Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Poem of the week: Rendition by Chris Wallace-Crabbe
"Rendition" used to be an innocent sort of word, likely to be found in a kindly local-paper report of the end-of-term junior-school concert: "The Year 3 Recorder Band rounded off the evening with a tuneful rendition of 'Kumbaya'." Now the juridical meaning of the word is the one uppermost in people's minds, the qualifier "extraordinary" hovering with added menace. "Rendition" in this sense means the handing over of a person from one jurisdiction to another: "extraordinary rendition" allows the person to be sent to another country, usually one permitting interrogation under torture.
This week's poem, "Rendition", by the Australian poet Chris Wallace-Crabbe, is shaped around a litany of pleas, spoken by someone imagining, and expecting, various forms of physical abuse. It's from the "New Poems" section of a career-spanning New and Selected Poems, recently published by Carcanet. Wallace-Crabbe, born in 1934, is a prolific and versatile writer. His technical accomplishment is immense, and the quick-thinking, good-humoured demotic makes it all look easy and easygoing. But his poetry is also concerned with the "blood and tears" that the painter and war-poet Isaac Rosenberg described, in relation to his paintings, as necessities of art. He was uncertain of his abilities as an artist, but when Rosenberg went into the trenches, he wrote poems that were true to the "blood and tears" of a particularly terrible war. "Rendition" has the universality and particularity of a great war-poem – but the frontline from which Wallace-Crabbe reports is not that of the battlefield.