By Alan LoneyPoetry Cordite
Crankhandle is the latest part of an ongoing Notebooks series, the first part of which was published as Sidetracks: Notebooks 1976–1991(Auckland University Press 1998). Between Sidetracks and Crankhandle comes a longer unpublished section, Melbourne Journal: Notebooks 1998–2003, begun when Alan Loney first came to Australia. From the beginning, these writings were never seen as notes or sketches towards poems that were yet to be fully realised – each entry was intended to be as finished an act of writing as any other, longer, individual work.
Over the nearly forty years of this endeavour, there have been gaps, but the Notebooks provide a way for Loney to be quickly attentive to his environment, and to circumstances of wherever he might happen to be sitting, standing, waiting, travelling at any time. Perhaps one could speak of the individual pieces as ‘fragments’, but they are not fragments in the way that ancient Greek poetry has come to us on torn, worn, eaten, half-destroyed bits of papyrus. If these works are fragments, then each of Ezra Pound’s cantos are also fragments, placed against the totality of all poetry, from all over the planet, and from throughout recorded world history. In this sense, fragments are all we have, and will ever have. If some are very long and some very short, then that is simply how things are.
Alan Loney’s Crankhandle dazzles with lucent perceptions and abstractions, challenging the fragment’s infinite state of becoming in a series of complete and acute poetic performances. Indeed, Crankhandle may be read as a remarkably sustained long poem and coda, or a chain of epigrams; as an objectivist essay, an imagist meditation, and as something new that comes out of the poet's antipodean between-ness. In this way, Loney disrupts the formal idea of the ‘traditional’ poem but not with abstruseness or inscrutability. He masterfully balances a self-aware voice with a light linguistic touch. Crankhandle is an invigorating interrogation of poetics, yet it is replete with faith in poeisis.
In Fragmenta Nova Loney writes, ‘“Poetry” is too small a word for the cry that issues from the mouth. “Form” is too small a word for the shapeliness of words upon the page’ (‘Poiesis’). This quote points to the uncontained – and affective – quality of much of Loney’s work, as well as to his attention to visual design. This is not an aesthetic concern only, but one that enables reading: lucid aspect as well as articulated ‘cry’. Elsewhere, Loney has characterised his writing in successive modes as a practice uninterested in ‘perfect individual poems’: ‘If the poem’s an imperfect take on the world or even part of it, better to be crisp about it, and treat writing as unfinished and unfinishable business. So, adopt a framework, write for a while, then stop. It isn’t, of course, quite as simple as that’. Perhaps then, Loney is an early conceptualist. Crankhandle is a conceptually thick book, a book of thought, or as Frost might say, a book of ‘thinks’, which challenges writing’s potential triviality on a word-by-word basis.
The word ‘crankhandle’ suggests revving up but also letting go: write, then think. In a 1997 interview, Martin Harrison said, ‘I think the age now is of living systems.’ Loney, in the book’s epigraph, refers to antiquity’s knowledge of the writing system. Writing is part of that living system: as both noun and verb. Traces of Greek mythology recur in this book – as do other pre-contemporary traces – yet these are not necessarily allusions, but an attempt to find a place for a history of writing. Writing as an activity of the body, which may or may not end up in a book. Like a beach, ‘a book is a public place’.
– An extract from the introduction written by Michael Farrell
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