“Man on the Moon”

Introductory remarks for a recording of the poem for Australian Book Review

“Man on the Moon” is an unusual poem for me in two ways. I am not for the most part a writer of personal lyrics. My poems have been characterized as meditations; they don’t generally record my own personal activities and emotions. But “Man on the Moon” is a very personal poem indeed, being part of a sequence of ten poems called “Consume My Heart Away”, written in 2004 in the wake of a brief but intense love affair. The I in this poem is the poet speaking in propria persona.

This sequence of poems is also unusual in being written very quickly and immediately in response to the events they describe, in one case on the same day as the event described. As a rule my prospective poems lie around in notebooks, sometimes for several years, before I sit down to write them. But the pressure of emotion here needed immediate expression.

The sequence is not a chronological narrative. Each poem describes a different aspect of the relationship and my reactions, so there is no need for the reader, or listener, to be familiar with the other poems in order to understand “Man on the Moon”. This poem, which is placed second-last in the sequence, was in fact the last written, more than a month after the others were finished and it has, if not quite an air of all passion spent, then at least a certain resignation. There is no need to say anything much about the subject matter because it is all quite clear and straightforward. I should point out, though, that the poem was begun a day or so after the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, hence the references to that event.

As anyone familiar with my poetry will know, I am a formalist: virtually all my poems, at least since the mid-1980s, are metrical, and most are rhymed, and that is the case with the poems in “Consume My Heart Away”. Some of the poems are in quite elaborate forms but “Man on the Moon” is written in that simple standby, the iambic pentameter quatrain rhymed ABAB. It is very difficult, perhaps impossible, to put into words precisely how I decide on a particular form for a particular poem, but in this case I think I felt that this fairly simple form matched the quiet resignation of the mood.

One point of interest about the composition: the last line of the first stanza, “Deepens to Giotto’s dream of indigo”, was the line I had the greatest difficulty in getting right. I had originally used a reference to Patrick White’s artist from The Vivisector, Hurtle Duffield, who was obsessed with indigo, but Clive James, to whom I showed the poem, persuaded me that this was an allusion that would be lost on many readers. I saw his point, but it took me a long time to hit on the right figure to replace him with.

“Man on the Moon” appears in Other Summers and can be read here.

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