When I heard that an author I hadn’t read had won the Patrick White Award then I went to the Guardian website where there was an excerpt from her recent book, The Golden Age, 2014, but the excerpt was so boring that I couldn’t reconcile it with the idea of this author, whose name is Joan London, winning a prize named after Patrick White, who believed, 1) that the independence of a serious human person would be understood as a kind of offensive violence, and 2) that this offensiveness should exist in fictional expression as well as in fictional character: putting White on a wavelength with Rabelais.
If I want to believe that the London who should win the Patrick White Award exists then I have to trust the reviewers and critics who say that she is exceptional and unfairly neglected, that she deserves all of the awards that she has won (this is Kerryn Goldworthy in the Australian Book Review) and that she should win more of them (this is Elizabeth Webby in The Conversation).
I need to believe two things, 1) that in its place, in the book, the excerpt is evidence that London is a singular writer, and 2) in isolation it misrepresents her. I have read her and not read her, and she vanishes in the excerpt; the excerpt has concealed the writer instead of revealing her, and she is eerily going and present and incomplete without the absence being structured, polite, poetic, or tempting. There are lines in Pound’s Cantos about the action of recession.
Sail passed here in April; may return in October
Boat fades in silver; slowly;
Sun blaze alone on the river
Where wine flag catches the sunset
Sparse chimneys smoke in the cross light (Canto XLIX)
He describes things disappearing but he has made something that is there and so you must describe disappearance in order to have the present thing that is not absence but something like a calm memorial in its favour, not it, itself, as war memorials are not like death. You can dwell on a war memorial but not on death as it is happening, you can’t stand there dwelling as the muddy soldier is straining to tolerate a bullet, but you can look at a stone. The fading boat was invented so that it could stand like a still part in Pound's machinery while the sad vivacity of things in transition appealed to him … (at that moment in my draft I wrote, “but the form of disappearingness itself was not tempting, the poem does not vanish”, then I rethought it and I am wrong because the strange words “wine flag” have established an unbridged gap between the English language that they were written in and the Chinese scenery that he hints at in another way three lines afterwards: “a world is covered with jade.” London is withdrawn from me when I read the excerpt, yet at no moment is she curtailed completely below the shape of a suggestion, which is also the shape of things within the Cantos, these existences that the poet gives to you before questioning them, first “Comes the snow scur on the river,” but three lines later, “The flowing water clots as with cold.” My italics).