Ornamentalism: an assortment
of collectables, domesticated
bric-a-brac, imports from the orient;
samplings of stuff, made sophisticated:
the leather-bound folio, paper-backed
penguins, specimens in formaldehyde.
The trinket, the hand-crafted artefact;
exotic and familiar, side-by-side.
Foreign objects, ambassadors abroad,
international treaties exercised.
A continental-shelf, cross-bow and sword:
“en garde!” – the world has been homogenised!
. We explore the unfamiliar; enough
. to give it status; substance over stuff.
To the reader: I’d been sitting beneath a decorative array of ‘exotic’ ornaments that in a moment of attention had me intrigued. The eclectic display was purely ornamental with no hint of suggested expense or value. “Ornamentalism” I thought. As it happens, the term ‘ornamentalism’ was coined by David Cannadine who expanded on the concept to describe ‘How the British Saw their Empire (~1850 to ~1950).
To the poet: Through the appropriation of exotic customs (including artefacts) the modern Imperialists integrated non-British cultures into a homogenised new-world order. The strict interpretation of a sonnet is similarly transformed by the introduction of slightly foreign influences; and so the form adapts and retains its significance. In this way, a structure keeps its relevance and meaning. Through ‘ornamentalism’ we loosen the grip of conservative hierarchies; and so, become familiar with alternative possibilities.
Ornamentalism Acknowledgement: Title: Ornamentalism: How the British Saw their Empire Author: David Cannadine Publisher: Allen Lane (2001)
Communicates with influence; he does,
he states it as it is – impressively.
He situates a phrase; gives emphasis,
he waits – delivers it expressively.
He orchestrates his audience; at ease,
he waits for sense and sensibility.
He situates a pause; an awkward tease,
he baits the line with sensitivity.
He modulates his tone; to rise and fall,
creates an uplifting draft – wafterly.
He contemplates what might be possible;
skates the surface, and nurtures novelty.
. He agitates his company; he stirs,
. he celebrates the mix – as it occurs.
To the reader: Tangles can be fun to unravel. I remember, as a child, finding balls of discarded fishing line on the beach. A mess of sand and tackle, endlessly wrapped in coils of knotted nylon thread. The business of unravelling had little purpose to it. I was learning that through frustration you could find satisfaction. Within most things we do, there’s an opportunity to play with ideas; to craft creative solutions – for pleasure’s sake alone.
To the poet: It wasn’t until late in the editing process that I stumbled on why this sonnet was proving a stubborn beast to massage into shape. I’d forgotten that the “Oh, so clever poet!” had decided to apply an extra set of rhymes to the beginning of each line. Something he thought might have been fun to do but later regretted. Upon reflection the extra-effort has probably detracted from the final outcome; and so it is.
We do not know this young Australian’s name.
We do not know his age or circumstance.
He lived not for glory, died not for fame.
Selfless in sacrifice, we owe him thanks.
He’s just one of many who died at war;
gave away his everything – for our sake.
One of many who rests forever more.
In his pursuit of peace we too partake.
He is all of them, and he is one of us.
He’s the collective spirit of our dead.
He’s the me, the you, the voice, the chorus,
the sacrifice; the ‘he’ who died instead.
. He laid down his life, surely not in vain.
. Let him remind us not of loss but gain.
To the reader: It’s Rememberance Day 1993, and Australia’s Prime Minster (Paul Keating) delivers a beautifully crafted eulogy honouring the Unknown Soldier. The speech ends with: “It is not too much to hope, therefore, that this Unknown Australian Soldier might continue to serve his country – he might enshrine a nation’s love of peace and remind us that in the sacrifice of the men and women whose names are recorded here there is faith enough for all of us…”
To the poet: Paul Keating and his speech writer (Don Watson) stripped back the ceremonial metaphors to highlight a much stronger message about the power of ordinary people doing extraordinary deeds on behalf of others. Free of pomp, sincerity speaks with integrity … through remembrance peace becomes our future vision. I hope my conversion of the speech does it no injustice.
So it was Jack who took the photograph. So it was him behind the camera. Twas Jack who developed the contoured map. Twas him who squared the circles of Canberra. It’s through Jack’s lens our city came to light. It’s through his eyes our city was revealed. Jack of all trades who gave this city sight Jack himself citified an open field. May not have built the house, but he was there… May not have cut the stalks, but so he’d been… Jack was at the opening, Jack was at the fair… Jack be nimble, Jack be quick … to the scene. . What Jack saw yesterday, we see today; . Jack’s people at work, Jack’s children at play.
To the reader: Jack Mildenhall was Canberra’s first official photographer. His active years (1920s and 1930s) captured our social and physical integration into the landscape. In 2013, his vast collection was digitised and put online as part of the city’s centenary activities. For young Canberrans, the Mildenhall Gallery is now an accessible treasure trove of archaic revelations; distantly familiar and curiously connected. The separation of decades has sharpened the contrast of these black and white images.
To the poet: A teacher’s poem, an advertiser’s jingle…oh no! The temptation to make a story rhyme is sadly irresistible. The trouble is, people are kindly and encouraging; too polite to say stop. And so, with ‘vim and vigour’ we would-be-poets merrily sentence to death a perfectly good story; death by enthusiastic strangulation. With the next rhyme being paramount we lunge desperately to its match; overlooking all other creative courtesies and considerations… that’s nice, but unreadable.
Overnight arrival, concealed by dark.
Uncovered by the scratchy-sketch of dawn.
Bleak demeanour, drawn as stubborn and stark.
Bearing the Mistral’s mark; from elsewhere born.
And so blows the breath of an awkward gust;
tugs at the rigging with canvas attached;
agitates, orchestrates a whistling thrust.
And so throws a whisper; from elsewhere hatched.
The unknown foreigner, anonymous,
more shadow than substance; a pirate’s mast
that bears no scrutiny: Notorious.
. Best comes the pedigree by light of day.
. Open to inspection and expose.
To the reader: Built into the fibre and fabric of this nautical replica is a mischievous spirit. I was at ‘the coast’ doing what poets do at sunrise; walking the wharf. And there she appeared … Notorious … a black caravel. Overnight this ‘dark shadow’ had moored itself to the shoreline. As is her habit, she slips the coast of Australia slinking into ports under cover of dark; under pretence of a plundering prank… black comedy?
To the poet: This poem was written about an experience; a Notorious encounter of sorts. But like so many interesting snippets there’s a larger back-story. While writing the poem I had no idea the ship was built by an Australian, Graeme Wylie, in his backyard, as recuperative therapy. Graeme, a furniture maker by trade, built the Portuguese Caravel by-eye from surplus wood-stock. In a physical sense, the ship is sheer poetry… a compilation of ideas and a floating metaphor. (reference: http://scienceillustrated.com.au/blog/in-the-mag/vintage/the-mahogany-ship/)
In pursuit of perfection’s guarantee
we chase that which is better than the best.
Nothing could not “ten times the better be”
as steadied, then readied, for Time’s cruel test.
All the world’s treasuries do not stand still;
those with gold glint, with crystals shimmer.
Those animated vaults of potential
are the genesis of hopeful glimmer.
Flushed with abundance, they lack not any
of the comforts that come with fortune’s care.
That which is ‘one’ finds itself with ‘many’
and so on, ten times, produces an heir.
. Ten times the merrier, ten times the wealth.
. Ten times the better, through sickness and health.
To the reader: The idea of abundance sounds agrarian to an urban ear. As a man of his time, Shakespeare was an advocate of reap and harvest, stack and store; his reference was a time of uncertainty. Ten times the better be… seems his ideal solution to a number of problems. The simple model derives sufficient resources from a stash of plenty. It’s about making the most of what’s available, to ensure today’s waste or laziness is not tomorrow’s sorrowful regret.
To the poet: In a few of Shakespeare’s sonnets he refers to ‘ten’ as a number of good use and satisfaction. Ten times the better be for all manner of circumstances; from procreation (WS-S6) to imagination (WS-S38) for happiness (WS-S37) and amusement. And so began my sonnet (TG-S217)) about over-reaching for the sake of abundance; ever the need for surplus … just in case.