Brave man, Manfred Jurgensen. First, he's game to publish a book of poems in a day and age when such a venture marks you out as foolhardy or just very hardy. Second, he tries to find the words to describe sexual love equally foolhardy, you'd have to say, given the amount of bad stuff around on just that topic. carnal knowledge, published by the ever-enterprising Brisbane publisher, Interactive Press, is carnal indeed, and it rhymes.
Jurgensen takes us on a dizzying journey around the contours of desire in its many colours and phasesas lust and love, as fever and fantasy, as the cravings of the body and the longings of the soul. In poems that are poised and lucid, rich in thought and vivid in imagery, he grapples with the meanings of that ineffable, ever-elusive moment when it seems possible to glimpse a knowledge otherwise forbidden us, where bodies are the signs of the imagined and the real. These are poems that engage the senses, challenge the intellect and fire the imagination. They explore the mystery of what we are and our perpetual quest for communion for in the end, who am i if not you?
In his foreword, Manfred
Jurgensen states the theme of this collection to be 'motives, thoughts and
ideas' - a very broad conceptual theme, even without variations (as referred
to in the sub-title). The title itself suggests that these motives, thoughts
and ideas will centre on love. The first poem, 'dedication', singles out
a spiritual definition of love in relation to the human being, while the
third, 'rsvp', reconciles the chemistry of the body to the cognitive forces
The first section concentrates on the more accepted
form of love - one to one relationships. The other sections branch out to
explore other facets of the concept as they exist in our society. There
is a great deal of philosophy on the subject of love in its many forms and
mutations. If some of the poems lose a little through generalisation, others,
such as 'lament for athletes', hone in on a the nucleus within the broad
stretch of the theme. Jurgensen is good at maintaining a chosen metaphor
over a whole poem, as he does, for example, in 'circus' and 'the body'.
Three others, 'to a his aborted child', 'fishwives and whores' and 'the
most beautiful woman in the world' stand out because of their immediacy.
Most of the poems are cast in a rhymed pattern that
is unobtrusive and effective. In others a recurrent, though }t
occasional, rhyme enhances the feeling of poetry in the lines and poems where it occurs. To maintain such a high level of form over ninety-one pages is a fine achievement.
Manfred Jurgensen's volume of poems dealing with that subject matter (in its various guises and disguises) is proof that, for the most part, the subject matter should be left to poets. Because down through the ages, it's the poets who have best explored matters of love, sexuality and desire. The Bard himself is a good example.
In this, the Brisbane-based writer's 12th volume of poetry, Jurgensen celebrates "the carnal genesis that never ends." He has delved into the relations between desire and consciousness with fascinating, sometimes amusing, results. In the poem "The Most Beautiful Woman in the World" adolescent longing is explored: "Moved in when I was twelve./ She had lived upstairs,/ her name was Monica, which I thought then ,meant/ she could play my favourite instrument."
In other poems, the explores everything from the tawdry to the more metaphysical aspects of his subject matter, observing along the way the many contradictions between passion and reason. He also explores the spirituality of intimacy in a book that Calvinists will almost certainly shun.
Phil Brown, Brisbane News
Manfred Jurgensens carnal knowledge sets out to explore the many shades of human carnality, from Platonic love to raw sexual lust, from the self-implosion and luminous infinite trace of orgasm to the tentative intimacy of a lovers first touch. That touch is nicely compared to a form of silent speech in "Translation": as bodies meet they claim/their speech equivalent/with every touch they name/themselves to gain consent.
Aspiring to a musical form, Jurgensen's
book is subtitled 'theme and variations'. Elaborating a fleshly fugue, it
celebrates how desire can at one minute thrill, and the next minute hurt
but always remain central to any honest understanding of what it
means to be human. Repeated subjects and motifs cling, sunder and re-entwine
throughout seventy-one separate poems. But after reading them, I must admit
to a lingering serve of post coitum omne animal triste est. The poet has
striven for variety of tone and voice, but the weakest poems are uniformly
conventional, many in the 'light verse' category and some just wryly amusing
doggerel. The four-line rhyming scheme seems predictable, with poems rolling
onto the page as if from a production line.
Still, there are many things to like
here. The cooling post-coital fires and shrinking surrender of flesh are
well captured in "Afterwards": his manhood beats/the fluid
snail returns to drown/in safety of the softened shell. There are
welcome, sharp and satirical twists; witty poems such as "And Have
It" and "Haute Couture"; while social conscience carries
the day in "Arusha, Mon Amour".
Finally, the intensely sensual poem,
"Watering Plants", is rooted in a hotbed of repeated arousal:
and still the stems incessant thirst/craves fluid. seeds are
flooding roots/the garden is alive with shoots/of a delicate persuasion.
Until we collapse into the final couplet: your skin on mine, we drink
and drown/in petal, blossom, thorn and crown.
John Jenkins, Australian Book Review
Manfred Jurgensen was born in 1940 in Flensburg, a town on the border of Germany and Denmark. Educated in Germany, the United States and Australia, he came here on his own at age 20. Until 1999, he held a Personal Chair at the University of Queensland, lecturing in literary aesthetics, and comparative and German literature.
A poet and novelist, he edited Outrider, a journal of multicultual literature, from 1984 to 1996, as well as various other literary anothologies and publications. In 1997 he was awarded the Order of Australia for his contribution to Australian literature. He also holds the Officers Cross of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Manfreds great passion outside literature is classical music. He is also a long-standing member of the Carlton Australian Rules Football Club as well as a keen follower of cricket. A resident of Brisbane, he spends much of his time in the Uniited States and Europe on visiting professorships and writers residencies.
In its focus on sexual love in its many forms, carnal knowledge celebrates the spirituality of life and the physicality of afterlife. Our urge for intimacy transcends the boundary between what we know and what we imagine.
We are our meanings metaphor, Manfred Jurgensen says. His twelfth poetry collection takes us beyond protocol to the headwaters of desire. It uses rich language to penetrate and ironically observe the seemingly irresolvable contradictions between passion and reason, self and other.
Aside from promise of the provocative title, lovers of classical poetry will find much to enjoy in the delicious word play here, as well as the painstaking attention to technique and craft by an accomplished stylist.
Launched in Brisbane on 10 September 2000, carnal knowledge features sensuous drawings by German artist Gisela Zimmermann-Thiel and coverart by Brisbane digital artist Paul Raeburn.