Chris Edwards, whose poetry is marked by an extremely sharp and incisive wit, unusually coupled with an absence of malice, first began publishing poetry in the mid-1970s and from 1974–1976, with Cheryl Creatrix, edited and published Beyond Poetry, a free poetry broadsheet. He was closely associated with New Poetry during the later part of that decade, mainly as a contributor but also as the guest editor of an important double issue. After 1980, however, a long silence ensued.
Edwards broke this silence in 2000 with the publication of ‘bio’, a collage-based, science fiction-influenced poem “featuring I, quaint blip” that, like others collected in his critically well-received chapbook utensils in a landscape (2001), is an exacting work of ‘(mis)quotation’. At a time when collage, bricolage, cut-ups and the general bullying of other people’s words about the page is flourishing in Australian poetry, Edwards’ work stands out as an example of what such agencies can still achieve some hundred years after they were first wielded by the European avant-garde.
Capricious and mischievous, Edward’s manipulation and (mis)quotation of other texts is informed by a long and extensive study of its predecessors, but is far from being a wanton or anachronistic exercise in avant-gardism. Like Tranter’s computer-generated work but in a differing, perhaps more integrated way, his poems bring something remarkable and new to the practice. At their heart is a meticulous curiosity about how the self functions through (or as) language and vice versa, each unraveling the other and finally overturning such dualism. A strategist of word and voice, Edwards samples and seamlessly blends the shimmering selves he finds between the lines in others’ texts, so as to give voice, generously and with an enviable warmth and humour, to new selves, possible selves – more texture than text, less entities than systems of exchange – that are multivalent but often more integrated and real than those found in the work of more lyrical poets. There is an immediate sense when reading his work that every word – indeed every syllable, interpolation and line break – has been weighed and weighed again, the edges smoothed, the rhythms tested and varied, the tone modulated, until the poem hums on the page, perfectly coded as DNA, manipulated and remade.
There is joy and humour, a largesse, to the way he sketches clearly the peculiarities of (and the strange conjunctions and refractions between) world, self and words. His poems offer a deep-hearted laugh with us, the language-mobbed inhabitants of “this great planet . . . the spaceship/ I grew up on”. Having emerged from his twenty-year silence, Edwards is currently producing some of the most intriguing and stimulating poetry being written in Australia.
Chris Edwards’ second book, A Fluke: A mistranslation of Stéphane Mallarmé’s ‘Un Coup de Dès’, is forthcoming from Monogene. He is an associate editor of Boxkite.