In Ann Vickery’s Devious Intimacy, the intimacy she explores is not only that of lovers, but more specifically the intimacy a poet has with her forebears, devious because indirect. As also in her earlier chapbook The Complete Pocketbook of Swoon, Vickery’s work is charged with allusions to Donne, Marvell, Blake, Frank O’Hara, Ern Malley, Lesbia Harford, John Forbes, Simone de Beauvoir, Whitman, and others, and is dense with amusing puns that engage with, yet also disengage from, this canonical stream. Poems grieve, reprimand, and rejoice, in a highly-stylised almost Elizabethan syntax of noun-adjective inversions, mock-formal address, feverish alliteration, provocatively satirising and challenging the apparent certainties of a prior, often masculine, poetic history.
Devious Intimacy proposes alternative histories, specifically in ‘At Heatherlie Quarry’, ‘Bred and Sausage Colony’, ‘Maid in Malmsbury’, where each site generates a further excursion into former states and identities. (Heatherlie Quarry is in Gariwerd, or The Grampians, and is where much of the stone that built Melbourne’s great public buildings originated.) Children play among the ruins:
These poems mourn and re-awaken events and emotions shuttered by time. In ‘Bred and Sausage Colony’, the reawakening is literal: this poem recalls a shipwreck from 1918 (that is, embodiment of an abruptly extinguished past) and the finding eighty-three years later of a forgotten insect colony that is then re-bred to be returned into its home.
Vickery critiques this revivification as being a form of colonialism that reifies, exoticises, appropriates, the other, but this can also be interpreted as being the practice of contemporary mash-ups (and ‘dubsmash’) in which the present becomes, like the fox, an introduced disrespectful species let loose in the great cathedrals of history, a practice most poetry enacts. In ‘July is the psychic month’, she again compares monuments of the past with a less exquisite, yet more complex, present:
It’s been a long season
cathedrals of Wyatt and Keats.
I count grocery beads, a hail dairy
for each breakfast of nails, TV allegory,
and Afghanistan embedment.
‘And what shoulder, & what art?’ imagines Blake’s tiger as instead bearing the stretchmarks of childbirth: ‘Love’s pact, / the essential tear between you and not you . . . A trophied thing called, you unbecoming, / that which nightly sets tripwires of motherhood.’ Vickery wrests an embodied feminine and feminist place into a determined equivalence to the supposedly less-tethered visions of masculine ‘authority’. In other poems she reconfigures a male gaze that would infantilise women to ‘girls’ who should, as the films’ title pronounces, ‘sois belle et tais-toi’. She grapples with contemporary poetry’s fitness to contend with poetic history, as well as with feminism’s ability to reconstitute romantic love. These then are also scholarly poems that educate as much as entertain, that drag to the surface what is too rapidly forgotten. Vickery digs from the quarry of centuries in which each action or reading piles up its blocks of experience and conflict to be sculpted into an alertly erudite poetry.
Devious Intimacy. Hunter Publishers, Melbourne, 2015.
The Complete Pocketbook of Swoon. Vagabond Press, Glebe, 2014.
Ann Vickery, Maryanne Dever, and Sally Newman. The Intimate Archive: Journeys through Private Papers. Canberra: National Library of Australia, 2009.
Stressing the Modern: Cultural Politics in Australian Women’s Poetry . Cambridge, UK: Salt, 2007.
Leaving Lines of Gender: A Feminist Genealogy of Language Writing. Hanover and London: Wesleyan UP, 2000.
Calliope’s Run Axon: Creative Explorations 10 (2016).
Russian Bit Player Plumwood Mountain: An Australian Journal of Ecopoetry and Ecopoetics 3.1 (2015).
Another Chardin in Need of Clearning Cordite Poetry Review 42 (2013).
document and un4seen Fxs Otoliths 7 (2011).
Noch so ein restaurierungsbedürftiger Chardin Litchtungen 145 (Hefte 2016).
Vivian Gerrand: Review of The Complete Pocketbook of Swoon Plumwood Mountain (28 January 2016).
Dan Disney: Review of the deciBels series Cordite Poetry Review (24 March 2015).
Ali Alizadeh: Art, difference, and pluralism Overland 221 (2015). Rev of The Complete Pocketbook of Swoon.
Justin Clemens: Review of Poetry and the Trace Cordite Poetry Review (1 August 2014).