Jenny De Reuck’s launch of David Moody’s collection of poems at Nexus Theatre, Murdoch University on Thursday 23 February was memorable and moving as she highlighted aspects of David’s work that make this book definitely noteworthy. The following are extracts from her launch speech.
When David asked me to launch this collection of his I was deeply touched. We’ve shared a great deal in our years at Murdoch in the Literature and Theatre Programs—highs as well as lows—but I was genuinely surprised to discover that this book of his was a collection of poems and not a novel or a play.
I knew him as a gifted dramatist and a writer (not to mention those other attributes for which he has become famous: actor, director, adaptor; lecturer, critic and stand-up comedian among others) but that he had embraced that most arcane and difficult of contemporary literary forms and done so with such lyricism and emotional integrity has been a revelation.
This collection of poems, with the beautiful and evocative illustrations by Judith Price, offers us an extraordinary range of ‘ordinary’ experiences. I can’t of course predict each reader’s response to them, but there will be sorrow, laughter, amusement and, at times, anguish among your responses. They were mine. What David does so well is use language (as poets must) to shape a thought, a feeling, a moment in time for his speaker and then of course for his reader. As I read and re-read the poems I found myself delighting in the playfulness in his use of words and the fun he had with the shaping of the lines, such as those from Murdoch Drive, Good Friday:
Fishtails across two lines, a brief
Wild spiral of
No audience, but
(From Murdoch Drive, Good Friday p56)
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And for any of us who have opened the cages in the Drama Workshop to ‘source’ props, there is a moment of recognition artfully captured in the poem, Drama Store-Room. David captures exactly the nostalgia, the loss—as well as, perhaps, the comical status—of discarded theatrical artefacts.
There are, of course, much sadder moments, darker tones, but in these, too, David demonstrates his control of the emotional onslaught. Language, in these poems, is charged with a depth of meaning that wrenches the speaker and by extension the reader.
A title as innocuous as Sunday at the Esplanade contains quietly submerged emotional grenades for the reader to negotiate. The implicature in its final lines, “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow”, in the resonant words of that Scottish tragic hero, pulls us towards a complex world-view in which the banal, the ordinary, is felt with an anguish that surpasses the everyday and asks the reader to consider what courage it takes to continue.
And the poem that gives this collection its title is one I returned to again and again—its gentle tones mask a disquieting, even disruptive set of truths for the speaker and his audience. Ordinary Euphoria asks us to consider ordinary events and to realise that despite their apparent banality—driving to work; drinking a cup of tea; eating tea at home; a casual touch—they have a capacity in them for the alerted imagination to render them transcendent: “Routine’s, accidental carnival of Grace”.
Each of his readers will find their own point of entry into David’s poems. Mine was the collection’s opening line in the beautifully wrought, Poem on Death of Madiba, where the speaker states: “I am not South African”. At once intensely personal and politically charged, this poem explores an observer/subject’s ‘right’ to empathetic emotion in the face of suffering which we ourselves have not endured. Here the speaker conflates Robben and Manus Islands—with all the implications for an Australian readership—but also conjures for us, via Mandela’s (he uses the affection, intimate term, “Madiba”) towering presence, the possibility of secular forgiveness and reconciliation. It’s a beautiful poem, and it wears its political garments lightly.
Simone Lazarro’s words in the preface of this volume capture the essence of David’s achievement:
[The poems] reveal the treasure to be found both in quiet moments alone and in encounters with other people, and they help us celebrate these and the value to be found in our everyday lives. Much like a good friend, they give us a fuller sense of who we are and who we might yet become. In short, reading this book of poems will leave you feeling richer in unexpected ways.
I would add that David Moody’s poems arrive at a time when the Arts and Humanities are under more stress, are more existentially threatened, than perhaps at any other time in our history. A volume of work like this, a testament to the value of a creative mind examining and then articulating—in heightened and impactful language—those insights, could not be more timely. David’s embrace of poetry (the ‘Cinderella genre’) in Ordinary Euphoria, now seems to me to be one of those moments which we should celebrate, affirming the need for powerful expressions of this kind, that have their origins in cultures as old as humanity itself. If we don’t shout back at the fates aligning malevolently against us (yet again) “the fault … is in ourselves, not in our stars”.
David’s poems fly up in response. His creativity a wonderful antidote to the forces of aesthetic repression. Without such assertions of the intrinsic value of Arts—in the broadest sense—“the rest” we can be certain, will be “silence”.