Before П. O. went off the deep end and lost much of his audience (or at least me) with his number poems (strange concrete poems with mathematical in-jokes), П. O. was best known for, I suppose, mastering two things - the world of the inner city migrant, and the language and especially the sounds of the street and of those ethnic communities.
П. O.'s exploration of sound (as well as the attendant narrative imagery) is not however there to act as simplistic mimicry - it is also not about accents or parody - it is about the mangling and re-imagining, or the 're-hearing', of Australian English grammar as it appears in the real world. Before sociologists and linguists got all on board the 'Globish' bandwagon, a writer like П. O. was essentially years ahead of the curve in his portrayal and analysis of the way migrant Australians used English to communicate with each other, and even set cultural-linguistic barriers of their own preventing others from understanding them.
П. O. does this by playing with grammar and phonetics, in his own way undertaking the guise of an ethnic and working class Dr. Samuel Johnson, collecting and recording the linguistic world of the migrant and the streets of Fitzroy. Of course, this in itself creates a limited sphere of 'research', because that period when the Southern European migrant was king of the inner city is rapidly diminishing (something addressed in his more recent work); neither does Fitzroy equal Footscray or Sunshine or Brunswick, where different migrant groups make different sounds.
Anyway, apart from the journals he has contributed to and the poetry books he has published, his main achievements are probably as follows: the mammoth 24 Hours, 700 pages on one day in the life of the English language (it's subtitled 'the day the language stood still'); and more recently, the publication of Fitzroy: The Biography. But back to the poem at hand. 'Soccor' is an atypical poem for П. O. on several levels. First, even a cursory glance at his oeuvre reveals that П. O. has a blindspot when it comes to sport, especially the migrants' game of soccer. Secondly, this poem is not littered with too much of П. O's experimenting with punctuation, phonetics, phonemes and what might be termed 'Greeklish'.
Indeed, in many ways this poem is prototypical, almost primeval in nature when it comes to much of П. O.'s work. It is not about listening or hearing, but about learning to do those things and not even that, because most of the poem is about what the narrator sees. The departure of the Hellas fans for the 'soccor' game creates an aural vacuum of sorts; it is only upon their noisy return that things seem to get back to a sense of normality. The poem then, in its recording of the few passersby during the shop's quiet time, is in this way antithetical to П. O.'s obsession with sound - the poem is private, introverted, quiet - it is about the lack of noise. The poem is also indirectly about the outsider-ness of being literary and thoughtful in the boisterous migrant culture of the time (and one would argue even the one that attempts to mimic that sort of environment in habitats like Oakleigh's Eaton Mall). In its autobiographical Promethean moment, it shows П. O., or a writer like П. O., about to start the journey into the literary.
|'Soccor' from Pi O's Fitzroy Poems collection published in 1989. Click the image to enlarge.|