The Poetics of Uncertainty
by Hazel Smith

Hello. My name is Hazel Smith. I am not a talk-show host, poetry’s answer to Oprah Winfrey. I don’t like public speaking and I can’t crack jokes. I am probably not even your idea of a poet, since I can’t hang onto metaphors or hold a monolithic voice.

I was born in Britain but I am not quite British, I have sojourned in Australia but I am not quite Australian. My grandparents left Lithuania in a hurry and I am often in a rush, but that doesn’t make me Lithuanian. I am not a violinist though my violin sleeps in a cupboard, I am not an academic though I have a PhD, and I am not a poet though I am often held to ransom by the metonymic. But there have to be some putative commitments, some concessions to containment, some gatecrashing of normality. And so it seems I am Hazel Smith, British-Australian, a search term on the internet, a candidate for lunacy, no more, no less.

My grandfather was one of the first Zionists, which probably makes me a Palestinian.

Those who have served their time sometimes have their biographies managed for them. Their address books rubbed out, their photo albums morphed. Your memories turned to manure, imagine that! And there you are, a prisoner of alien fantasies, a swerve on the ice-rink of identities, a winter born on someone else’s summery breath.

The Brits usually send their reinvented killers to Australia because they think Australia is a convict colony. So much for the British grasp on history.

Hello, hello

I forgot to add a few more notes to my list of not ams. I’m not David Antin though I might like to be, nor Spalding Gray who tragically but understandably suicided.

This is my elegy.

Sometimes when I’m buying a washing machine, or booking a hotel I’m known fleetingly as Hazel Dean. I’m not ashamed of it either. It takes more than marriage to wash away a face

I think

therefore I am

Hazel Smith. I was born somewhere in the middle of the last century, and ever since I have been bobbing and berating at the interfaces of massacre, violence and exclusion. You can smell me in the smoke at Auschwitz, hear me in the voices of the Taliban, find me amongst stolen Aboriginal children. But I am as much predator as prey. Everywhere I see fires I have carelessly lighted, evictions I have callously condoned. In these contexts I would rather not be than be, but I am terrified of dying and would like to postpone it for as long as possible, so mostly I would rather be than not.

If I could be a witness without eyes, a listener without ears. If I could be, as I have said before, a poet without language.

To continue — My name is Hazel Smith and I have written a script that I can speak from. And as you can see I am reading from it, which you are not supposed to do if you want to be successful in the theatre. So I am already a poet who has lost her way, a performer without a stage, a has-been that never could act.

In fact it is impossible to keep to what is written on my piece of paper. The more I still the words the more they relocate.

You see there are two types of improvisation pure and applied, and there are two types of talk primary and secondary, and any poem worth talking about has multiple addressers and addressees

which reminds me: I’m Hazel Smith. I am your lecturer for today. I am from the School of Creative Communication and my topic is the erotics of the inexact. It is hoped that you will learn something however intangible, however crass, however profane, however illegal. You will learn but by the most round about of routes, I will hang myself with academic ropes, and we will talk and laugh and shout and shit until at last we swoop on the ultimate and life-defying question

you know the one: whether or not I am what I pretend to be or whether I am simply a landfill of fallen states, the bone of irrelevant contentions. Despite my initials, my hold on history has slipped. I do not know why I am speaking to you, and it seems like a senseless exercise in performative execution.

At such moments I am unlikely to be myself, which in these days of audience participation and writerly intent begs another salient question:

if I am not, who is Hazel Smith, since she is definitely down to speak on this occasion. Are you Hazel? Or you? Or you? Or you? Come on my dear audience, own up. Despite all our claims neither of us is what we deny or seem. No, I am not Hazel Smith, I am not Hazel Smith,

but I can spot all the Hazel Smiths amongst you.


Hazel Smith, who lived in England until she moved to Australia at the end of 1988, works in the areas of poetry, experimental writing, performance and multi-media. She is a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Creative Communication at the University of Canberra and Deputy Director of the University of Canberra Centre for Writing.

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