Michael Farrell

Keri Glastonbury

Here’s a homeopathic drop of distilled pure form for RealTime. Melbourne 30-something Michael Farrell is an emerging poet in a potentially submerging artform. His recent book ode ode has a cover photo of 2 plastic forks on a red carpet. Considering poetry books usually have landscape images which reek of the production values and aesthetics of amateur bushwalking guides it’s an overwhelming relief to see—Farrell is a cheap stylist de rigeur. His signature style is the assemblage—there’s virtually no vestiges of the romantic author, what American critic Marjorie Perloff calls “the tedious and unreflective claim for the unique insight and individual vision that has characterised so large a portion of mainstream poetry.” While the lyrical ‘I’ isn’t mobilised by Farrell, you get the sense that he is peculiarly enmeshed by a life he then hives off to form pop poems—“the stuff of late 90s legends.” This energises his work perhaps more than many others of his ilk anthologised in the Calyx anthology (Paperbark Press, 1999), who tend to be more concerned with the changing ecologies and language theory of the post-romantic landscape. However, Farrell is also in dialogue with the artistic tradition he inherits, with poems referring to visual artists (Vermeer to Jeff Koons), dance (tango to “my knees arent much but in/ mes the spirit of the young travolta”), music (“compare the songs you heard this morning with madrigals &/ fitting the words underground overground/ wombling free to the tune & you compose/ a poem”) and film (“this is cinema made by people/ shuffling in gumboots”) as well as inserting fragments of literary and other texts within his poems to form cut-ups. There’s a sense of place, of European tradition as well as the local (“my white arms reach for brisbane”) and even that great poetic motif, birds, get a mention in chirp (“fuck off lay eggs come back to my window/ ill give you ash to peck at”).

Farrell’s modus-poeme is “its better to edit than portray”, and his work is nodal, unpunctuated, even words are often broken at the end of lines, creating interesting disjunction. Just shy of frustrating poetic obfuscation, he “speaks in little phrases like a bee thats afraid of conversation.” I think finally Farrell is Frank O’Hara’s Australian heir apparent, where so many others have tried it’s Farrell who's perfected the requisite combination of laconic camp. Michael Farrell is the Australian editor of Slope magazine (www.slope.org). All quotes from Michael Farrell, ode ode, Salt Publishing 2002.

RealTime issue #57 Oct-Nov 2003 pg. 5

© Keri Glastonbury; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2003
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