'Well, I don't know where the hell you come from, mate.'


review by Patrick Mangeni


eliXir: a story in poetry
Ali Alizadeh
Grendon Press, 2002
70 pp. AU$16.75 Pb
ISBN 0 9579445 19



Ali Alizadeh, a poet of Iranian descent, has woven a story of, in and about many things. eliXir is not just 'a story in poetry' (title page) but a creative adventure, a collage of narrative experimentation. In a combination of narrative style shifting from the 'first person' into 'other persons', Alizadeh fluidly integrates dramatic dialogue in typical theatrical form, crafting a poetic rendition that 'mirrors' the futility of a poet in a world of competing and often conflictual values: a materialist ethos that strips sanity, disrupts humanity and constipates philosophy in these dark alleys of capitalism. Through the lens of life in an Australian city, Alizadeh engages with and bares the futility of a post-industrial automated society whose linearity causes a haemorrhage to the dreams and lives of a young rock star Felix, his black Persian-born pal and poet Arash, Belinda the actress and, Gemma (Jasmine) whose blue eyes tell of a man's obsession.

Gemma, with the nose of a hunting dog, is a depressed, suicidal neurotic knocked off the catwalk by a cocktail of metal-hearted rapists who line into her their cold phallic rods, reducing her to a defenceless macho feast. She will later dare an equally numbed, ostracised, infatuated and disillusioned dreamer, Felix - a failed rock star - to a rocking demise. Pushed to the edge in a combination of guilt and blame from Arash (for the death of his housemate, Felix) she dares him into an exposed and 'unrehearsed' erection before fears of paternity and her naked leap into falling space jerks him into a protective cleavage, spiralling them in suicidal descent through a high-rise, high enough for a poet to tell the story of the protagonist, of Persia's poetic heritage and the dilemmas of today's world. This is the most powerfully told part of this story.

eliXir is not only a telling poem that invents form, it is a story of beauty, of youth, of hope and dreams reduced to vulgarity, to a race for a suicide of 'diced bones and sliced sinews' (37), smeared on impersonal rails of an automated society. It is a harsh reality rendered through artistic curves. Told in a mixture of forms: narration, poetry and typical postmodernist alterity, Arabic, mathematical symbols and words fuse in telling synthesis freeing the limits of imagination and beauty in the infinity of possibility. The diction, particularly the register of the protagonist's, borders on the lewd: tongues get so 'bushy' that a shaving ceremony seems inevitable. But within character and thematic context, this 'bush' organically, and relevantly so, draws from the soil that feeds it. Alizadeh plays critical letter games, dancing down the alphabetical ladder, casting a critical and reflective dice across the Iranian revolution, Muslim fundamentalism and into a child's disorientation in an Australian 'bush of colour'.

In its multiple rendering, you can read it as a play, then as a story, then experience it as a poem, at different points and very often simultaneously. Alizadeh does his tale with speed while sucking in our senses with a compelling simplicity that awes with admiration. The pace is varied and the style indicates a craft of narrative economy. The character(s), and mood, theme and conflict, and what Oscar Gross Brockett would call the 'scheme of probability' (The Theatre: An Introduction, Holt, Rinehart and Winston), come with the first bell. The Pen that gives the title of the first movement becomes a metaphor whose poetic significance and centrality to the narrative is meticulously carved into the protagonist's journey and this politics of segregation and waste. But it is also a symbol of resilience, of the immortality of the word, and the triumph of hope.

The most difficult part of the book for the reader to endure is 'the city' (13) section which comes across like a billboard of auctioneers, traffic, road-rage each flexing the other in time-conscious style. This gravy of hybridity, stylistically splashed on the page, calls for the patience of a goat trainer to appreciate. But that may as well be beside the point. In fact the author just does it; captures 'Bonfire, The City' (27): a country's cascade up (or is it down?) from prison, to settlement, to colonial Federation to a capitalist symphony. It is a creative re-configuration of social matrix, coarse indifference, and, even hope, in this filth of potential - that is if you look far across the line.

Alizadeh's story could as well be pulling its thread from a biographical bobbin and weaving its cloth with the needle of a searching consciousness. In fact the author and main protagonist, Arash, are both Iranian migrants who enter Australia at the age of 14, write poetry, have been delivery drivers and kitchen-hands as well. But unlike Alizadeh who graduates with a BA with Hons from Griffith, proceeds to a PhD at Deakin and publishes his 'medicinal potion' eliXir, Arash, whose name is tar on the Australian tongue and is subsequently abridged to 'Camel Fucker' (65), gets disillusioned, does a urinary feat on an Anzac memorial, is thrown out of university and winds down his own poetry manuscript, The Quest (10), in a style that is an event in itself.

In the last part of the story, Alizadeh executes a denouement and exposition through prosaic narrative relaxing its poetry, descending into linear storyboarding but keeping the narrative's thematic and visual line.

But Arash (or is it Alizadeh?) has an eye for eyes. He fiddles a melody of romance 'in the shoulder-length dyed black hair and magnetic blue eyes' (38) of desolate Jasmine, the girl who does not smell like her flower of fancy. Shifting from the blue eyes of Jasmine, his lingering obsession, to the blue eyes of the hostess on his flight to exile, he takes the reader across time, culture, to the 'mystical Ghazals of the Poet of Shiraz' (57).

Despite her descent from airhostess, to model, rape victim, neurotic and a callous stripper who causes two dramatic exits for two passionate young men, and misses her own through a timely act of a suicidal embrace, Jasmine keeps the story's philosophical thread by carrying on the magic Pen to Arash on their dream-sequence-like epic descent from the clouds of alienation, to a 'poetic death'. It is an epic journey to 'soul's destination' (52) whirling us through the prism of humanity, prehistory, ancient civilisation, the crucible of fundamentalism, Cartesian reductionism and the egoistic insanity of pacifist civilisation: our times' senseless pride and suicidal intolerance.

Alizadeh is not singing a song of resignation however, nor is he locking meaning in the caves of death for in the final moment he creates another life between Jasmine and Arash. Like the 'Ancient prophet Zoroaster who believed life was the field of constant battle between evil and light' (69) the poet Alizadeh preserves the pen through a journey of time, disuse and infectious rot, and on our cave crafts a message of hope in these very words:

And on the walls of our cave
I carve
With the Pen's tip
Ready to cut
And release the poetry
Of confession
and the alphabet
of absolution
so that I unlock the coffers of language
so that I'll print freedom
On the pages of life's prison. (60)


Patrick Mangeni, from Uganda, is currently studying for a PhD (Applied Theatre) at Griffith University. His play Operation Mulungusi & The Prince won the National Book of Uganda Award (NABOTU) in 2000 and was nominated for the Uganda Literature Prize in 2001.


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Vol 7 No 2 October 2003
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Tess Brady