Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Alan Loney - The Prize for Poetry

The Prize for Poetry

The Bookman thanks Alan Roddick for forwarding this to me.

Denise Scott and Alan Loney
Alan Loney: ‘I don’t usually allow my books to be submitted for awards' — Photo: Matt Della

‘I don’t usually allow my books to be submitted for awards,’ said Alan Loney upon receiving the Prize for Poetry, for Crankhandle. ‘It’s been an interesting, and shall we say, very confirming sort of experience all the way along the line.’
‘This book was never submitted to the publisher for publication.’ It was submitted to Cordite Poetry Review’s managing editor, Kent MacCarter, as a sort of heads up – ‘this is the sort of stuff I’m getting up to now’ – not even as a submission for the magazine. MacCarter, said Loney, responded by saying that not only did he wish to publish it, but as the first of a series of books from new imprint Cordite Books.

Crankhandle - By Alan Loney· Poetry· Cordite

'Loney, with the calm concentration acquired from years as a letterpress printer, rolls them out without trying to disguise the constant whisper of the type, rearranging and redisposing itself beneath the paper at every turn of the crankhandle': Peter Kenneally reviews for Australian Book Review.
Crankhandle is the latest part of an ongoing Notebooks series, the first part of which was published as Sidetracks: Notebooks 1976–1991(Auckland University Press 1998). Between Sidetracks and Crankhandle comes a longer unpublished section, Melbourne Journal: Notebooks 1998–2003, begun when Alan Loney first came to Australia. From the beginning, these writings were never seen as notes or sketches towards poems that were yet to be fully realised – each entry was intended to be as finished an act of writing as any other, longer, individual work.

Over the nearly forty years of this endeavour, there have been gaps, but the Notebooks provide a way for Loney to be quickly attentive to his environment, and to circumstances of wherever he might happen to be sitting, standing, waiting, travelling at any time. Perhaps one could speak of the individual pieces as ‘fragments’, but they are not fragments in the way that ancient Greek poetry has come to us on torn, worn, eaten, half-destroyed bits of papyrus. If these works are fragments, then each of Ezra Pound’s cantos are also fragments, placed against the totality of all poetry, from all over the planet, and from throughout recorded world history. In this sense, fragments are all we have, and will ever have. If some are very long and some very short, then that is simply how things are.

Alan Loney

Portrait of Alan LoneyAlan Loney’s first book of poems was published in 1971. He was co-winner (poetry) in the New Zealand Book Awards in 1977, Literary Fellow at the University of Auckland in 1992, and Honorary Fellow of the Australian Centre at the University of Melbourne 2002-2006. He was awarded The Janet Frame Award for Poetry in 2011. Loney has published 13 books of poetry, and eight of prose with a recent emphasis on the nature of the book. His latest book of poems is conStellations, published by Work & Tumble, Melbourne. He lives in Melbourne, where he is printer/proprietor of Electio Editions, and publisher/editor of Verso Magazine.


Alan Loney’s Crankhandle dazzles with lucent perceptions and abstractions, challenging the fragment’s infinite state of becoming in a series of complete and acute poetic performances. Indeed,Crankhandle may be read as a remarkably sustained long poem and coda, or a chain of epigrams; as an objectivist essay, an imagist meditation, and as something new that comes out of the poet's antipodean between-ness. In this way, Loney disrupts the formal idea of the ‘traditional’ poem but not with abstruseness or inscrutability. He masterfully balances a self-aware voice with a light linguistic touch. Crankhandle is an invigorating interrogation of poetics, yet it is replete with faith in poeisis.


In Fragmenta Nova Loney writes, ‘“Poetry” is too small a word for the cry that issues from the mouth. “Form” is too small a word for the shapeliness of words upon the page’ (‘Poiesis’). This quote points to the uncontained – and affective – quality of much of Loney’s work, as well as to his attention to visual design. This is not an aesthetic concern only, but one that enables reading: lucid aspect as well as articulated ‘cry’. Elsewhere, Loney has characterised his writing in successive modes as a practice uninterested in ‘perfect individual poems’: ‘If the poem’s an imperfect take on the world or even part of it, better to be crisp about it, and treat writing as unfinished and unfinishable business. So, adopt a framework, write for a while, then stop. It isn’t, of course, quite as simple as that’. Perhaps then, Loney is an early conceptualist. Crankhandle is a conceptually thick book, a book of thought, or as Frost might say, a book of ‘thinks’, which challenges writing’s potential triviality on a word-by-word basis.
The word ‘crankhandle’ suggests revving up but also letting go: write, then think. In a 1997 interview, Martin Harrison said, ‘I think the age now is of living systems.’ Loney, in the book’s epigraph, refers to antiquity’s knowledge of the writing system. Writing is part of that living system: as both noun and verb. Traces of Greek mythology recur in this book – as do other pre-contemporary traces – yet these are not necessarily allusions, but an attempt to find a place for a 

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