straya is a book of hauntings, a parliament of ghosts, public and private, the story of a small-town Orpheus lost in the brusque shadows of a land-down-under. It's a treatise on grief, atrocity and human tragedy seen through the eyes of a bewildered mourner in exile, a travelogue of land and soul unravelling the complex carnage of our redacted histories, a song-book of love and hate, of sorrow and celebration, of cold despair and stubborn hope.
Cover image: Ian Stephenson, cadenza.
somewhere in the vicinity of an imagined billabong. somewhere out country, but in eye-shot of highlands. somewhere brick-less, & blandly mono-cultural. somewhere vaguely halcyon with a trace of wood-smoke; both tranquil & idyllic, in the clarity of winter. the illusion of welcome. a spattering of gums, a plump wattle in waiting, a black swan mid-preen. maybe a sheep, dourly presbyterian, maybe a spaniel, gormless & thirsty, maybe a remnant of agrarian toil, perhaps a glimpse of imported tweed . you know the one? you know the place? that scene recounted a thousand times in vapid, naive watercolours by the effete women-folk of a red-faced squattocracy; in pristine photo-realistic oils by the gentlemen tourists of the royal academy. & somewhere near a scene like this, the nation reclines rolls out its swag, emblazoned with eureka’s tattered sack-cloth flag, unleashes the stench of a journey’s sweat, of history’s dried semen & the rust of spilled blood; beds down for the night, mouths by rote, (& without particular conviction) a litany of futile prayers, finds a hollow in the dirt for the curve of its hip, wrestles the discomfort of its settler’s pathology, carefully compartmentalises its cornucopia of dread. & the light on the hill flickers to extinction, drowns without ceremony in a pool of its own wax. & as simple as that, as easy as pie, the vision foreclosed, the word egalitarian removed from the lexicon of our jilted ideologies. any notion of dialectic lost in the fat rolls of the obese poor, in the tear-stained fine-print of their defaulted mortgages, in the intricate matrix of denial & spite etched in the smirks of the thin-lipped rich, in the exquisite apathy of the middling, in the sprawling inventory of their material possessions, in the blue-lipped silence of another teenage suicide, in the bloom of blue bruises of another battered wife, the incendiary breath of a jaundiced alcoholic, in the shadow of our debt, the gauntness of the gambler chasing his own tail, in drip-fed fears, in hope denied of means, enquiry anoxic in the vacuum of intellectual inertia, in drought or in flame, in the face of the other, in the misinterpreted verses of someone’s holy book, in the jingoism of failures & imperial anachronism, in the glorious technicolour of a petrol sniffer’s dreaming, in the larrikin grins, in the churches of athleticism, in the falsity of memory, in the bell-jar of constraint, in the tedious four-stroke refrains of one dimensional masculinity, in the shark-eyed hypocrisy of a palsied democracy, in the desert of insularity, in the bankruptcy of morality, in the silence of the dirt, in the irritating slowness of our broadband connectivity, in the glorious intoxication of our rampant narcissism, in the hollow psychologies of the worried-well & their unremitting fondness for collectivised trauma, in the venal self-interest of the handmaidens of capital, in the kookaburra’s senseless yakka, in the insomnia-inducing monotony of libidinous tree frogs, in the astounding regenerative powers of conservatism, in the white-knuckled grip of a host of non-specific insecurities, in the inexcusable lack of craft employed in the production of the barbecue sausage, in the entrenched battle-lines of the history wars, in the romanticisation of settlement; with particular reference to the man from snowy river & every bush-ballad ever written, in the monarchists’ voluminous bleat, in the perfume of the eucalypt, in the sweet reek of petrichor, in the unthinking infatuation with tv chefs & the ritually commemorative, in the tumorous mass of our hypochondria & a continued faith in homeopathy, in the bleached-out coral of a dying reef, in the unavoidable austerity measures of our pugilist, neo-con politicos, in the squalor of manus, in the stopping of the boats, in the lame rhetoric of reconciliation, the insidious dexterity of corporate re-branding, in the unshiftable stain of patriarchy, in the burr of a ranter’s red raw throat, in the steadfast march to homogeneity, in the nuances of a free speech debate, in the shadow of our hatreds, in the disempowered majority, in the solipsistic ephemera of the legislator poets, in the impenetrable sophistication of the doggedly defended, in the pungency of bat-shit, in the stultifying absence of a rigorous critique of absolutely anything, in the caul of this dark, in the curlew’s call. the nation sleeps; untroubled by the hag perched on its legs. it grunts, it snorts, it twitches like a dreaming dog, dribbles saliva down its jowls, unconsciously grips at the mound of its genitals. & the light on the hill flickers to extinction; drowns without ceremony in a pool of its own wax.
‘Paul Summers writes of grief in a language that is spare, exact, evocative and almost unbearably vivid. Whether the subject is political or personal, the dead of the First World War or his own mother, his poet’s eye is unflinching, his poet’s ear unerring. This is a song of protest against the unspeakable, a song of rare courage and skill. Paul Summers sings for us all.’
‘Summers is a fine proponent for the case that textual countries need to be rediscovered. Much of his writing has been completed on country I have connection to: the soil, the salt and endless horizons feather-rendered. I am often lost but feel very much at home in his pages.’
‘Terse, tough, rooted writing that pulls no punches is not easy to achieve. Straya brings this style to the very edge of lyricism yet not quite touching it. The precise gap is cleverly held. No wasted words. The use of the ampersand not some shallow signifier of hipster-mode but an emblem of the force of brevity in the pared-down line.’