Perhaps more than any other recent Australian poet, Michael Farrell has tested, often tauntingly, the loving struggle of meaning and chance, played out in much contemporary Australian poetry. His first full-length collection, ode ode, was released in 2002 and was described by poet and critic Martin Harrison as “a collection to read and re-read for its obsessions, its bricolage, its loquacious speed, its moments of downplay and its moments of ecstasy”.
Farrell is adroit and playful in his use of palimpsest and parataxis, confidently deadpan as he runs the Mallarméan gambit into O’Hara’s cinema. His poetry presses through contemporary popular culture: the regular, ritualistic visit to the cinema, the movie chat that follows; the repetitive and penetrating low thump of contemporary music; shedding genders; some drugs; “the spirit of young travolta”; “cheap peanut butter”; “breast like a coke machine”; “cameraimposed harmon/y”; “his screwy behaviour”. With one eye pinned on the tensions and torsions of contemporary poetic practice, Farrell casts punctuation and pause aside, and draws the reader into rave-like moments of a consciousness feeding on contemporary culture – as films, directors, poems, asides to modern literature, mutate and cross-generate. At other times, he presents a linguistically ready-made contemporary culture, feeding on the vestiges of a consciousness it has ransacked and enjoyed.
His is a genius of speed and chance. Cranked-up, optimistic, generously caustic and often given to enlightening moments of pathos or come-down glimpses of self-knowledge. Farrell’s work is a blitzkrieg of musicality, caprice and ambition. There is a vast energy, disciplined and chaotic, driven and a little dirty, beating throughout his work. In some old art-deco movie theatre somewhere, clutches of sweaty bodies are colliding and dancing with the same meticulous gravity and joy in the meaninglessness pursuit of fully present being as that conjured by Farrell’s cast of the dice, his careful casting of words. Given visually to the imagistic jump-cut, poetically to guerilla-like parataxis, Farrell’s work samples and dubs the music of our times as it grinds away sweetly at the limits of poetry.
Person with a Flute
John Ashbery Impersonator
Blood on the Futon
Nude Descending a Liftshaft
Proust aboard a Doomed Corvette
living at the z, 2000
ode ode, 2002
Michael Farrell is the Australian editor of Slope Magazine.