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This article is taken from PN Review 251, Volume 46 Number 3, January - February 2020.

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2. ‘For some it might be the music’
Gregory O'Brien
For some it might be the music but, in my case, it was the visual element of poetry that first attracted me. Whereas a page of prose tends to be rectangular, tank-like and monumental, a typeset poem can be an intriguing, graceful, pirouetting form – an alluring visual element. Having come to that realisation, I was subsequently drawn to the even more attenuated visual-verbal interchange of medieval manuscripts and a great many subsequent instances of handwritten, painted or illuminated text – from William Blake to e. e. cummings, Kenneth Patchen and Bob Brown, via Jean Arp, Apollinaire’s ‘Calligrammes’ and Italian Futurism.

As the work of these writer-artists suggests, poetry finds one of its richest habitats in the manuscript sheet and notebook, wherein all manner of marginalia and extraneous matter can be hauled alongside or interspersed. At once a workbook page and a sheet torn from a songbook, The Uses of Fondness incorporates a poem I wrote after attending a memorable performance of Martin (Martim) Codax’s thirteenth-century song cycle ‘Siete Canciones De Amigo’ during the 1982 Sydney Biennale. Just as Codax’s originating lyrics were borne along on a tide of music (and by the movement of Nanette Hassell, the accompanying dancer), my poem, after a thirty-five-year gestation, washes up on the sky/sea/earth of a sheet of paper.

Gregory O’Brien, The Uses of Fondness, 2017, acrylic and ink on paper, 790 x 540mm

Transplanted from a stretch of Spanish coastline to Piha, on Aotearoa’s west coast, the poetry links the musical/dance performance with the choreography of elements in the drawing. ...


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