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Lisa Gorton's launch speech for Change Machine
Posted 25.08.2020

Lisa Gorton's launch speech for Change Machine

It has been to me a privilege to spend a lot of time with this book.

Each time I read it, this book brings new things to light. It surprises me again. That kind of book is only made, I think, when the writer has—through the writing of it, in the writing of it—worked out some distinctive vision, some particular relationship between language and experience. That is, when the writer has had something at stake.

Jaya spent ten years on this book. He asked a lot of it: for it to force together, without amalgamating, childhood and adulthood, here and there, different sides of the world. He has realised this with an admirably stubborn insistence on its all being true in the same kind of way at the same time. Grey skies and stonewash jeans, voices and sausages, stars and a soda pour, sporks.

Some poets have written about poetry as binary code, as language switching on and off: self-generating; self-replacing. Jaya’s book, on the other hand, gives me the sense of some complicated piece of machinery made of hooks and interlocking wheels, of many parts working against and with each other ingeniously. It is everywhere intricate and involving and in motion.

It doesn’t want one thing to replace another; it doesn’t want differences reconciled. It wants to test how far its machine can hold different and sometimes contradictory truths and registers together at the same time: childhood, adulthood, here, there, different sides of the same world.

Wallace Stevens once said that the aim in form ‘is to be free in whatever form is used’. In these poems Jaya invents formal constraints: he makes the poem itself into a change machine. What Jaya’s forms generate, out of such constraint, is a wild, veering, imaginative freedom.

Change Machine has this defiant sprezzatura. It’s findable everywhere. One example is Jaya’s use of anagram rhymes. In the end-word or phrase of each line he doesn’t ring the same sound. Instead, he makes a new word or phrase out of its same letters. Credo, Décor, Coder. Here’s the mind asking its language – or, language asking its mind – to make itself into a machine of invention.

I think of Change Machine as a kind of pressure-test of the language machine. In it, Jaya’s forcing years and modes and places and poetic registers together. He’s asking that poetry work, not as an art of consolation, but as a means of taking hold of multitudinous contradictory things at the same time, in the same terms: not décor, but credo.