Words by: Mandy Moe Pwint Tu
Poets have their heroes, Peter Jeffery writes. His poetic career spanning 60 years has been an inspiration to every poet who knows of him, and as Chris Palazzolo writes in the foreword to True to Poetry in my Fashion, published by Regime Books, ‘His work is of inestimable aesthetic and historical value because it documents the trends and movements, the fashions and controversies that have rolled through West Australian writing for over half a century.’
I first met Peter at one of the Perth Poetry Club sessions at the Moon Café. He read one of his pieces at the open mic, and one phrase stuck with me: ‘My hands made violent jungles in your hair, / You wept – but still it was not there!’ This, I have found, is an extract from his poem, “The Physical Fact”. The imagery of ‘violent jungles in your hair’ is stark and beautiful, and it’s just one of many verses in True to Poetry that inspire emotion in the reader’s heart.
One such piece is “London Cemetery”, which hits you hard over the head with the profoundity of its opening line: ‘I see tears in the dew.’ We are then treated to stunning imagery, from ‘the golden summers of daffodils’ to ‘The rain melting the strength into the obscurity of pavements/And the melodrama of tangled weed and haunting vault.’ And then this verse follows (I highlighted it after reading it, and had to take a moment to process the brilliance of it):
But the great matter not.
There are sagas enough in this chaos of stone,
Without the ornament of proud names.
Each draped urn, each wooden cross, each vain heart
Marks out the fear and glory of two hundred years.
The loftiness and altogether almost otherworldliness of this stanza is then quickly contrasted by the back-to-earth loneliness of a London cemetery:
I am alone with the sparrows,
The long amphiteature of vaults,
And my thoughts.
Peter writes whimsy as well as he writes beauty. Take this piece, “Writing On”, for instance:
Sigmund Freud wrote on Totem
Nancy Mitfor wrote on U and
Even Lawrence wrote on a
But all I ever write on
Is my arse!
It must be stated that Peter writes people beautifully. His poetic eulogy for Michael Selig, “Let Us Search For Water” and his poem, “At World’s End” for Donald Stuart are undoubtedly some of his absolute best work, profound, deep, meaningful, like songs so beautifully sung that the listener begs to hear them again, and yet again. The pieces are strong and riveting, personal experience and memory mingling with poetic sentiment, resulting in nothing short of masterpieces.
Easily my favourite poem in the book is “Elegy for the Craft of Words”, which mourns the fact that the role of poets and consequently poetry in the world has been reduced to nothing but ‘caged swallows and tumbled cities of gold.’
He ends with an echo of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Xanadu poem:
Still outside in Winter’s fire,
Harp strings slack under ragged cloak,
Poets stumble, speared by lightning,
Wild eyes steaming, raven’s hair screaming,
And batter and unyielding doors.
Why this piece is my favourite is perhaps not too difficult to fathom. Being a poet myself, words and the journey of their wielders have always been a topic close to my heart. “Elegy” perfectly encapsulates my thoughts and fears on the subject.
Other highly commendable pieces include “Snowman”, which left my heart aching; “We Live in a World of Music”, which is uplifting and rhythmic; “To Hell with the Quotidian”, which is about his sister’s death and the piece is nothing short of heartwrenching.
Anyone who played with words and generated a pattern could call that creation ‘poetry’, Peter Jeffery writes.
It is difficult to pinpoint any one thing about his poetry: and the words that seem to come so easily to one of the greatest West Australian poets today are stinted when I try to write about his work. But this is the impact True to Poetry in my Fashion leaves you with: nostalgia for a time past, respect for the present, and hope for the future. It leaves you feeling like the world has shifted ever so slightly, and is better for that shift.