The Lovemakers



review by Ali Alizadeh





The Lovemakers, book one: Saying all the great sexy things
Alan Wearne
Penguin Books 2001
Rrp $29, 359pp
ISBN 0 14 024541 3


Form The Lovemakers ('Lovelife (i)')

Love? Well, it needn't be that and procreation ditto.
Sex? It's not mere 'sex' and as for fucking well of course
but not for everyone and hardly all the time.
Intimacy? But so much else is, whilst 'intercourse' sounds
mere textbook.

Associated with the 'class of '68' and known for his fascination and involvement with Melbourne's suburban life and the city's transient cultures over the past four decades, Alan Wearne is an ambitious and prolific writer. Few established contemporary poets have shown the commitment or innovation displayed by Wearne in writing the long cycles of thematic poems known as 'narrative verse'. Now, with The Lovemakers, book one: Saying all the great sexy things he has produced, according to the book's publicity, the first volume of an 'epic' poem of late twentieth century Australia.

In reading Wearne's (or others') contemporary works, however, the conventional definitions of 'epic,' 'narrative' and 'verse' may be inapt and misleading. As William Carlos Williams noted in 1956; 'verse' is not a fixed and complete term in modern (and post-modern) poetics:

Verse...has always been associated in men's minds with "measure," i.e., with mathematics. In scanning any piece of verse, you "count" the syllables... Today verse has lost all measure...nothing in our lives, at bottom, is ordered according to that measure; our social concepts, our schools, our very religious ideas, certainly our understanding of mathematics are greatly altered (Williams 2000: 84)

The Lovemakers echoes Williams' observations about the changing 'measures' of society, religion and education. Although not particularly 'free-verse' in his style - with generally consistent iambic rhythms and the inclusion of such 'closed' forms as sonnets, villanelles and limericks - Wearne employs and enhances the fundamental shifts of the cultural values within this book's content.

A playful cynicism towards public institutions is at the core of The Lovemakers. In the sequence titled 'Catholics for friends (i)', for example, Wearne treats religion with an insightful irony:

'We're Catholics, sortov Catholics,'
he admitted. 'Well it's what we put on the forms.'

Wearne is a laconic, sharp and pragmatic poet. In the same sequence, he observes the education system with an inspired sarcasm:

There were few snobs like the snobs
who had to send their kids to State school.
And no,
Mother hardly wanted Hannah like those entrants
in the Interhouse Junior Beauty Pageant:
Miss Wattle, Miss Banksia, Miss Waratah,
and the winner…Miss Flowering Gum!

Although the book is titled The Lovemakers (with a haunting sexual image by Christian Wild on its cover) the author's irony - intentionally, perhaps - outweighs the sensuality and romance between his characters.

While there is little shortage of quirky sexual innuendo and spirited commentary on the confused and disheveled love-lives of his text's various and innumerable protagonists, Wearne is hesitant and tongue-in-cheek with the intimate moments. Most of his depictions of sex are detailed and lively caricatures with 'thought-bubble' dialogues:

So, after work
that Saturday, they lay down on a bed;
Ray put on the thing. They went berserk!
Their minds just ceased. All reason seemed on strike.
'My God!' they howled, 'so this is what it's like!'

Wearne's most refined skill is writing knowledgeable, personal and vivid lyrics employing the urban Anglo-Australian vernacular to its fullest capacity. In the voice of his best-realised and most multi-dimensional character Barb, he displays an effective inclination for emotional expansion and a projection of energy beyond the cynicism, satire and negations of the 'class of '68.' Through this character, Wearne allows for inspired glimpses of dreamy imagism:

here's what Barb was dreaming: it's Melbourne and,
bar for her and Roger marching past the town hall,
Swanston Street is empty; on a review stand, parents:
hers, his; but there's not time to salute: the children
have to run: past the cathedral, the station, over the river
and down St Kilda Road: no cars, no trams, no one,
only them.

'The planet's most suburban girl', Barb is one half of a 'swinging' married couple in the book. She believes 'Innocence is ignorance dressed/for those who don't particularly care.' With her husband Roger as equally detached, her adulteries provide Wearne with the themes and content for the book's best narrative poetry.

During the course of The Lovemakers, Barb has affairs with two characters outside her marriage including Karl who, Peter Porter has observed, is 'intended as a caricature of Wearne himself' (Porter 2001:6). In 'Lovelife (iii)', one of the book's best and most fluid story-telling moments, Neil, Barb's work-mate, falls in love with her in the office:

The evening the form went out
their lift had stuck; they used the stairwell.
Following her, and seeing her turn to smile, he knew
how swift her heart was running,
how they had to kiss, how hard, long and shared
the kiss would be; and how it wouldn't be enough
this life in the stairwell.

Although The Lovemakers' countless characters may seem too many for constructing a single 'cover-to-cover' reading a la a novel or an epic - verse or not - as a collection of linked lyrics, this book is one of the year's most impressive, accomplished and telling publications.

Porter, Peter. 'Life, love: urban yarns on a grand scale'. In The Age: Saturday Extra. Saturday 14 April 2001. Return to review

Williams, William Carlos. 'On Measure - Statement for Cid Corman'. In W.N. Herbert & Matthew Hollis (eds). Strong Words: modern poets on modern poetry. Northumberland: Bloodaxe, 2000. Return to review




Ali Alizadeh is reading for his PhD at Deakin University. His paper, Towards a Poetics for the Epic, is published in this issue of TEXT.




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Vol 5 No 2 October 2001
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Tess Brady