back toJacket2

This piece is about 8 printed pages long.
It is copyright © Marion May Campbell and Jacket magazine 2010. See our [»»] Copyright notice.
The Internet address of this page is


Alan Loney
Day’s eye
reviewed by
Marion May Campbell
24 pp. Edmonton: Rubicon Press.  7.00 CAD 00 978–0-9809278–4-9 paper

Alan Loney

Alan Loney

Shadow Enough


Furthering his prodigious achievements in novellas of haunting originality, in luminous essays and as a master printer and publisher, Alan Loney’s eleventh book of poetry, the chapbook Day’s eye, is visually, formally, numerologically and thematically a superbly integrated performance. Miriam Morris’s orchid-becoming-sunbird supplies the cover image, affirming the sun as dynamic, metamorphic painter of all things. This lends the cue initially to explore the sequence photo-tropically, as it were, receiving in turn the light, the heat, and the plunge into the depth of shadows cast, feeling the intensity of colour claimed back from shadow, probing the expense of shadow’s assignment, before returning again and again to auscult the mythic and implicitly personal harmonics of the poem sequence, in the gaps, between the lines. These twenty-four pages, sounding the hours of the day, seem to have the emotional duration of years, for the dazzling intimations of bliss and the slow journey of grief that underscores them.


Speak —
But don’t split off No from Yes.
Give your say this meaning too:
give it the shadow.

Give it shadow enough,
give it as much
as you see spread round you from
midnight to midday and midnight


That is Paul Celan [1] and Alan Loney rises to his bidding, to this, the hardest and most beautiful of tasks, to “speak” through the shadow assignment of “midnight to midday and midnight”.


Before the first numbered page we traverse the space of prefiguration, passing through the saturated yellow of the end paper, its glow persisting through the title pages and the dedication to the painter Max Gimblett, which again is followed by a blank, as if the book were holding its breath, listening for its own possibility: liminality thus prolonged opens out the poem’s holding space and its yielding space; like the Platonic chora, it’s a space of virtual imprinting and erasure; a silent music which rehearses the inevitability of dis/appearance.


There is no rhetoric, no argument, no hierarchical layering; rather, Loney offers an obliquity in the choreography of fragments, of the “whole fragment [2]”, a parabolar writing. As Benjamin’s reading of the parable suggests, time here is complex, for it brings out a relation in writing of what precedes and succeeds it, the impossibility of writing witnessing. What would be written is forever beside the writing; it is beside itself. The writing provides the hollow in which, eyes wide open, vigilant, we dream some of its aspects, and come through these fields with their “care-ridden drift” [3] strangely, inexplicably, marked by the grief and by the wonder that inform the work.


Derrida’s words about Blanchot — two of the philosophers of the limits of language whose work has been inspirational to Alan Loney — could be applied to the luminous evidence here: that “the testimonial act is poetic or it is not from the moment it must invent its language and form itself in an ‘incommensurable performative’”. [4] There is nothing that is the measure of this writing. Just as Loney asserts, “we are not measure/ of anything” [5]. He refuses the hubristic pretension of the commensurability of the human to anything, of being to object, of word to world. It is a refusal of currency, of the economy of exchange and in this Day’s eye resonates with Anne Carson’s Economy of the Unlost: in its apparent austerity of means and its extraordinarily rich harmonics, its quiet, most delicate achievement of polysemy, this work only knows the economy of the gift.


Here, as it seems to me to be the case in each new work of poetry, Loney derives a singular, as if inaugural poetics, never simply reprising the visual and auditory pulse of the previous work. But more than visual, more than auditory, pervading Day’s eye is a truly synaesthesic imagination, of inter-sensory translation, in which ear sees and eye touches, in which touch tastes and tests text — “putting yr tongue/ to the text” [6] he writes — a euphoric displacement along the pathways of all the “text’s voices”.


“One is an artist at the cost of regarding that which all non-artists call ‘form’ as content, as the matter itself.” As Nietzsche writes in The Will to Power: the “matter” here is always the failure of the word, but these are the stakes of the poetic act: the failure of the word is where poetry begins. This is not a concept, this matter; this is primitive.


One could assert of the poet of Day’s eye as Lévinas does of Celan: “the poem is situated (… ) at this pre-syntactic and pre-logical level, (… ) but also at a level that is pre-disclosing (pré-dévoilant/ pre-un-veiling) at that moment of pure touching, pure contact, grasping, squeezing (hands finding each other).” [7]


Here he presents the silent evidence of the trace of events and of their un-calm reciprocities — of luminosity and atrocity. There is no restorative comfort in the “alternation and the vis-à-vis”, as Mallarmé wrote of Wagner, of light and darkness, of print and page, of colour and its leeching away, of art and violence:


And another thing                                      a song
Molto adagio                                               another song
a sound                                                          a ruin
another sound                                              another ruin
a place                                                            a book
another place                                                another book
a work                                                            a rape
another work                                                another rape [8]


This beauty of the “dry mind [… ] achieved” [9] here finds its motif in the “unblinking right eye” of Horus, as the sun, which persists when the left eye, the moon, is torn apart by devastating violence. When the unblinking mind “stare[s] out” [10] of the unspoken space in the poem, it calls forth the reader, answerless surely, but ready to offer hand or face… towards encounter. This is an insomniac vigilance, without subject, such as Deleuze regards as the ethical attitude, this unblinking mind, such as in the dream, the dreamer becoming anonymous, that “turncoat”, whose face is no man’s. This is the outside reached when one sees what Orpheus sees, the endless retreat in the face of death, that un-knowledge: that writing can only approach what retreats. Like Pi for the Egyptians this approach is asymptotic; thus it bears a kind of impossible sacredness, a care, an endless delicacy, and most importantly, an unwaveringly patient attentiveness. It is not you who will speak; “let the disaster speak in you”, says Blanchot again [11], who in some ways could be called the spiritual patron of this sequence. This is the advance towards impersonality.


Here there are twenty-four numbered pages for the unblinking eye of day to roll sinusoidally along — just as the moon, rehearsing disappearance and reemergence, suffers its tearing apart, its fractional diminution 1/14 each day before its slow incremental recovery, fraction by fraction, “fragment by fragment” [12], right up to the last italicised insinuation of dedicatio on page twenty-four, which returns us to the dedication and thus, in completing the circle, begins it again.


Horus, the falcon-headed god “who flew up at the beginning/ of time” [13], beyond where the gods have gone, being sun and moon, principle of seasonal return, is patron of the hours and hours of mourning; as far things are lit and close things shadowed, the hours of Horus [14], scatter his name anagrammatically, like the fragmented body, which even in grief, “nourish[es]” [15] the poet’s red deserts.


This writing wears its ethical stance most obliquely, but all the more potently for that: the stoical insistence is astounding — a refusal of any transcendental humanism, an extreme modesty.


we are not measure
            of anything        hands
or wind-sound-breath
            that takes your breath
away  the word proves
            all of us dunces              up against
a wall of unintelligible
            flowers or birds or this
lode of trash & words [16]


“[S]orry someone else already has your name” [17] — the writer is imposter in the sense of stealing away from his own identity — “he tries to write as far from himself as he can” [18]. The poet turns, and watches what retreats, and even in residence, even in finding hearth and heart to call his own, he remains the stripped, naked, imposter, the migrant who is un-named, who is not permitted to speak in his own name, let alone anyone else’s. The mark of the poet is that he is “a stutterer / gone slow” [19].


As mentioned above, the poet is necessarily a “turncoat” [20]: turning his back on identity; always with that foot on the deck of the boat, of the sinking or exploded vessel — he turns his back on the audience like Mallamé’s conductor; he is a turncoat in that sense; he has to die as personality to them. This in order to await the quiet events, which might settle on the virtual line:


with sparrows
          and all else 
                       on the line                      spring blossom
                       whitening the path
          turncoat [21]


“All else/on the line” opens the space of awe before the sheer infinity of this white potential. Here in the face of contingency and randomness, the poet gives us the exquisite placement of the “care-ridden drift” [22] of what is carried away from will, what deviates, but is ridden by care and rides it. Care, craft. “POIESIS & self/pen-friends merely” [23]. The pen tip that connects self to process, to what makes, unmakes the self, away from secure wharfs of identity… The far-away writing tip of self that inscribes and throws out into process — makes of the self the “migrant” [24] who sends letters back, othering, to the shoreline of the familiar.


Squaring the circle is a godless resurrection… of the painting sun, of the poet’s late painter son, of the beloved. But it is one which has the lucidity and courage only ever to fail, to be partial and peerlessly so, and in assuming its paucity, it is radiant. On this theme of resurrection of the return of blossom and bird along the line, throughout, it’s hard not to be reminded of Ezra Pound’s exquisite reduction of a long poem to the haiku:


In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd
Petals on a wet black bough [25]


In “A Song” [26] Loney conjures the magical singer who brings “empty rivers” to Swanston St: the “dry mind” is singing here of “summer rain”. From the first quatrain to the last the black singer is drawn from past to present; he moves from note to word, from street busker to mythic artist. He turns, as Horus does, from Osiris’s death and the desertification of the upper kingdom, to conjure the ill of Seth away, and to fertilise — with dry tears — the desert of the bloody uncle’s making. How to piece together the torn body of the father, and of the father in the son? Osiris is also of course Orpheus whose body is, as well, cruelly ripped apart. But the black singer also conjures Eurydice’s retreat “you opened out your arms to him/ he vanished without a trace” [27].


“A Song” is composed of six quatrains, twenty-four lines within the twenty-four numbered pages of the book, so in this most formal poem, with its gorgeous fable, Loney conjures in a sense a mise en abyme or a nestled image of the Day’s eye’s journey.


In “all the limbs of the body” [28] the poem is bird and flying formation at once. In its sideways V-flight is the mise en scène of the paradox: in the stillness of waiting is flight; in the attentiveness, the passivity of the wait, of the watch, is flight. Here the poem as miraculous synecdoche, as single “wingflap”, opens out to the wonder of immensity. A “life as a single/ wingflap”: the book itself becomes the winged eye of day, twenty-four-times enfolded.


“[T]hat your death should nourish me is hard/to bear”. [29] If one survives the death of a beloved being and this death feeds one, nourishing the poem, that is the hardest to say, to bear, to carry — and to carry on thereafter. But then we gather, two poems later, that one has and one has not survived: with the beloved’s disappearance one is ghosted, utterly severed. No gravity will hold. There is no cure. There is no ‘consanguineous’ construing of the beloved lost one. And mad murderous humanity continues unabated, despite all those who with art and action would make a difference:


no color holds               black trees
            fold on a white sky
writing             my feet are not
            on the ground                leaning 
on the light     is no help
             not far away 
humans are on a killing 
               spree                 shrinking
from open skies with nothing
             to say                 all
disaffection loosed upon
              the unforgivable


Whether or not one can square the circle, it remains that musically the ratio of 23 : 32 makes the perfect tone… Nine Horus cubits is the diameter of the perfect circle; and eight Horus cubits the side of a square approaching its area…. In the extreme modesty of its squared circularity Day’s eye dreams the reader into the endless approach of that perfection.


how quick do you go from
                           to heart-to-heart and 
mind’s anthesis
              as if the cortex could open
                            like a flower
               and forgetting cease

your painting’s bright band
             across the dark
                          is grace to me


By way of not putting a full-stop to the wonder of this little book, I would like to let Loney’s own words resonate here, answering, as they do, Celan’s challenge to bring grace and bleakest loss uncompromisingly together: “[Day’s eye’s] bright band/across the dark” achieves “grace” indeed — through the exquisite attentiveness and measure with which it “gives shadow enough”, from “midnight to midday and midnight”.


[1] Celan, Paul. Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan. Trans. John Felstiner. New York & London, 2001, 77.

[2] See Loney, Alan Fragmenta nova. Melbourne: Five Islands Press, 2005,

"And so, in defense, I have come to celebrate the whole fragment.” from Ann Lauterbach The Night Sky: writings on the poetics of experience. N.Y.: Viking 2005,3.

[3] Day’s eye, 3.

[4] Derrida, Jacques cit. Peggy Kanuf ‘Compostion Displacement’, MLN 121 (2006): 889.

[5] Day’s eye, 11.

[6] Day’s eye, 15.

[7] Emmanuel Lévinas. Trans. Michael B. Smith. Proper Names.London: Athlone Press, 1996, 41.

[8] Day’s eye, 19.

[9] Day’s eye, 4.

[10] Day’s eye, 1.

[11] Blanchot, Maurice. The Writing of the Disaster. . Ann Smock

University of Nebraska Press, 1986, 4.

[12] Day’s eye, 18.

[13]Day’s eye, 8.

[14] Day’s eye, 8.

[15] Day’s eye, 8.

[16] Day’s eye, 11.

[17] Day’s eye, 2.

[18] Day’s eye, 2.

[19] Day’s eye, 16.

[20] Day’s eye, 2.

[21] Day’s eye, 2

[22] Day’s eye, 3.

[23] Day’s eye, 3.

[24] Day’s eye, 2.

[25] Pound, Ezra. Eds Allisom, Alexander W. et al. The Norton Anthology of Poetry, Third Edition, New York & London, 1983 (1970), 963.

[26] Day’s eye, 5–6.

[27] Day’s eye, 5.

[28] Day’s eye, 8.

[29] Day’s eye, 8.

Marion May Campbell

Marion May Campbell

Marion May Campbell lives and works in Melbourne, Australia. Her most recent book Fragments from a Paper Witch (Salt Publishing) was short-listed in the innovation category of the Adelaide Festival Literary Awards 2010. She is working on a PhD on Intertextuality and Subversion at Victoria University.

Copyright Notice: Please respect the fact that all material in Jacket magazine is copyright © Jacket magazine and the individual authors and copyright owners 1997–2010; it is made available here without charge for personal use only, and it may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced, or used for any other purpose.