Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Two Photographs by Geoffrey Lehmann





TWO PHOTOGRAPHS (1970s)
by Geoffrey Lehmann

My sister took two photographs I love,
Both indoor colour shots with yellow filter,
Of father tinkering with a radio
Glittering with tiny lights upon a table.
Wrapped in a hairy old brown dressing-gown
In heavy yellow light he sits and listens
To ancient earphones plugged into the set,
And in the next he has the earphones off,
And sits, a puzzled frown upon his forehead,
A man of seventy with kindly lines
Upon his weathered face, a youngster trying
To probe the age-old whistling of the ether,
The moans and crackles of the distant stars.
How young your face, old man, how young the hand
Of love that made the camera shutter click.

I came across this poem in the 1970s when I was teaching at Melbourne State College (it’s in the old Penguin ‘Australian Voices’ anthology, which is full of treasures). I’ve frequently returned to the poem over the years, always delighting in the way it captures and develops its imagery with such emotional precision and immediacy. And this year I contacted Geoffrey Lehmann to ask for permission to use it on the Tuesday Poem blog. He wrote back saying this:-
“I'm glad you like ‘Two Photographs’. You mention coming across it in the 1970s, which means you came across the correct version. When I prepared a "Collected Poems" (1997) I rewrote a lot of poems, usually improving them considerably, so much so that my editor whom I had asked to compare the old and new versions gave up comparing them. But I wrecked ‘Two Photographs’ by leaving out the last two lines. Sometimes one can get too precious and afraid of frank emotion and this was such an occasion.”
And a day later, when I was still thinking about what he’d said, and rather shocked at the idea of publishing the poem without its utterly necessary last two lines, Geoffrey Lehmann wrote to me again.
“I’ve just taken another look at the revised 1997 version and the opening is better than the 1970’s version which overdoes the use of the word “love” which should have been saved up to the end. I've now combined both versions, the opening of the 1997 version and the end of the 1970s version to get what I think is the right balance. If it is of any interest please feel free to use both of these emails. The photographs were slides as the later version states. My sister died 4 years ago and I have a collection of her slides of family members which were quite remarkable in their naturalness.  
The version with this email is therefore the definitive version and not likely to change.”



So here is the final, revised, definitive and author-approved version of the poem. He’s right, of course: I was unwilling at first to give up allegiance to the 1970 version, but this one does work better.





TWO PHOTOGRAPHS (2010)
by Geoffrey Lehmann

My sister took two slides with yellow filter,
Of father tinkering with a radio
Glittering with tiny lights upon a table.
Wrapped in a hairy old brown dressing-gown
In heavy yellow light he sits and listens
To ancient earphones plugged into the set,
And in the next he has the earphones off,
And sits, a puzzled frown upon his forehead,
A man of seventy with kindly lines
Upon his weathered face, a youngster trying
To probe the age-old whistling of the ether,
The moans and crackles of the distant stars.
How young your face, old man, how young the hand
Of love that made the camera shutter click.




Geoffrey Lehman is currently completing a 1,100 page anthology for the University of New South Wales Press (‘Australian Poetry since 1788’) but when he’s finished that he’s going to look for the slides that inspired the poem. And if he finds them, he’s promised to send me digitised versions of them. I’ll let you know ...







This week’s Tuesday Poem editor is Belinda Hollyer, a New Zealand writer and anthologist living in London. She doesn’t write poetry – she thinks it’s far too difficult – but details of her other publications can be found on her website and blog (where her Tuesday Poems reside.)




For more Tuesday Poems from the rest of the Tuesday Poem community browse our live blog roll in the sidebar – if the header says ‘Tuesday poem’ you know there’s a poem in there somewhere!

6 comments:

Helen Lowe said...

Belinda, thank you for posting this. I love both the "emotional heart" of the poem and the story that goes along with it--by which I mean, both the story of the evolution of the poem's form and the family story which gives the work its mauri, or vital essence.

lillyanne said...

Thanks for that, Helen. I love the poem's eternal connections, & I particularly like the 'moans and crackles of the distant stars'.

Harvey Molloy said...

A moving poem. I like the way you've captured light in the poem and I do think that the second version is an improvement on the already accomplished first. Thanks.

AJ Ponder said...

Thanks, I especially loved the work in progress aspect of the post. Thought it was very appropriate. All good things take time :)

lillyanne said...

Thanks for your input, Harvey and AJ. I've learned a lot from my encounter with a poem that's a work in progress, and I'm very grateful to Geoffrey Lehmann for his generosity in sharing it all.

Belinda

Ian said...

excellent