Skip to main content

To mark National Poetry Month, In other Words is being guest-edited by rob mclennan. Throughout April, rob will present the work of dozens of poets he thinks deserve readers' attention, as seen through the eyes of their fellow poets.

Today: Phil Hall on Laurie Duggan





Notes on A conscious citizen

Story continues below advertisement

Laurie Duggan is an Australian poet, now living in England. In this poem, he has much to say regarding American poets. Today, we are reading his poem in Canada. A far-flung, layered knowing is underway.





The poem's tone is that of a diary's entries. There is no obvious pretension toward "poem", no consciously literary phrasing. (Except perhaps the imbedded haiku moment of: "Clouds low / over Mt Coot-tha, an ibis / floating through rain")

It sounds easy, seems deceptively simple, as the lines stagger and chat by, recording the weather, seemingly random personal matters, reading notes.

This is a one week poem: seven sections, Thursday through Wednesday. A narrative is haltingly happening: the plant on the balcony thrives despite its grey-thumbed owners; "huts on low ground" are cleared for "a new suburb"; and a struggle with the wayward self is underway too ("try to read poems / sleep instead").

The speaker is ruminative, distracted, almost lazy - but also driven, lashing himself forward ("Concentrate!"). Opinionated despite humility, this poet is a student, but also a teacher. He searches for clues, but knows a "stupid" poet when he sees one.

Clues to what? The quandary is how to be a conscious or conscientious citizen.

How does one sustain a dialogue at as many valances as possible; in the daily, local, private and political body; but also in the public/private poem. This sequence may sound like journal entry, but it is also political, and philosophical.

Story continues below advertisement

We are meant to miss most of this; none of the poem's considerable form or wisdom is tagged. Its casual nature and humour sweep us along.

Yet we are not in a barrel going over the "Prosaic falls". These accomplished quotidian arabesques are jazz. There is shape here and a thesis on two levels: poetics and citizenry. Plus the two are linked.

Duggan knows "We all want the poem to escape / from our lives . . . or at least / for our lives to escape from the poem". Similarly (later), are citizens of conscience prisoners in their own homes? Where (earlier) "property / is public only below the tidal mark"? Of sleep?

How does such a friendly poem end up disgusted at its end? We have been masterfully brought to knee depth in blue mud.

The last image is of books warping in the damp, turning yellow, their news dated so fast. Are our tongues mud already?

While seeming to just lounge about, take notes, fix the car, go to work (oh, here's a letter from August - is that Kleinzahler?) - this poem, this poet, is doing the hard work of not simplifying or romanticizing muddle while continuing to celebrate & explore.

Story continues below advertisement

The Passenger, the book this poem is from, won for Duggan in Australia the 2007 Queensland Premier's Literary Award. It is the best book of poetry I read last year. Interested readers might check out the poet's blog called Graveney Marsh.

Laurie Duggan has renewed my hope that the lyric focus can be used to invite global-scoped essay-poems.

Phil Hall's new book of poems, The Little Seamstress, is available this month from Pedlar Press.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter