Good Reading : July 2004
18 goodreading author profile lips’); wry humour (‘There were times she said, / “We must go shopping,” and I thought it was / magic I heard’); and moments of exquisite simplicity: ‘There are older agonies than churches’. Running with Light won the 2000 Judith Wright Calanthe Poetry Prize. Luke’s new book, Totem, incorporates Christian, Greek and Hindu mythology. Images from Ancient Greek myths and the Bible – the foundations of the European poetic tradi- tion – have always appeared in Luke’s work (and he went to a Catholic school and was once an altar boy, so Catholicism flows in his blood). His attraction to Hinduism is more recent. ‘It’s a completely foreign imagery field for exploration,’ he explains. ‘And from the point of view of poetry, it’s far more vivid and visceral than Christianity’. He is also drawn to the Hindu world view, for its ‘perspec - tive on the transience and smallness and utter insignificance of our existence’ because, he explains, this ‘is exactly the point at which our existence becomes large, meaningful and infinite. It’s here, at the point of greatest meaninglessness, that meaning is found.’ He laughs. ‘But I think it’s very healthy to be very sceptical of all belief systems.’ Reading and writing poetry are the closest Luke comes to a belief system: for him poetry is ‘the best way to live life’. The poets he reads often are Wallace Stevens (his abiding favour- ite), WH Auden,TS Eliot and Richard Hugo. His favourite Australian poet is David Campbell. Lately he’s been discover - ing the joys of the American poet John Berryman, whom he finds difficult, but ‘the rewards are intense’. His favourite prose writers tend to be ‘American and male’, and include Richard Ford (his short stories), Cor mac McCarthy, William Faulkner and Raymond Carver. Beyond America, Luke considers The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa one of the great - est books ever written, along with The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford. He also loves non-fiction, particularly the writ- ing of Barry Lopez – Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape – and Roberto Calasso – The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, a retelling of the Greek myths, and Ka, on Indian mythology. When I ask Luke why he tur ned from writing poetry to prose, he says he didn’t tur n – he’s never differentiated between writing prose and writing poetry. ‘The poetry obses - sion was greater, but novels were like oxygen,’ he explains. ‘I was a very undisciplined prose writer and I think it just lagged behind poetry.’ The success of his first novel allowed Luke to leave his job as a high school English teacher to write full- time. In the process of writing his third novel, The Book of Howard H (to be published in 2005), Luke realised that if he left home each mor ning to write in his local library he could be much more productive. So novel writing has become his ‘9-to-5 job’ – it gives structure to his day and is, as he says, a ‘beautiful kind of non-compromised’ way of making a living from writing. Luke’s two published novels are currently being adapted for the big screen. Margaret Fink is producing a film ver - sion of Candy (to be directed by Neil Ar mfield, starring Heath Ledger) and actor Toni Colette is producing Isabelle the Navigator. Luke wrote the screenplay of Candy (with Ar mfield), and this experience led him into the lucrative arena of film-script writing. Having begun the process of develop- ing two original screenplays with a production company, Luke recently decided to leave film temporarily behind – or, as he puts it, decided ‘to turn my back on that kind of Faustian bar - gain with the Hollywood film devil’. Perhaps, he says, this was because he knew he was about to undergo Interferon treatment and felt he was ‘drifting from my centre’ writing for film. ‘I knew that with a bad time looming on the horizon it could be important to have my soul in balance, and that would mean retur ning to what was really important.’ Which is poetry. Like the English Metaphysical poets, especially John Donne, Luke sees science as an apt subject for poetry. His metaphors play with the language and counter-intuitive concepts thrown up by the revolutionary discoveries of 20th-century science, such as quantum physics and Einstein’s theory of relativity. Luke explains his continued fascination with science as partly due to the fact that it intimidates him. But he also believes it’s our duty to be interested in the fundamental questions science attempts to answer, such as how the universe and life came into being. ‘I like to treat science as a normal part of everyday life. I like to make other people think that this stuff is normal.’ And like the Metaphysical poets, Luke often uses scientific metaphors when writing about love. For Luke, poetry is not only the best literary form for exploring love, it is ‘the best way to express the feelings that make life worth living’. As might For Luke, poetry is not only the best literary form for exploring love, it is ‘the best way to express the feelings that make life worth living’.