Ania Walwicz, ‘Palace of Culture’ in Cordite
Liam Ferney reviews Ania Walwicz’s Palace of Culture in Cordite Poetry Review
Ania Walwicz’s first book in more than twenty years, Palace of Culture, confirms her reputation as one of Australia’s leading conceptual poets. It consists of fifty (almost) prose poems, each between two and five pages length. The poems use the suggestion of narratives as a key organising principle. But suggestion is as far as any of the narratives get. Characters, places and events all seem about to emerge but Palace of Culture is a sublime work of disruption in which almost every word, phrase and line is designed to both suggest meaning and to disrupt it. In fact even the act of reading, which the poetics seem to infer as straightforward, is constantly interrupted.
Poems with titles like ‘prince’, ‘leave’ and ‘see’ use the title words as the building blocks of narratives; however, constant disruptions render those narratives illusory and fleeting. Using derivatives and variations of words, the poems spiral off in new directions. They seem connected to what has been written before, and after, but exist almost entirely independent of context. She describes the process in ‘The language of desire’:
the text forms a vortex, without focus or centre, desire
that remains unfulfilled, language that streams out without a
real objective, a delirium,
The stanza − one of the only independent stanzas in the book − concludes: ‘a vortex of language constantly/ spins and rolls over itself…’. While poetry ‘without focus or centre’ is commonplace, Palace of Culture is marked by the ever present coquettish suggestion of a centre, lingering as ‘desire that remains unfulfilled’. The poem’s subjects hint at ‘a real objective’, but they are ‘a delirium’ marked by continual disappearance and return.
Take ‘little girl’ which begins: ‘she serves a shop’. The ambiguity is already present in the verb. Is she serving the shop or customers? ‘she’ transforms, almost immediately into ‘a dirty little girl’ then ‘a fruit girl’ before evolving into a tongue twister (‘she sells sea shells’). Four versions of the subject in the first five lines, or they could be four entirely separate subjects. The poems never clarify, instead it is the process of suggestion and disruption that drives the poems forward…