Chris Tse, our poet laureate of tenses and tensions, whose trilogy of poetry collections How to be dead in a year of snakes, HE’S SO MASC and Super Model Minority begins with a reclamation of colonial history, then turns to the present and the lyrical self, before looking forwards to the utopian and dystopian possibilities ahead—who could be better placed to confront us with the discordances and elusiveness of now? 

‘Now is news’ begins the poem, because of course now is always new and the news is only news if it is current now. This is a much more shifting, elusive and fleeting now than the now we might look for in lyrical poetry—when Ezra Pound declared poetry ‘news that stays news’ this was to suggest that the kind of news that might be sponsored by a sugar-free energy drink was exactly the opposite kind of news from the news of lyric poetry. The ‘now’ of lyric poetry is the moment in which the poet can still be waiting, hundreds of years later, for the western wind to blow and the small rain to rain down; it is the moment in which the poet holds out his living hand towards a reader, the living hand he is writing with in that moment of writing, for the reader to receive after it has been enclosed ‘in the icy silence of the tomb’; it is the moment in which the poet who could not stop for death is taken into death’s carriage and finds the time moving faster over the centuries that pass since than in that moment, within the poem, in which eternity is first glimpsed as the destination. It is that moment in ‘Present Tension’ from HE’S SO MASC of hunching your shoulders and tensing your neck against the winter, of side-stepping a dead hedgehog, of overhead wires humming.  It is wide open, personal, subjective, full of feeling, an intimate connection.

Where is that now in this poem? This is a now that keeps shifting from school-yard to massage parlour and mosque to cafeteria to basement club, locations replaced by other locations in a way that renders the safe spaces void. Who is there for the call-out in the middle of the night, or for its anticipated sensationalisation? Who is there to react to the life-less body shared on social media, who is it who is tipped between ‘the inertia of another moment of silence’ and the ‘now is not the time for politics’, who is it in the swampy heat, who is it drowning in the fuzzy hum of the television set? We are there without being there, it is now without being now, the only punctuation throughout the poem the dash that links moment to moment and holds moments apart, and the capitalisation of the N of the repeated Now. Are we starting again with every ‘Now’ or is this an impossible idea when the news in this poem is staying news in the most un-lyrical way imaginable? 

Yet what is more lyrical than the elusive, the longed-for, the impossible, the forever lost?  Never have I felt so fully the loss of ‘now’, a now ‘never here when you need it’, a now charged with the most desperate, most personally urgent politics, a now in which we are challenged not to believe ‘that now will one day come’. 

anna jackson

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