre Sydney, Vagabond Press, 2007
Swallow Melbourne, Five Islands Press, 2010
Nicholas Manning review of Claire Potter published in Cordite
‘Impossible’ published in How2
‘The Appeal of Cranes’ published as part of the 31e festival franco-anglais de poésie
‘Bird-card for Lingis’ published by the Redroomcompany
To read over some of the recent debates on Australian poetry, visit:
Pam Brown’s Poetic Talks
Australian Literary Review blog discussion, ‘What makes a good poem?’