‘Autumn Royal’s “She Woke & Rose” and the Global Reinvention of Confessional Poetics’, by a.j. carruthers


[I]f one says a piece of writing is confessional, then we are inclined to say that the speaker is, in fact, necessarily the author. Even if it isn’t really, it just has to be, because it says so – right?

— Trisha Low
~ sometimes i confuse intuition with social media ~

— Autumn Royal

For Trisha Low (author of The Compleat Purge) the confessional is feminine, from “Sylvia Plath’s oeuvre” to Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick (the straight white male “confession” will most probably be that he is a criminal). It does remain, though, that the confessional is always about a kind of subjectivity (“of a variety,” as Low puts it). But by subjectivity I don’t mean “the author” in the same way as Low. None of this is obvious, in the sense that “the subject” is already multiple, and difficult to pin down (who said we’re here to pin anything down anyways? To what social-symbolic quilt?).

So I’ve been thinking about writing a review with the critical poetics of the feminine confessional in mind, in an “attack journal” and in a writing community in which actually radical experimental writing (and actually-interesting experimental writing) is going global, linking up with not only USAmerican poetics but also, in these hemispheres, writing in the Asia-Pacific. Writing about a contemporary is kind of weird, exciting, and daunting; an exercise in contemporaneity, of being in the present. Because we live in different cities I feel like I can say some weirder shit about it (not that this review is all that weird, or attacking).

I think of Royal’s poetics as inseparable from her social media ambience. Part of Cordite’s exciting new book series (see also Natalie Harkin and Claire Nashar), I imagined the poems in Royal’s She Woke & Rose interleaved with images from her Instagram account, and even the use of “~” in place of the em dashes. Against the Muse-oriented “neo-romantic” masculine verse-lyric that gets us regurgitating our brunch, this is a contemporary lyric of body and skin. ARoyal’s lyrical emoting and sentiment feels contemporary in its ambience and texture. The texture also of a certain kind of grape; the skin of the Autumn Royal. Read ‘Viticulture’:

The Autumn Royal is a grape described
as being a large, elongated purple-black berry
with crunchy skin, a firm texture and a pleasant,
distinctive flavour …

Further reading has informed me that the
Autumn Royal grape has a relatively thin skin,
is susceptible to cracking and rot …

For the writing-grape, already, “confession” here is not simply a stylistically-mandated, conventional lyric diction (the clichéd, Australian quietist that most “ordinary readers” have had enough of… differently intoned to the USA “moonlit pines” quietist, and btw, I’m not a fan of Louise Glück) but rather an uncertain, socially-mediated lyric diction which is not predictable, and if it is predictable, so obvious in its predictability that it actually turns out to be an inventive poetics. Grape juice matures in viticulture time to become wine, but it had to start out as grape juice. Royal already is who she says she is. Plus what it says about subjectivity: your name tells you pretty much a lot about yourself now, right?

An equal amount to context, which also tells us maybe even more about ourselves. Melbourne sounds. I imagine the work of Holly Childs lurking differently, dankly, perhaps, in Royal’s tonalities. Other possible sounds from experimental writing today: Astrid Lorange, Amelia Dale, Claire Nashar, Pascalle Burton, Elena Gomez, and Aurelia Guo. There might also be something close to the “girlesque” (a term the marvellous Melinda Bufton taught me). Actually we might be talking here a lot about listening, or “overhearing”:

I don’t understand, he wants to go
from sales to rentals?
I overhear
the property manager say to an unknown
person via mobile phone …

Three days earlier I’d emailed a maintenance
request regarding a fallen shower rail
that needed to be drilled into the wall …

An everydayness, a grounding and engrafting of speech to poeticity. One of my favourite poems in the collection is ‘in the elevator, heading for the 23rd floor’. It’s a cento after Hong-Kai Wang’s A Conceptual Biography of Chris Mann:

I’ll send you a link to an article I [wrote]
on [Australian] experimental music history,
make decisions later, an archive, talking
in a very unedited way, ramble, ramble,
ramble — I don’t know what your question
was, but here’s your answer: 10 artists
meet with 5 property developers
& 5 trade unions in a little bar in Melbourne.

Fabulously “unedited.” It might even have included a link, not because you can click on links on paper books but because links look kind of nice. But this is a poem that defers (or is in deferment of) its referents. Even in its affective speechiness. I like the title poem, which begins:

A sheet, a sheet of paper, served
& displayed beneath a layer of plastic
as ordered, documents slitting
decisions, natural like, rest your elbow

Sheet → sheet of paper → document. And between, the contemporary sound: our vernacular. The vernacular in OzPo is obv. hardly ever bushspeak. This is what speech today is “natural like.” In the last lines the rose partially wilts. So it follows:

at least this isn’t stagnation, she
knows, she knows
so she woke & rose.

There is not only the Steinian de-stagnation of “woke” re-signified, or repeated, but the gesturing away from rose-as-flower, a gesture that only gets us closer to the floral document. Thinking “she woke & rose” in lieu of the flower (perhaps a “referent”) then the predicate of outflow, which assigns rose to growth, marks a move away stagnation. Woke fixes, rose unfixes signification, giving the sentence up to indeterminacy. Language gives life, liveliness and subjectivity, at the level of the sentence.

The whole book converges on a single sentence. Then it opens out again.

Or, to tarry on the last line a little more: the predicates overdetermine the subject laying bare the work of language: this is the emoting and the floral ambience of the emoting (its florality?): to wake and to rise are not the same thing as woke and rose, “woke” being here subtracted from what just came before (“she knows, she knows”). The subject is she who binds knowledge to document.


Poet Amelia Dale in “She Woke & Rose” tee collaboration with Constance Mary.

In several of the poems Royal plays with disjunctive poetics. These are the last lines of ‘After Skye Gellmann’s “Snow”’:

there is no accuracy in review
— green ear plugs — feet as hands — contort down the pole —
‘thank you — breath — that’s the piece’

which stretch & contort space. Royal originally wrote this poem as a review of a Gellman performance. ‘After Skye Gellmann’s “Snow”’ is what you get when a poem is itself a poetry review. Reviews are risky, they risk inaccuracy. They might even risk being poems. And although it is an unstable thing to say in the context of a rapidly shifting and expanding experimental poetry community, it is worth the risk to say in this review that Royal is going to write the inventive OzPo of the future. It will incorporate (and contort) the digital, the socially mediated (not mandated) newly-intuited intuition of the new. It will join the global reinvention of confessional writing as ambient breath and stroke, but not as a return to conventional, neoromantic lyric styles.

Moreover, exciting writers like Royal have woken and arisen (I wager, mainly) in the thriving small presses, the post/neo-conceptual, + free online and guerrilla actions of the Australian experimental poetry community.



From the ‘kelvinator impression series’, by Autumn Royal.

Sometimes I confuse poetry with social media. It’s 3:41 pm, imagine a newly minty lyricism that’s so rosy you’ll forget it’s poetry. Imagine a poetry you can read while doing something else. There’s a fine line between reading poetry and doing something else. Like Tweeting or crying. And something else is going to be part of the reinvention of OzPo. She knows she knows or so she says:

                                                    … hey lady — have you written —
all this down — she said like — books — don’t forget to submit

storybook — say something — soothing — like —
on the form — there’s space for miss — that space —

don’t miss it — fill it — hang on — mistake — rub it out — miss —
you missed a spot — not for you — lady — hey lady

a.j. carruthers is a contemporary Asian-Australian experimental poet and critic. He is the author of AXIS, a lifelong long poem, the first volume of which is AXIS Book 1: Areal (Vagabond, 2014). Other works are The Tulip Beds: A Toneme Suite (Vagabond, 2013), OPUS 16 on Tehching Hsieh (GAUSSpdf, 2016) and an upcoming critical volume entitled Stave Sightings: Notational Experiments in North American Long Poems, 1961—2011. He is reviews editor for Southerly, essays editor for Rabbit Poetry and co-editor (with Amelia Dale) of SOd press.