The Hybridising of A Poetry: Notes On Modernism & Hybridity – The Colonising Prospect of Modernism, and Hybridity As A Means To Closure

Modernity is the transient, the fleeting, the contingent; it is one half of art, the other half being eternal and immutable.
– Charles Baudelaire
For me “art” is finite and entirely contingent. It has no glory, it is paranoid and self-satisfying. Hypermodernism is a millennial modernism – it is action without movement, it is the flow and exchange of “data”, and is entirely static in any natural sense. It subverts the laws of profit only insofar that it is useless, ephemeral and the wealth it generates is illusory.


In Australian poetry an awkward relationship with Modernism has had a dual legacy: it has led to a fierce rejection but conversely a desire to move “beyond”. Australian Modernism might be described as a reflexive/reflective dichotomy: it is a field in which reflex is possible (put simply, reflex is a reaction that is impulsive and necessary). On the other hand, it is a general characteristic of the Western Continuum that much experimentalism is reflective: the present being examined through the past, rather than acting against it.

There is a poem of Lionel Fogarty’s that I’d like to note as a possible starting point for discussion: “Remember Something Like This”. It concerns the nature of memory, the flexibility of time and space, and examines the specificity of incident. There is a communalising of the lyrical I taking place. The poem resists prosody, and enhances a recolonisation by entry into the public place (as per the Western Continuum) as entertainment and art:


Where’s this and that, you know.
So they find out where him came from
by looking at the tracks.
He’s headed for the caves
just near milky way.

Fogarty comes close to creating something that is both culturally and linguistically unique. While reacting to the colonising of his Murri tongue by English he in effect colonises English, rendering it subservient to his inheritance, to his spatiality (time/space). He sees this as a natural and necessary action. It is impulsive and decisive, a reflex action. If this sounds confrontational then I should emphasise that it is! Fogarty makes language a tool or even weapon of resistance; or even more, an offensive weapon. His is the most revolutionary of languages being used in Australian poetry. Freedom doesn’t come solely by marking territory and occupying a conceptual space, a space linguistic in nature. One must reterritorialise lost ground. This is especially true for a culture where the rites of naming are all important in establishing a map of social and cultural identity. Where song is cohesion.

In an article entitled “Poetics in the Americas”, published in a recent issue of Modernism/modernity, Charles Bernstein interestingly notes:


The invention of an ideolectical English-language poetry as a poetry of the Americas involves the replacement of the national and geographically centered category of English (or Spanish) poetry not with the equally essential category of American poetry but with a field of potentialities, a virtual America that we approach but never possess. English languages set adrift from the sight/sound sensorium of the concrete experiences of the English people, are at their hearts uprooted and translated: nomadic in origin absolutely particular in practice. Invention in this context is not a matter of choice: it is necessary as the ground we walk on.

While this comment is any many ways transferable to the Australian condition, there are differences between the American and Australian situations. Once again, turning to Lionel Fogarty – while his language is conceptual it is also exclusive. It does desire (and I use this in the fetishised sense!) to communicate to people other than his own, but only insofar as it will allow his people the space they had occupied and should still occupy. In a sense, this ironically makes it an incredibly utilitarian poetry, albeit as an enemy of a market place that actively seeks to deny his people’s exclusive rights to territory. This is not to say that poetry can’t be a universal and universalising mode of language, but rather that this is something to be wary of. Bernstein refers to the Nomadic. By way of cultural generalisation, Fogarty is of a “Nomadic people” (a cuttingly reductive collective noun when used from outside the discourse – and I am consciously divorcing it from Bernstein’s context to highlight the point), whether they “wander” or not. They are classed accordingly, at least in certain Empire text books. His poetry does not work against the concrete experience of the Murri people, and I mean this in an objective and not subjective sense. Any use of the English base/standard, regardless of intent, is recognising, interacting with, reinforcing, and qualifying, a particular English historicity. The fringe should call the shots vis-ö-vis its relationship with the coloniser!


I talk of hypermodernism as a qualification of a framelessness of the field of the page. I argue that hypermodernism does not, per se, issue from the Object as structure, that its forms – in a Platonic sense – are not plastic, but conceptual. In approximating this idea to the Modernist project one could look again to Bernstein:


I would propose at least three modernist projects: subjective, objective, and constructive. By nonsymbological or constructive, I am referring to the fact that in many of her works Stein does not depend upon supplemental literary or narrative contexts to secure her meaning but enacts her subjects as continuously actualised presentations of meaning. Unlike Pound or Eliot, with their myriad literary and other references, or James Joyce with his etymological anaphora, with Stein you are left with the words on the page and imaginary structures they build.

For me, the imaginary structure is the page, as it would be, I imagine, for Fogarty. The page is a representation of a field of myth-thought, of song-dream continuity, a place that refuses closure. Its imagined frame is construct. Language rendered as text categorises the breakdown and results in a loss of occupancy and produces closure. The word itself does not liberate in this written context. Hybridity in this sense is an attempt to keep language moving, though with the inevitable (and politically desired) result being confinement through qualification, and consequently control. The words work as double agents.

I’ve referred to the kinds of poetry Fogarty and I write, from entirely different perspectives, as examples of “hybridising”. By hybridising, I don’t mean a mixing, or a production of a third-party alternative from a set of specific material. A hybrid is not a possible next stage in a developmental sense, nor a “dilution” of the component parts! Nor is it a fusing of traditions. It is, in fact, a conscious undoing of the codes that constitute all possible readings of a text. It is a debasement of the lyrical I. What am I, I am this… contradicts the certainty of the informed and/or plugged into the sensorium of the poet per the Western Continuum. Master of nothing, rather than Master of all surveyed. It is not a rejection of frameworks but of contents. It recognises frames for what they are: empty shells. Bernstein recently termed this my Trojan Horse theory of poetry – get inside formalism/Western poetic traditions and dismantle. It is not an homogeneous poetry that replaces certain demarcations, borders, divisions, and qualifications. In some sense it highlights these separations. I use the sestina and villanelle and sonnet. Though I doubt Lionel does. The result is a denial that is cultural as well as linguistic; a refusal to accept that the component parts are relevant to the discourse. I use the word “hybrid” in a specific sense, outside regular post-colonial discourse.

I mentioned an undoing of codes that constitute all possible readings of a text. I should stress that this is insofar as the author understands them. It stresses the distance between author and reader. It is a theory of unfamiliarity. In a sense it invites closure, but only in that an end means another hybrid might and should develop. A parallel fertility. However, it is process, not an end result. Though through its methodology one hopes for a political response. Once Lionel has achieved his aim, his hybrids (will) revert to the continuum of his Murri tongue. That is not to say that they’ll be reintegrated, as a hybrid is too much of a conscious break, but rather that the old tongue, now liberated, will appropriate them.

They will become part of the land, and its meaning. The work of the poem will have been done. There will be closure, and only then is it desirable.Ê