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6th September 2017

"In the life and death of the garden we discover metaphysics" - Duncan Hose reflects on New Shoots

By Duncan Hose

Photo by Phoebe Powell

Anyone can snap the branch of an apple tree I want
To put my juicy tattoo on the breast of the dizzy pulque plant
The mother goddess hirselfe
To tease the wrath of the Gorgone
Whose sap is not flammable but explosive
Whose forgiveness is stinging

~ from 'Golden Bogey' by Duncan Hose

Duncan Hose featured in New Shoots: A Garden of Poems in the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. The launch tour followed poems 'planted' in the gardens, an installation of 'poetic pathways' which will remain indefinitely.
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Anne Tzortzopoulos once said to me that poets could be known by their unusual appetites. For everything. I expect you start out trepidly in the beginning, wanting to territorialise little bits of the earth and the micro fauna and flora that swarm over it, but like Kurtz unrestrained in Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ this can proportionately fall away to the narcissistic abysses of megalomania. There are always more powerful wills and forces, let us repeat appetites, than cannot be handled by the puny human <tragic> hero without them losing their head. 

The poet’s and the botanist’s passions and methods for making fetishes are in practice quite similar. How many of these young sportspeople have tried to cure the ennui of creeping modernity by getting down in the squealch on their knees to examine the commotion and intelligence of mosses, lichens, cherub-clovers? Weird mushroom metropoli growing purely in intent using the logic of the solar trope from wholesome dark rot? It is in the life and death of the garden that we discover metaphysics, and in defiance of the ferocious cannibal ethos of the cosmos, invent an ethics. 

You know on the Royal Ensign of the United Kingdom, whose garden this is, there is a chain around the Unicorn’s neck (squeal!). This conquering of the Wild Thing is pure propaganda. It is the little chain, the discrete physical structural detail that would excite the botanist and poet’s interest in the relation of these organisms to each other and, through representation, to their god. 

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The gardens seems to be the phenomenal triumph of the victor and their idea of a representative, cosmopolitan and categorical order: their dominion over the whole breathing world. Like the Royal family themselves these plants have little share of a private life, they are public specimens. How to customize or capitalize or vandalize this voyeuristic space? I found the schoolchildren’s carving of the ‘details of their crushes’ into the flesh of the succulents the most arousing sight, since it signals civilization (memorialisations of courtly love) and savagery, making it a more honest human intervention.

I have had my mind bent by the Aztecs, the Greeks and the original people of this place to have reminders of gods and ancestors everywhere, as the earth’s own sculptural work or the modifying work of human hands. The gardens are void of animals and bogles (shellycoats), and this is an interesting preference, if we take ‘interesting’ here to mean the catastrophic turn of a deritualised, desacralized relation with the nonhuman.

I gather the works which I have produced are struck with humbuggery: I suppose I wanted a bit of streakery and to take pleasure in some Unicornery.

Duncan Hose is a Red Room commissioned poet for New Shoots Victoria.

Duncan Hose is a poet, painter and academic scholar. His published books include Bunratty (Puncher and Wattman 2015), A Book of Sea-Shanty (Bulky News Press 2014), One Under Bacchus (Inken Publisch 2011) and Rathaus (Inken Publish 2007) .... read more »