FR38: Dec 2008


Walleah Press


Famous Reporter


Review: Jen Crawford-Titus' bad appendix

I read bad appendix a few times. On the train out of Newcastle, while lying on the floor at work, in the backyard. Eventually I grappled with a need to produce some summary-statements. There is a practical need to collect one’s thoughts into manageable packets at times but I never find it simple. For example, I think when you see a movie you can’t talk about it with your friends straight away, while walking to the car-park. If you can it was probably formulaic, even more likely ‘bad’. Interesting works need to work on you a bit (although even then, after time and thought, it can prove difficult to say something succinct).

Nevertheless: Crawford writes ‘about places’ without being a surveyor. This is important. Within her ‘views’, the places she is ‘at’ or ‘driving to’, the visual and painterly elements often disturb the reader. In ‘view: coalcliff’ things just don’t add up:

when the train emerges from the burrow of trees
it seems what’s visible should be clean;

But it’s not clean. The aspects of a vista combine in a way that is just a little uncertain, just a little worrying for both the poet and reader. If anything this serves as my first summary point. Crawford’s poems seem to outline not minor imperfections in the world, but points of contention, arguments with existence as it is grasped. Why doesn’t a view add up? Or are certain things received in certain places? This, from ‘keira st’:

letters come, the rain, the poems
like a mouthful of salt
and some like a room or a drawer
filled with precious tickets, strange coins,
the notes of a quiet hand.

Things do come without design or order or emotional certainty, and it is right to question this with poetry, to test language, the effective quanta of being. The quotidian is too often rewritten into the mundane or the more traditionally poetic ‘peaceful’. Crawford writes life but does it with a compelling density of meaning, as if to perhaps layer poetry in the way experience is given to us – never outright, never sure.

The titular ‘bad appendix’ is, I think, a real appendix, an organ foregrounded in an operation and a scar and a poem or two. But this is also suggestive. The other ‘bad appendix’ would be information appended to a document, information that has a negative quality. It could be bad by being incorrect, apocryphal, misleading. Or, it could be malign – information meant to deliberately mislead the reader, with the purpose of causing distress. I see the appendices as the subjects, the shadowy forms that lurk behind these poems. Are they malign? This is one possibility. But it’s also possible they are neutral, and that’s what disturbs us. As just noted, Crawford’s ‘views’ do often suggest to me that something is not right. Yet views in general are frequently idealised and understood to be simple, refreshing. It doesn’t have to be simple to be in a place, be amongst a landscape, to take in a view. There is also nothing simple about the physical perambulations of life or the emotional and mental foraging we are doomed to and revel in. The poems in bad appendix say this in an unembarrassed manner.

And I think poetry can do this. For me it has to do this, and that’s one of the pleasures of poetry. The disquiet that pervades nature and ourselves is there to be taken on. Language is tricky but it’s also a part of the whole that is indeed useful for describing (and thereby finding) beauty. For instance, these following words are spread out like blips of unintelligible signal, attempting to formulate themselves into the communications of someone lost, communication that will not be received, but is still sensed:


jammed in against the sun’s swoop
down to sucking marrow &
for the shoal hush you have now,
picking through salt and skin flake
storing your minerals

And this excerpt again highlights that quality in Jen Crawford’s poetry, something that reminds me a little of Dylan Thomas’ verse, this rendering of words and ideas that are so desperately felt – down to the marrow – but nevertheless so elusive.

Formally, Crawford’s arrangement of poetry is in keeping with her project (or what I divine it to be). It is hard to isolate a defining feature, because she never seems hampered by her own ‘style’. Although she seems at home with lower-case letters, she is comfortable using the capitalised forms, the ampersands, the upper-case ‘I’, and also with pushing words around in the white space of the page. I don’t think this is so easy to do – most poets tend to see one method as ‘proper’ and take it on as a style. Poets like Crawford (MTC Cronin is another I can think of that does this) use grammar, punctuation and the spatiality of a page to effect intrigue. Right down to the final poem in the book: ‘sixteen’ is placed in a landscape format forcing you to turn the book on its side. While it does sit a little uncomfortably against the other pieces in the book, it is also seeking extension, asking why poems can’t have longer lines than a page allows, mirroring the stretch and fears of parent and child within the piece.

And lastly, the poem ‘Universal Daydream Furniture’ begins with: ‘no; that is you remind me / of a shop I once conceived in –’ then ends seven lines later, closing the clause in this manner: ‘– / never more open, the lotus / so precisely’. There are many other pieces like this – with tantalising images functioning as receptacles for half-glimpsed notions – that reward multiple readings. I’m still coming back to this one and others, wondering at the stimuli, wondering at the truth, wondering at the poetry. There is much value in Jen Crawford’s bad appendix. Seek it out.


DEREK MOTION is a PhD student at Charles Sturt University. He is the Director of the Booranga Writers' Centre.