Just so that Robert Gray is here in the room with us, then, from the start; just so you hear his voice; just so that his pastures, creeks and estuaries join us at the confluence of the McKenzie and the Willamette, let me read you some of my favourite lines from his poetry. They open his poem “A Day at Bellingen,” a work from the very centre of his oeuvre, from the heart of his third (of seven) volumes, Skylight (1983).
A Day at Bellingen
I come rowing back on the mauve creek, and there’s a
among the shabby trees,
above the scratchy swamp oaks
and through the wrecked houses of the paperbarks;
a half moon
drifting up beside me like a jelly fish.
Now the reflected water becomes, momentarily, white—
have paused, held in their hailing
and the long water is a dove-grey rippled sand.
A dark bird hurries
low in a straight line silently overhead.
The navy-blue air, with faint underlighting;
Has gauze veil hung up within it, or a moist fresh
I land in the bottom of an empty paddock,
at a dark palisade
(Gray 1998, 126)
There’s Robert Gray: doing what he does like no one else, this coastal pastoral, with its echoes of Gerard Manley Hopkins and the Zen masters; there he goes, stilling time, slowing it, at least, to the pace of a dinghy on dark water at dusk. There is his palette: dove-grey, mauve, magnesium white, navy blue. There are some of his motifs: the daylight moon, the saplings, the dark bird in flight, the rowboat, the hanging smoke. There is nature’s “wrecked house.” And there on the shore are the empty paddocks his voice grew up in.