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Graeme Hetherington / The Persistence of History

  • Graeme Hetherington / The Persistence of History
‘The majority of poems in The Persistence of History describe Graeme Hetherington’s engagement with David Keeling’s paintings. As a form of ekphrasis, Hetherington’s responses to Keeling’s art are rarely detailed descriptions of the paintings themselves, but rather personal responses to the works evoking memories of his own life’s circumstances and reflections on the human condition. The subjects of Keeling’s “Young Couple in Developing Landscape 1988”, “Frontier Foundation 1994” and “To The Island 1989” stimulate memories of the poet’s unhappy first marriage by focusing on particular features of the paintings that sharpen the tragedy of that relationship - the movement of the “Glover-eucalypts” that “asphyxiate”, the “convict-dug pit” representing the fall into the “hell of splitting up” compounded by the symbolic image of the pitchfork. Similarly, in poems responding to Keeling’s “Veil 1991-92”, “Gate 1994”, “Curios 1999” and “‘Everything Must Go 2003”, Hetherington remembers his mother living in her “insane interior” veiled by drawn blinds and curtains, his “granny” who only lifted the veil of her black hat to terrify the young poet, and the gate at his home’s entrance on which he would perch to greet his grandfather after work and which protected him from “Bully-boys living opposite”. But more striking is the poet’s “reading” in Keeling’s paintings of an “ecologically debased / And troubled earth” facing “irreversible defeat” as “the ultimate corpse”. The strength of Hetherington’s response to this theme is conveyed by brutal imagery depicting the world as a concentration-like gaol in which we “dance with death” in a devastated landscape which has become a “massive mastectomy” of “dry mounds / Arranged in pairs like shorn-off breasts”. Hetherington accuses humankind of “fouling” the earth. His depictions of the desecration of the symbols and rituals of the Christian Mass, and his questioning of the nature of Christ’s Second Coming in response to Keeling’s “Shroud 1994”, “The Cunning Fox 1998”, “Other Edens 1998” and “Plenty 1994”, reinforce the poet’s feelings of misanthropy. The poet’s ultimate despair for the future of humankind is portrayed in his engagement with Keeling’s “The Persistence of History 1994”. Using the timeless images of art and the theatre, the poet suggests that conflict, dispossession and murder have always been a part of the human condition, as have people’s indifference to such states of being. Confronted by this “theatre of the absurd”, the poet finds some reprieve and even redemption in Keeling’s two paintings of “The Road 2002” where light appears to create “cooling transparent pools” and ultimately becomes a healing “blaze”. - Ralph Spaulding
978 1 76109 634 1, 100pp




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