Book Reviews


FRESH

Brigid Magner Reviews Michele Leggott’s Vanishing Points and Elizabeth Smither’s Night Horse

Wednesday, May 15th, 2019

Michelle Leggott and Elizabeth Smither are both former Poet Laureates, with distinguished careers behind them. Night Horse won the poetry category of the 50th Ockham New Zealand Book Awards and Vanishing Points has already been received to great acclaim. Even though there are some major stylistic differences between these two books, there are many surprising coincidences.

Continue reading


Jack Kelly Reviews Liam Ferney’s Hot Take

Wednesday, May 15th, 2019

Hot Take by Liam Ferney
Hunter Publishers, 2018

In a review for Cordite, Stu Hatton commented that the reader will need to google the obscure references in Liam Ferney’s poetry in order to keep up. The epigraph of the poet’s fourth collection reminds us of this:

‘The purpose of this book is to convince you
 (the reader) that something is terribly wrong’

This quote is lifted from Milton William Cooper’s book, Behold a Pale Horse. A quick google-search and Wiki-read revealed that Cooper was an American conspiracy theorist whose book ‘unfolds the truth about the assassination of John F Kennedy, the war on drugs, the Secret Government, and UFOs.’ Like a conspiracy theory, Hot Take attempts to expose the world’s hidden logic in all of its confronting glory.

Ferney’s second collection, Boom (Grand Parade Poets, 2013) was an explosion of language and imagery. In Boom, Ferney’s typically diffused subject matter often spilt over multiple pages, creating poems that are equally fantastic and exhausting to read. Ferney’s third collection, Content (Hunter Publishers, 2016) saw a refinement of this expansive style into a more self-assured and recognisable aesthetic. Ferney continues this trend in Hot Take, which offers a significant range of masterfully controlled poetic techniques.

In particular, Ferney dutifully exemplifies theories and practices developed by the New York School, then refined by their antipodean counterparts. He pays homage to O’Hara in the poem ‘Sardines’ by going on his nerve to produce a Ken Bolton-esque poem-in-progress that revels in its almost flippant existence: ‘this is a poem because it has words in it.’ Gig Ryan’s sardonic tone pervades the collection like ‘cigarette smoke and a hangover’s regrets’ (‘After the Rain’). The poem ‘Modern Love’ does more than use Forbes’ classic ‘Speed, a pastoral’ as a scaffold: it brings the Forbesian sense of devotion and craft into the Snapchat age: ‘It’s weeks since you’ve slept / & it’s not fun to stay up all night / tapping these iNotes of poetry / just thinking about is bad for you—’. ‘On the occasion of Buzz Aldrin shooting down a conspiracy theorist on Twitter’ is reminiscent of Benjamin Frater at his most absurd and dynamic. The ease with which Ferney uses sporting metaphors reminds me of Peter Rose’s prowess using cricket and footy imagery. This potentially reductive list of influences shows Ferney to be far more than an imaginative hack: his confidence in using an array of techniques confirms the poet as a diligent and devoted student of OzPo and its traditions.

A distinctive wit characterises each poem in Hot Take as irony dominates this collection. Only Ferney could write ‘[b]y the time you stop paying your HECS debt / you’ll understand no one cares about what you have to say’ or ‘PTSD was straightforward / when you could just belt your wife’ without it seeming crass. If you think Ferney is being genuine, then the joke’s on you: ‘Of course I’m obtuse. / Civilisation is all about / me not telling you what I really think.’ This humour, deftly laced with cynicism and mordancy, attacks our sensibilities ‘like a jihadi’s dull blade through / an aid worker’s pale neck’. This is seemingly the purpose of the collection: to zap the reader out of any complacency toward the world and its realities. Above all though, Hot Take is funny. Lines such as ‘PWN the n00b descending the staircase, / these Chads will know the beta’s far cry’ transcend literary theory and are simply hilarious.

Despite its range of techniques, Hot Take still maintains a unifying aesthetic. Politics, economics, sport, Brisbane, twitter, drugs, millennial slang and naff Australiana are all poured into these formal vessels to produce a distinctly Fernian effect. As a fellow sports-nut, I always enjoy it when Ferney uses sporting imagery to personify abstract ideas. Indeed, sport’s woefully ignorant attempt at being apolitical is exactly the type of flawed logic that Ferney’s poems target. Mixing sport and politics creates confronting and farcical lines like ‘graham richardson in dick togs / staggering through the last k of the city 2 surf’. Ferney’s poems themselves are like modern athletes: juiced-up and muscular.

Ferney’s editorial for Rabbit’s SPORT issue (2018) explores the relationship between sport, poetry, politics, and economics: ‘The jubilation, the actual physical sensation of snatching victory out of the jaws of defeat refuses commodification in the same way that a work of art can be bought or sold, but the way it moves you can’t.’ The deftness of the poem ‘63 no’ which deals with Phillip Hughes’ tragic death embodies this: ‘we struggle / with the ramifications / of a hook shot’. With Ferney, poetry, sport, economics, and politics are so tightly intertwined it’s impossible to separate them. This is typical of Ferney, always hyper-aware of the world’s logic and its structural interconnectedness.

Pages: 1 2

Review Short: Iris Fan Xing’s South of Words

Friday, April 26th, 2019

South of Words by Iris Fan Xing
Flying Island Books, 2018

Christopher (Kit) Kelen has described Iris Fan Xing’s South of Words as ‘not translation’. The intersection between English and Chinese Mandarin lies at its heart, reflecting Fan’s converging identities across settings and cultures. Her publisher, Kelen identifies that readers’ engagement with bilingual poetry can be limited by our evaluation of translated works predominantly by their faithfulness to the assumed ‘original’ product, often regarding translation itself as necessarily an act of ‘watering down’. Fan has previously subverted this notion in her debut collection, Lost in the Afternoon (2009), which was intended instead as a conversation between parallel texts, capable of greater richness and imaginative value in tandem than as a standalone works.

South of Words operates in a similar manner; as a non-Chinese speaker, I am acutely aware that my reading of the collection is incomplete. Nonetheless, it is this prospect of her multilingual poetry that allows Fan to represent cross-cultural identity on its own, authentic terms, while offering a uniquely nuanced experience to readers, particularly those belonging to the author’s diasporic communities. In the same way, South of Words does not convey Fan’s relationship to Australian and Chinese cultures as discrete influences, but rather in their cultural synthesis.

The most overt representation of this occurs in the titular poem, which lies at the centre of the collection as a division between the English and Chinese sections. In ‘south of words’, the languages weave in and out, with English words in black text and Mandarin in white, together on a hazy, grayscale photograph. As the poem progresses, its background fades closer to black until the English words are almost fully obscured and the Chinese characters are starkly clear. This transitive quality serves to exemplify the collection’s emphasis on journeys, tenuously mapped out with direct and indirect references alike:

the music will never be lost 又比如在黃昏的鄉間路上
透過飛馳的車窗 if you know how to listen
sit under a jacaranda 瞥見一匹桉樹下的馬
豐滿垂墜的腹部 when it’s blooming
let it play out loud 懷著一輪橘紅的太陽

The dialogic relationship between English and Mandarin is echoed with Fan’s thoughtful paralleling of physical locations – not by means of seamless, perfect comparisons, but through the sincerity and occasional disjointedness of personal perspective. This can be seen in ‘smog’, where Perth and Macao share common ground within their respective opposites:

don’t know why but parting
always reminds me of drifting clouds
maybe because I know that Xü Zhimo poem
embarrassingly well and you’ll agree with me
a seaside town like Macao presents
the best kind of summer cloud
generous in volume and almost tangible
the same kind in Perth in winter

Similarly, ‘after Hayashi Fumiko’ elicits an unsettled emotive response by drawing connections through—and in spite of—elements of disconnect:

living in a country
on the condition of a visa
is a visa is a visa

[…]

and our cat
lost one of her nine lives
to a passing car
but we know in Chinese
eight is the lucky number

In this sense, the bleeding of cultures into one other allows Fan to subvert the notion of a perfect metaphor in favour of a perfectly subjective metaphor. Memories are conveyed in their esoteric honesty – closer to the odd, internal logic of a child trying to rationalise the world, than the platitudes of an adult attempting to neaten it. Fan’s metaphors feel uniquely authentic in their refusal to be overwrought—or sanitised in a social vacuum—for the sake of universal relatability. The result, however, is relatable in its affective significance as a reader. Speaking a truth that is equally personalised by direct confession and subtle contextualisation of Eastern and Western influences, contemporary and mythological figures, and multilingualism, Fan produces work that is layered with interpretative nuances, but can still be appreciated at different levels of depth. This allows for a diversity in readership of Chinese and non-Chinese speakers alike, and both casual and academic readers of poetry, without alienating those who lack specific contextual knowledge and may simply enjoy the thoughtful intrigue of Fan’s language choices.

South of Words demonstrates the subjective merit of its intertexts in their capacity to enrich traditional modes of evocation. The relationship between experiential and referential elements allows for an undiluted representation of the self that is not confined to the East or West either in physical location, nor language, nor self-identity. This is also depicted frankly in ‘love it or…’:

love it or write it in your language
ignore grammar – tense and gendered nouns
mine for the sound of storm in clouds
for the image of a peninsula and its reflection
on the sea where evening tides
race like ten million octopuses

love it or reverse the mirror
a waratah is still a waratah
a frangipani a frangipani
but a word is not the same word
love it or live it

Not only does this poem portray an uninhibited self, but it intertwines the entities of place and person. ‘love it or…’ also emphasises the metapoetic urge to create one’s own rules and write in a manner of authenticity that is self-defined in expression. In ‘Canton holiday’, the wider implications of valuing subjectivity are also conveyed as a protest against detached, officialised views of history:

she said
when representing history
you need to defamiliarise

does she mean we should see
through the eyes of that stray cat?

The poignant simplicity of these words is undercut by the power of their suggestion, simultaneous calling on the reader’s internal and societal awareness. South of Words ultimately feels like an exploratory journey of re-familiarising, where the self is as elusive and evolving as its physical settings, and histories are personalised within experience itself. In Fan’s poetics, while nothing is immune to change, nothing is quite devoid of familiarity either.

Aidan Coleman Reviews New and Selected Poems of Anna Wickham

Monday, April 8th, 2019

New and Selected Poems of Anna Wickham edited by Nathanael O’Reilly
UWA Publishing, 2017

Devotees of Australian literature are unlikely to possess more than a half-dozen single volumes by poets born before Federation, and their reading of such poets is generally limited to anthologies. The problem, I’d suggest, is one of availability more than desire. University of Western Australia Publishing (UWAP) is one publisher looking to redress this through an intermittent series of titles, which include Lesbia Harford’s Collected Poems (2014) and the Collected Verse of John Shaw Neilson (2012), together with more recent classics, such as Francis Webb’s Collected Poems (2011) and the Selected Poems of Dorothy Hewitt (2010). UWAP’s latest volume is the elegantly produced New and Selected Poems of Anna Wickham, edited and introduced by Australian-born, poet-scholar Nathanael O’Reilly, which republishes 100 poems from Wickham’s five collections together with another 150 previously uncollected poems.

The book’s short introduction provides a brief outline of Wickham’s biography. She was born Edith Alice Mary Harper in London in 1883, but lived in Australia for most of her childhood in Maryborough (Queensland), Brisbane and Sydney – taking her pseudonym from a Brisbane street. Wickham returned to London in 1904 to pursue a singing career and there she married a successful solicitor, Patrick Hepburn, who remained her husband for over 20 years. The marriage, which produced four sons, was unhappy, largely because Hepburn opposed Wickham’s artistic pursuits – in 1913 he had his wife institutionalised for three months. George Bernard Shaw, Dylan Thomas, Katherine Mansfield, Laurence Durrell and DH Lawrence were among her circle of friends. Having struggled with depression for most of adult life, Wickham suicided at the age of sixty-three, leaving over a thousand poems, most of which remain unpublished.

Among the work collected by O’Reilly are free verse and strict forms, monologues, sonnets and verse in ballad-metre, short chiselled lyrics of regular rhyme and metre, imaginative narratives and dramatic monologues, and some mixing of distinctly different forms. A reader is often struck by a deliberate asperity. Wickham asks in ‘The Egoist’:

Shall I write pretty poetry – 
Controlled by ordered sense in me – 
With an old choice of figure and of word, 
So call my soul a nesting bird? 

The answer is a resounding no. Living in the age of aeroplanes, she reasons – in the line that resolves the poem and stretches to a comic twenty-one syllables – that she will write her ‘rhythms free’. The homely Georgian imagery of the opening stanza is not entirely rejected but the work is generally more direct than that of most of Wickham’s contemporaries – ‘Paradox’, for example, opens with the phrase: ‘My brain burns with hate of you’ – but it can occasionally be esoteric and obscure. It is an erudite poetry in a literary sense, steeped in the classical tradition, in Shakespeare and the Romantics. The content is often more radical than the forms, as she explores and interrogates gender roles, marriage and motherhood. Perhaps most modern of all, she celebrates the therapeutic power of poetry.

The strength of Wickham’s personality, and the power of the work is manifest in ‘Mare Bred from Pegasus’:

For God’s sake, stand off from me: 
There’s a brood mare here going to kick like hell 
With a mad up-rising energy; 
And where the wreck will end who’ll tell? 
She’ll splinter the stable door and eat a groom. 
For God’s sake, give me room; 
Give my will room.

The poem’s force comes not only from the equine imagery that Wickham often returns to but from a diction that is both rhetorical and colloquial. It is a charged language of strong verbs, spiked consonants and quick vowel sounds. The compound-adjective, ‘up-rising’, is particularly powerful, while the eating of the stable boy, or figuratively the husband, manages both to menace and charm. The repeated plea for ‘room’ is central to another of the book’s strongest poems, ‘Divorce’:

A voice from the dark is calling me.
In the close house I nurse a fire.  
Out of the dark cold winds rush free
To the rock heights of my desire.
I smother in the house in the valley below,
Let me out to the night, let me go, let me go.

Night is presented here, and elsewhere, as synonymous with the feminine and the creative. While the concerns of this poem are personal the imagery is, characteristically, elemental. We see the subtleties that Wickham is capable of in the adjectives ‘close’ and ‘rock’ and the verb ‘nurse’, the interesting use that ‘smother’ is put to, and the beautifully measured refrain. In other poems, Wickham prefers the role of the passionate lover to the dutiful wife, as in the ambiguous three-line ‘Function’:

I do not grudge you to your wife:
but take a mistress
And I'll have her life.

While the poet-speaker is resigned to dissatisfaction with marriage and concedes acquiescence to be the easier path, she refuses to be silent. The shrew is a trope to which Wickham often returns and, as the poet delighted in flouting social conventions in her lifetime, so the poet-speaker embraces this role with gusto.
In the poem, ‘Meditation at Kew’, which may remind of Thomas More’s Utopia, Wickham reimagines marriage. Written in rhyming couplets but set out in quatrains, it begins:

Alas! for all the pretty women who marry dull men, 
Go into the suburbs and never come out again … 

Wickham goes on to lament the sufferings of such suburban women and, in contrast, presents a sort of Arcadia:

I would enclose a common in the sun,
And let the young wives out to laugh and run; 
I would steal their dull clothes and go away, 
And leave the pretty naked things to play. 

The dullness of the clothes the speaker steals picks up on the poem’s earlier uses of the word, which include the ‘old dull’ gentle classes, who ‘must breed true’. The sun contrasts the sterile drabness of the earlier imagery, as the looser spirit of play contrasts the passivity and stasis implied by the poem’s opening. In Wickham’s ideal the women are to see all the men of the world before they make their choice of partner, and the resolution that follows fuses Wickham’s critique of patriarchy and the class system:

From the gay unions of choice 
We’d have a race of splendid beauty and of thrilling voice. 
The world whips frank, gay love with rods, 
But frankly gaily shall we get the gods.

Though the wife-husband context suggests the primary meaning of ‘gay’ to be something like joyous or carefree, the term’s modern usage was becoming more common in Wickham’s lifetime, and this secondary meaning reinforces a subtext of lesbian desire.

Pages: 1 2

Ivy Ireland Reviews Ali Whitelock’s and my heart crumples like a coke can

Monday, April 8th, 2019

and my heart crumples like a coke can by Ali Whitelock
Wakefield Press, 2018

Despite the sorrow of its title, and my heart crumples like a coke can will have an utterly expansive effect on the reader’s beat-box. My little heart almost burst as I read through this collection for the first time. And then the second. Like some classic 90s rom-com – or was it drama? – that you watched and then re-watched every weekend on VCR as a teen, Ali Whitelock’s book seems to encourage a closeness, invites the reader to experience a genuine connection with the poet/protagonist and with their bevvy of sidekicks, both the heroes and the villains. I find myself genuinely touched by the liquid, visceral rawness, the careful simplicity and confessional glory of Whitelock’s poems.

Perhaps it has something to do with the seemingly breezy style; I picture Whitelock scribbling these poems in five minutes – maybe ten – on the underside of napkins in a crowded café somewhere on Glebe Point Road, the Bukowskian edginess of it all just floating off her fingers to bless everything it touches like butter grease. This, I thought as I read, is precisely the poetry I would like to write. This, I thought, is the poetry I should be writing. Why am I not writing this bloody poetry? I thought, these odes to the horrid heat and shopping centre scourge of of the suburbs, the aging body, vaginas, chicko rolls and the farts of the dying? I am awestruck when confronted with such passages as this one, from ‘what you must you do/ you must keep your mouth shut’:

if you want you can tape it shut
with the snoring tape – he keeps it on the side of his bed.
Sometimes
it rolls off onto the carpet
the cat hair sticks to it because
what you must understand
is how you feel is not how others
feel. The important
thing you must do is not say how you feel
if you say how you feel he will roll his eyes and sometimes
after the eye rolling
there will be a sigh and what that means is you must not say
that thing again. Eventually
you will get to know the things that make the eyes roll and
the chest sigh and you will stop saying
them. If you hold a hermit crab shell to your ear
you can hear a rushing
and this rushing is the sound
of everything and the sound of nothing

This excerpt – and I would have included the whole poem if there was room for it – reveals Whitelock’s singular flair. The emotive content is moving without falling into sentiment, the motif and metaphor clever without leaning towards the pretentious. Even the centred structure works to jolt the reader into the importance of the particulars. This familiarity – imperative yet as casual as a conversation with a bestie – is I believe, is the kind of tone we all aim for, while endlessly editing and re-editing that seemingly unavoidable bullshit out. Her no-holds-barred, uncensored honesty when it comes to the small things – snoring tape, choice of lipstick when you turn fifty, brand of cooking chocolate – and the terrifyingly large things – death, exile (both voluntary and forced), aging, the mid-life affair, the aftermath of the affair – is so powerful it is contagious. Here are a few lines from ‘your friend said it was a love poem’:

             the therapist had seen it all before – a thousand
times apparently – in women my age with no children
go on then rub it in at least i’d had the presence 
of mind to ask about diseases you said
you had none backed it up with a printout
of your latest blood results you kept in a folder
marked ‘bloods’ which I didn’t find strange.

This blunt conversational tone is echoed, with perhaps even more harrowing honesty, in this excerpt, from the stand-out poem, ‘water’s for fish’:

as cliché as it sounds i always
imagined i’d get the call in the middle
of the night the one that would announce
that you were dead or at the very least 
be dying i’d be bleary eyed would thank 
the caller and hang up grateful
that i am safe my seventeen thousand 
kilometres away and geographically exempt
from delivering your eulogy from shaking
hands with those i have no wish to shake
hands with

These excerpts also highlight the less cohesive aspects of the collection, which are the slightly discombobulating lineation choices, and collisions of atypical sentence structures. Quite often, the poems appear as performance texts adjusted for the page; sometimes fully punctuated and precise, and sometimes – part emphasis, part rebellion, I’d imagine – utterly not. While Whitelock’s lineation most often works to build emphasis, at other times it can start to feel a little heavy-handed, especially when the powerful and poignant word choice is more than capable of speaking for itself and perhaps needs no further emphasis. That said, anyone who has read the Beats, perhaps especially Bukowski (who is clearly, wonderfully, a strong influence on the collection), will have little or no problem navigating the momentary bumps caused by unpunctuated sentence collisions. Certainly, when listening to these poems read aloud (in a smoking hot Scottish accent; Whitelock is an impressive reader), any thought about formatting fades away.

Pages: 1 2

Raelee Lancaster Reviews Alison Whittaker’s Blakwork

Monday, March 25th, 2019

Blakwork by Alison Whittaker
Magabala Books, 2018

My sister and I devoured Blakwork. She’s nine and I’m not sure if she understood most of what Alison Whittaker talks about in this collection, but it resonated with her. With both of us. Whether that was our shared identity as women, as Aboriginal women, or something more, I’m not entirely sure. In Blakwork, Whittaker combines her career as a lawyer and her craft as a poet to peel back colonialism until it’s left exposed, raw, bleeding in the hands of the very people whom it has subjugated. She examines Indigenous work and labour, a physical theme manifested in a collection that embodies that exact physicality through form, structure, and rhythm. From her commentary on the subjugation of black bodies to the way the poems sit on the page, the reader is constantly thinking and moving with the collection.

Jumping from poetry to prose to memoir, Blakwork comes together, eagles out, then comes together again. It makes you turn your head and the book, it has you reciting lines aloud to feel the way they hang in your mouth. The reader is constantly working for the words on the page, so it’s difficult to get comfortable when reading this collection—but that’s the point. Too long has the comfort of a colonial readership within been valued within the Australian literary scene. Like that shadowy place in The Lion King, Blakwork situates the reader in a place of unrest – a place that has been pushed to the outskirts of history, shrouded in darkness. From the first, titular poem in the collection, Whittaker outlines her poetic thesis through commentary on the physical oppression and indentured work of Aboriginal people and the emotional work colonial Australia still expects us to do, including being tasked with the responsibility of reaching reconciliation and with being an emotional leaning post for people seeking to alleviate their white guilt.

The theme of indentured service is particularly significant in ‘many girls white linen’, which co-won the 2016 Judith Wright Poetry Prize. This poem discusses the physical labour of Aboriginal women by reimagining the missing girls from Joan Lindsay’s novel, Picnic at Hanging Rock. The reference to Australia’s literary past, however, is a throwaway, almost as if the scripts were flipped and, in this alternate history, it is the white women, rather than their black counterparts, who are not deemed significant enough to be mentioned. A more explicit reference to Australia’s colonial literary culture is the poem, ‘a love like Dorothea’s’. From the rhythm of each line to the fresh twist on Dorothea Mackellar’s famous phrases, this poem speaks back to Mackellar’s ‘My Country’. While Mackellar wrote ‘I love a sunburnt country’, Whittaker hits back with ‘I loved a sunburnt country’ (my emphasis). This subtle but powerful shift from present to past tense echoes the trauma the land now known as Australia has endured, the trauma the First Peoples of this land continue to endure, including the loss of land, culture and connection:

I loved a sunburnt country—won’t it 
please come back to me? Won’t it 
show me why my spirit wanders 
but is never free? 
I will soothe its burns with lotion, I will peel off its dead skin. 
If it can tell me
why I’m 
drifting 
ever further from my kin.

In both ‘many girls white linen’ and ‘a love like Dorothea’s’, Whittaker rewrites a colonial history all Australians have grown up with and offers a counterview of which most people are ignorant. This strategy is seen in a series of poems scattered throughout the collection, each one constructed using forty-nine most common three-word phrases of well-known court cases. A lawyer by training, Whittaker uses the law as well as acknowledging its misuse and colonial nature. A poem about the Mado decision, ‘the skeleton of the common law’, is full of phrases referencing colonial structures and names. In particular, references to ‘the Crown’ are in almost every stanza, lingering, giving the poem a heavy weight. Similarly, ‘exhibit tab’ looks at the death of Ms Dhu in a detached, clinical way. The removed ways these poems consider the displacement and death of Indigenous people only serves to highlight the rigid, colonial nature of the Australian legal system and the historical way leading figures in this country have and continue to talk about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people so that our voices are muffled or all-together obscured.

Pages: 1 2

Alex Creece Reviews Marion May Campbell’s third body

Tuesday, March 12th, 2019

third body by Marion May Campbell
Whitmore Press Poetry, 2018

Third body takes form on the cusp of metamorphoses between species, ecosystems, technologies, existential planes, and even between art and artist. ‘passing’, the title of its first section, becomes a motif of the entire collection – perhaps most significantly for its variety of meanings. Passing can indicate a liminal phase in journeys bound by space or time. Passing is a euphemism to tactfully describe the transition between life and death. Passing may also represent social transition, such as one’s perceived conformity—or lack thereof—to socially defined binaries like gender and sexuality.

I do not pass at all as
poet man or woman
but laugh
myself to bits
as I pass
into this last
paste-up (‘passing’)

As a scholar of French Literature and avant-garde practices, Marion May Campbell deftly weaves principles of European postmodernism and academic theory into her work to produce an incisive post-structural commentary. The sensibilities of l’ecriture feminine, à la Hélène Cixous, are evident in the inspiration that Campbell draws from female literary figures such as Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Plath and Anne Carson. These are uniquely synthesised with her own eco-poetics and perspectives of marginalisation and globalisation in current-day Australia. The beach serves as common backdrop to these considerations, as demonstrated in ‘semaphore’, where the paradox of human disconnect is conveyed through mismatched flag signals:

our prickliness our devastating need
to kill the other in each other
we resist yet long to merge
though this be murder of all desire
& know to trust these pulses
& yet are raw with the infinite unsaid

Le sujet en procès, the subject (or the self) in process, is also a key postmodern feature of third body, given its ironic self-awareness despite an inherent tenuity of ‘self’ as a concept. The collection presents a challenge for the reader to gain purchase on its subjects in a concrete sense. One moment, we are enveloped in the consciousness of a dog, and the next we may find ourselves as a cat, a painting, a map, or even amid a poem’s own inception on the page before us. This ephemerality, however, works to keep the reader keenly on their toes and open to endeavour of thought:

wounds & exalted jouissance
complex affirmation
what kind of history
& what kind of witness
is possible
when I never coincides with me? (‘passing’)

Mise en abyme, an image mirrored continuously within itself, is another technique that Campbell employs, particularly in the ‘incipient foredune’ section. Ecology is a strong focus here, where each poem represents a different layer of the coastal vista characterised by uncertain vicissitudes but unwavering resilience, as fragile yet unforgiving. For example, ‘in the slack’ allows us to experience the environment in a tactile manner:

through which in dune &
shifting dune we stage
sensation

for our ductile selves to meet
unspoken
beyond these skins

Alternatively, ‘progressive plants’ depicts a more narrative-focused view of the same landscape:

before the hoons
come with their pre-mixed cans
& campfire exploding bourbon bottles
we whisper our way forward
like what dune ecologists call
progressive plants

The final poem in this section, ‘U₂: romance of the sonic survey’, personifies both the setting and the poem itself to merge sensation and environmentalist commentary alike:

the poem shakes
the fault line runs
between us

third body breaks
in a million mercurial 
mutations

forget the lads
who toss a bourbon bottle
in the campfire

here come the real dune hoons
trailing their sonic sensors
through all the image-clusters
of our living

The impact of mise en abyme as a poetic function is something to the effect of a Matryoshka nesting doll brought to life, where each segment bears its own significance—its own story-within-a-story—to what lies at the eventual heart of a broader collective narrative. The ‘incipient foredune’ section also effectively highlights Campbell’s Rimbaudian influences, both in her symbolism and the synaesthesia of her language choices. The unpredictable sensory confusion of third body adds to the constant ‘shapeshifting’ nature of her subjects. Nothing in the collection is immune from sentience – that is, from becoming a third body. This idea is playfully demonstrated in the dreamlike dynamism of ‘if not in paint’, where subjects are not bound by the constraints of their original medium:

ashes in her voice
my mother speaks back
on the fourth page
from the long coast of illness
only alive
& red
in my dreams

[…]

she tugs to the fifth
page the sky’s
blue fire
willing the whole body
in like a calf at the teat

now she strokes
the keyboard of the palette
with a tenderness she can’t relay
if not in paint

Campbell’s use of colour keeps us suspended in the realm of visual art, only for this to be subverted at each turn with incongruous senses such as sound, movement, and texture. The sequential references to pages not only make the reader aware of themselves literally turning the pages of the poem, but also play into the notion of a self-aware subject progressively ‘painting’ their own narrative. Campbell’s ability to imbue fresh perspective and surrealist humour into once-static images is also evident in her ekphrastic piece, ‘Dorothea Tanning’s Guardian Angels’:

baroque & broken
fold on fold all
falls & shakes

struggling out from 
underpaint of palest gold
her angels shriek some sort of

apical metamorphic need
bearing in beak the remnants of
their own demise

As a highly intertextual collection, Campbell provides a unique intersection of creative and academic concepts. Her work is not only referential of other poets and artists, but also incorporates Freudian psychodynamic theory, philosophical principles in its self-aware ineffability, and knowledge of native flora and fauna as sourced from the Ngaruk Willum people of Port Phillip Bay. Campbell demonstrates the strength of intertextuality in producing a highly-informed collection of transgressive poetry. She holds a mirror to the concept of milieu, not simply as defined by social context, but in its literal translation – a middle point.

Pages: 1 2

Ivy Ireland Reviews Steve Armstrong

Tuesday, March 12th, 2019

Broken Ground by Steve Armstrong
UWAP, 2018


Steve Armstrong’s Broken Ground is an extended walking meditation cleverly disguised as a book of poetry. Inside this collection resides a determined drive towards immersion and a deliberate movement beyond text, into a numinous, continuous cadence: a secret rhythm of stride known only to those who would seek to map out earth and sky.

At times, in review, it feels like a Sisyphean task to gather together the fragmented rhythms, thick with the natural world, with love story and family history and, above all, reverberating with the connotations of contingency. My natural yearning is to let the work’s pulse nestle quietly down inside the mind. Or perhaps that pulse would find itself lodged in the gut, for Armstrong’s poems are so very embodied and at home in and of themselves; so self-aware that the already excavated ground seems to require no further diviner.

Broken Ground explores a very specific poetry of time and place. From the first poem, ‘Black and White,’ we receive glimpses of the bedrock that the subsequent poems will continue to excavate. Here, landscape takes on a more than general significance – specific places are invoked by naming, and the tenor is that of memoir, nostalgia and a belonging in time:

A photograph, a fading Kodak of a boy.
	On the back in my mother’s hand – 
Turramurra Bush, 1965

Themes of family, and of finding a significant place – perhaps home – in the greater Hawksbury are paramount here:

My substrate is rocks and trees,
and there’s a prehensile ache at the sight of a branch
that leans across a cerulean Sydney sky. Here is
the ground of a well-weighted line.

The key to Broken Ground is this transference of meaning, outwards from the landscape and into the body. Armstrong’s poems divine truth from the wandered -through world, as explored in ‘On the Delta’:

Later remember not this place, and
the way water mirrors trees and sky,
but what it is that you’ve found instead –
this solid thing that’s light within you – 

let it wing into the regions of wider
sight, and feel for the company of words.
Go on recalling the seamless flow over
mud if you must, then claim what’s yours.

However, this is not the collection’s ultimate tendency. Instead, Armstrong offers a boon in return for the composition of these poems. An interior geography of human connections and disconnections – from mother, father, lovers, children and elders – somehow seeps out from the poet to enter the exterior landscape. We see this collaboration in the collection’s titular and final poem, ‘Up and Down a Dry Lake,’ where country is seen to be:

too dry out here for tears at my coming 

up short, for the words that won’t land. A lake two-hundred
meters deep with silt. Long accumulation chokes in the throat

like grief, nonetheless a small figure standing in the middle
I’ll speak for what inheres, lay down on dried mud and tufted

grass; be baptised by dirt and re-membered by earth.

This exchange between landscape and the walking body-in-landscape is also explored in ‘Dreams and Imitations’:

          Your step is the step of a younger
you, or perhaps the ground presses back 

and offers to lighten your load a little. You
falter unused to such reception, and yet

the rhythm you settle on is both your whole 
being and your nothingness.

Broken Ground does not merely offer a poetry of nature-based lyric philosophy in the manner of a Lake Poet. As the collection progresses, Armstrong’s drive is to participate, to partake of what is offered. Ritual pervades the poems: longing is somehow danced out into the landscape.

Pages: 1 2

Magan Magan Reviews deciBels 3

Friday, February 22nd, 2019


deciBels 3 edited by Michelle Cahill and Dimitra Harvey
Vagabond Press, 2018

Poetry as a form permits one the ability to see, touch, bend and examine the human experiences that we may find elusive. All of a sudden, the glances from others we would have otherwise missed, start to make sense. Haunted words that follow us our entire life begin to destruct. And a voice that belongs leaps out of the page and into the world, leaving a roadmap to follow.

This process, a reader’s reckoning with her awakened self, may be colourblind. Poetry gives birth to intuitive knowledge, which is a powerful way to explore the subject of race. In her introductory note, series editor Michelle Cahill argues the importance of poetry that talks about race. She also highlights race as an entity moving within time and place, a function of what is real. Cahill concludes ‘that the value of a poet’s work is largely transacted by their identity, whether that is visible or whether it is concealed’. As such, her series celebrates ten exceptional poets whose poetic voices illustrate a redemptive focus away from the concerns of the dominant power. They invert that power through poetic disruptions, and not of race but also gender.

Cahill has collected poets whose cultures and languages trace to South Asia, the Philippines, Greece, to the Jewish, Chilean, and Taiwanese diasporas of the world. They have in common a tendency to choose realism, in which identity is expressed unapologetically and in conjunction with the universally charged experiences of life: loss, loneliness, mental health, sex, love and grace.

Jessie Tu’s collection You Should Have Told Me We Have Nothing Left is a visceral body of work that finds acceptance of the drama of life, which is filled with the voices of everyone else. Tu’s candour speaks to the way life forces us to sober up if we are to survive. In her poem ‘And It Is What It Is’, she illustrates the intersections between gendered conditioning and the universality of sexual desire:

Mother told me to slip through like a good girl
so I take buses around the city to find
the sunken bottom lip of your bitter tasting mouth

Tu seldom shies away from the empowering nature of sexuality, which is a level playing field on the page. This is further demonstrated through the poem ‘Almond Butter’ when the proclamation is made:

I am absolutely in favour of all kinds of sexual fetish,
fart, feet, rings,
clown.

All the while, Tu is exercising the complexity and mobility of what it means to be human:

I 
write because 
I am lonely 
for other lonely
people. Not only 
does 
my loneliness
rot but the 
fantasies I left 
during 
my life.

By comparison, the title of Sumudu Samarawickrama’s chapbook is demanding, almost daring the reader to Utter The Thing. The thing is what the reader must decipher, in plain sight on each page. Is Sumudu daring us to utter hate? Or is she directing us to find out how resistance can rummage through a burning building? ‘Foxes’ is a poem that feels like war and liberation simultaneously:

Give up on this supposed detachment
There was a battle fought.
Grasp the nettle leaves and the 
Chestnut husks.
They are only conquered by force.

And what is more powerful than a force filled with the wisdom that evil consumes all? Like the rest of this collection, ‘Foxes’ is such a vessel:

But I’ve given up that dishonest detachment.

Allow the fire.

Angela Serrano compliments the series with her collection Else But A Madness Most Discreet. It highlights the voices of grief, power, culture and destruction in stories from the fringe. In her poem ‘Sydney Road in 2011’ she articulates the darkness that lives around us, especially known to women:

Where catcalls of all sorts
punch the mid-evening air,
where contests of all sorts, 
between all sorts are
the topics of chatter between
slow sips of single origin coffee.
Pages: 1 2

Claire Albrecht Reviews Manisha Anjali’s Sugar Kane Woman

Friday, February 22nd, 2019

Sugar Kane Woman by Manisha Anjali
Witchcraft Press, 2017

Towards the end of the nineteenth century and after the turn of the twentieth, colonial British rule brought indentured Indian workers to the fertile shores of Fiji. The colonisers hoped to boost the local sugar cane industry without antagonising local Fijians, and so boats filled with indentured labourers from all over India were trafficked to the island for a life of servitude and abuse.

Such is the bleak background from which Manisha Anjali’s colourful debut, Sugar Kane Woman, published through Witchcraft Press, comes alive. Snakes, hibiscus and tobacco smoke twist up from the pages of this mid-length collection. We are drugged and danced through generations of Anjali’s women as they work to find their identity, the instinctive connections between each other, and the sand between their toes.

The poems begins with ‘all woman is a snake’, a poem that at first asks specific traits of woman (‘all woman who has brwn spot … all woman who has long black hair … all woman who has red dot on her skull’), then takes them away from her again, repeatedly shouting ‘ALL WOMAN IS A SNAKE’. This generalisation so early on might set the reader on edge, implying a certain set of requirements for woman-ness, the inescapability of the serpentine and its connotations of the untrustworthy, sly and slippery. Anjali follows this opening up, though, with a collection of poems discovering the unique in her women, avoiding a proscriptive consideration of gender.

She swings from the woman general to the woman specific with grace, narrativising the unique existence of the Fijian Indian woman in the whitewash of the global patriarchy, and imagining what it might be to break free:

how lovely it was when we burnt our saris
& swam naked with tiger sharks in the white cyclone
the garlic from beneath our fingernails mixxin’ with saltwater

i was no longer a wife but a fish 
swimming under the stars of mo(u)rning (‘3 wives’)

In ‘marriage advice from two kaiviti sisters in a nadi bakery’, the cultural and social politics between Kaiviti (indigenous Fijians) and Indian Fijians becomes apparent through dialogue. The implication is clear – a Kaiviti woman thinks that ‘you marry fijian ok. / fijian good. indian bad.’ Cultural assumptions and generalisations leak in on top of uninvited commentary on the right weight and shape for a woman to be when seeking a husband: ‘here you take two cream buns / you too skinny lewa / fijian dont like skinny’.

Anjali makes distinct choices to own the language in which she writes this collection. Non-English words are not italicised. Sugar cane becomes sugar kane (which might reference Marilyn Monroe, or Sonic Youth, the Velvet Underground; or it might reference none of these), brown is reclaimed as brwn—in the same way the spelling of blak in some Australian Indigenous writing takes back the positive power and ownership of the word—and your is always yr, which can be a divisive stylistic move in itself. This ownership, as well as the non-capitalisation and, I assume, intentionally inconsistent punctuation throughout, feels youthful despite its generational retrospectives and magic realist time-travel.

Indeed, it can be difficult to place the woman subject in Anjali’s timeline – whether the poem be from the perspective of the poet, a mother, a nani (grandmother), or otherwise. The collection might have benefitted from delineated sections, or chapters, to establish the generations in structural form – thus borrowing from Marquez not only the magic realism of the oppressed, but the generational storytelling elements of the master’s prose work. It may be, however, that this uncertainty is precisely what builds the sense of continuity, of a layering that cannot be unlayered. In any case, ‘my mother’s dreams are not my own / ’, insists the voice in ‘girl shaman’. So, ‘who is the owner of these little brown shoes?’

Poems like ‘3 bloods’ work to gather the generations for the reader and make the connections clear, and often painful:

mamma’s mamma
kicked my mama
dunked her head in 3 rivers
until the bloods came
because mamma’s papa
was a drunk & a cheat
so my mamma paid.

my mamma    beat       me        blind
broke my two cheeks  &
scratched my two eyes
until the bloods came
cos my papa is a drunk & a cheat
so I paid.

when I am a mamma 
and I have a daughter
and her papa is a drunk & a cheat
what will I do 
to make the bloods come?

‘The bloods’ are removed from the natural association of menstruation and pushed into a generational history of domestic abuse. As foils to love and warmth, violence and exploitation are constant, frequently masculine presences in Sugar Kane Woman, writing a reality that surfaces in the kava- and alcohol-driven furies of Anjali’s men:

he moon drunk.
he kava shine.
he smell like piss and smoke
my pots and pans he throw
broke on the floor
or our the window (‘moon drunk kava shine’)

when he is angry he will piss on his red plastic chair on the front porch just so he 
can watch me clean it up & anybody else walking past can watch me clean it up too. 
(‘housegirl blues’)

And though there is some anger and resentment in return, more often the female presence in the works is simply self-assured, imbued with ‘magick’, marigolds, coconut, kava. I am reminded of the strength of older women I have known, who have learned not to break after years of almost breaking despite the pressures of oppression, assault, medical mistreatment, unhappy marriage and other injustices.

I was born in the field   & made to work the same day
with the blood 		      the blood running down my legs
                            the blood the blood running down my legs
yeah I moved mountains in my dreams.
I don’t care for sunsets
         I’ve seen them one hundred and one times. (‘sugar kane woman’)
Pages: 1 2

Review Short: Simeon Kronenberg’s Distance

Monday, February 18th, 2019

Distance by Simeon Kronenberg
Pitt Street Poetry, 2017


In his debut collection, Distance, Simeon Kronenberg establishes himself as a poet of inclusive intimacy, both as oddly as that sits as a phrase and in relation to the collection’s title. Intimacy is, of course, personal and the vicarious imagined. But Kronenberg’s acute sense of place and placement and his etched language and image-making draw the reader in as an almost-fellow-poet and almost-protagonist, a tendency heightened when the verse is recited aloud. And ‘distance’ is multivalent, speaking variously of time, geography, observation, contemplation and the journeys from inspiration to publication and of the heart over a lifetime of love.

The collection begins in Bali where ‘the world had caught its breath’ (‘Coming Home’), ‘birds shriek in the black palms’ (‘Darkness doesn’t descend, and then it descends so quickly’), ‘a myna’s throat rips a cry, sharp like rent silk’ (‘Legian beach’), weddings are made in sarongs in ‘the splendour of thunder and wet heat’ (‘Wedding’), fishing boat lamps are a ‘glittering of insects on a dark map’ (‘Looking south west’) and distant ships ‘attach ocean to sky at the curved horizon’ (‘Geography’). Local terms expand the poet’s vocabulary and their fricatives help orchestrate his gamelan of sensory inputs and responses. Deep affection resides here and, though not indigent, the poet is no interloper and the scenes recounted evidence a refuge and a (second) homecoming.

Kronenberg clearly reads widely in poetry, with many poems dedicated to or recalling individual poets or poems. He riffs on Anthony Lawrence twice – Lawrence was the official launcher of the collection – firstly in condensing Lawrence’s ‘Three Men’ into his own ‘Two men’; then in savouring a 2016 collection, Reading Headwaters, that renders older idioms and their ‘words suddenly new / and bright again’, in a lardy kitchen in which the poet worries about ‘a heart ready to falter anyway’ as he trips through Lawrence’s reminiscences.

Robert Lowell directs ‘Waking’ with his ‘coltish pride’, an ability to find ‘poetry and guilt as you shovelled / anxious, in the silt of family memory’ and the transcendence of ‘an illness made music’ even in a ‘conflicted time’. While Kronenberg touches on family, he is perhaps more interested, perhaps more moved, by the wider circles of friendship.

Krononberg shares David Brooks’s frustration in ‘No poem for weeks now’, the title adopted from Brooks, though ‘there’s pleasure / in the sometimes lonely drift, the tender space / between the trees’. And he imagines Keats travelling to Bali for his health in ‘If only’, rather than to Rome, where he could have enjoyed ‘the cloak-warm sky’ and, ‘breathing again, in the slowed / wet sliding between flanks’, would have called for his ‘quills and ink’ and added exoticism and piquancy to his oeuvre.

In the case of the title poem, ‘Distance’, Kronenberg melds influences in jointly celebrating Constantine Cavafy and Po Chü-I – ‘both were trapped by failure / and overlooked in distant towns / but, they railed against provincial lives’.1 Their homo-sensuality also links them to Kronenberg. The collection sees homo-sensuality move from an awakening of desire at a party – ‘a red-haired boy, / tight-jeaned, moves like Nureyev / … / I look at his crotch and want to marry (‘Bringing It All Back Home’) – to outright lust (‘I couldn’t get enough and he squirmed, / delighted, offering everything to me, shining with sweat,/ abandoned’, ‘Saeculum aureum’), a gentle undercurrent in the landscape (‘A fisherman absently rubs his crotch and his sarong fabric swells’, ‘Legian beach’), a tribal lament at the desolation of HIV/AIDS (‘When the plague came, we lost eighteen friends/ and endured eighteen funerals in the winter of it’, ‘Rome to Florence 1978’) and the context of the poet’s ongoing love in ‘Late’:

‘and you in your man’s dark wedding sarong, white shirt		‘but rolls into me
and black cap, elegant as an egret					             his hand searching
wading in the shallows’						            my chest for the muffled
(‘Wedding’) 								                           heart beat, the soft thud
									                                      of time passing’

Kronenberg’s other abiding influences appear to be history and art and their transmission again evidences his literary curiosity, e.g. ‘My Caesar’, ‘Akhenaten to Smenkhkare’, ‘Unravelling’, ‘God knows I languish’ (based on correspondence between a Count Algarotti and Frederick II of Prussia). His poems are not always, or even often, interested in historical detail or artistic appreciation. They attach more to the person, recount (mainly) his attractions and loves and marvel at how he copes with travail and vicissitude.

This points perhaps to a larger theme of the constant awareness of death’s inevitability and imminence. It is a tide that touches many poems, through the direct mention of death, the memorialisation of the poem in question, the mention of impending natural disasters such as bushfires (‘Bundanon night walk, summer’), a pervading sense of loss (‘Saeculum aureum’) or ‘the tug of a persistent melancholy’ (‘Vanished’). It also suggests a need for the celebration of the ordinary things of life, as in domestically-centred poems, and people who live ‘at a slight angle to the universe’ and are ‘odd like a deer in a tree’ (‘The tilted house 1994’). The latter expand possibility for all of us.

Death is nowhere more prominent than in ‘Death of a poet’ when ‘Optimism now/ was too exhausting’ and the protagonist preferred ‘just breathing/ in benign neglect’. Eventually his friends ‘came to mourn / his readings, / his wonderful voice, / gifted him / by a million cigarettes’. Oddly, there is no mention of the dead poet’s words, despite this being his most obvious legacy. In any event, Kronenberg’s own swell into this void.

Distance is the work of a wonderful new voice, albeit of a mature poet, that is intelligent, heart-direct in diction and nuanced in comprehension, lingers awhile in the ear after reading and allows you the necessary space to ponder.

Review Short: Judith Beveridge’s Sun Music: New and Selected Poems

Monday, February 18th, 2019

Sun Music: New and Selected Poems by Judith Beveridge
Giramondo Publishing, 2018


Judith Beveridge’s Sun Music: New and Selected Poems begins with the eponymous poem of her debut collection, The Domesticity of Giraffes (1987), concerning a giraffe in a zoo.

She languorously swings her tongue
like a black leather strap as she chews
and endlessly licks the wire for salt
blown in from the harbour.
Bruised-apple eyed she ruminates
towards the tall buildings
she mistakes for a herd:
her gaze has the loneliness of smoke.

This opening stanza gives us key features of Beveridge’s poetics: a lyricism notable for its wit and startling imagery, balanced by an intense interest in language’s sonic potential.

In ‘How to Love Bats’, from her second collection Accidental Grace (1996), we find another characteristic feature of Beveridge’s work: the conjunction of playfulness and catalogue. To love bats, the poem states, one must ‘Spend time in the folds of curtains. / Seek out boarding school cloakrooms. / Practice the gymnastics of wet umbrellas.’ In ‘Flying Foxes, Wingham Brush’ – one of the 33 new poems in Sun Music – Beveridge brilliantly reprises this last image, describing some bats as ‘a collection of broken / business umbrellas’. These lines can suggest, wrongly, that Beveridge’s poems on non-human animals – of which there are many – are primarily concerned with comic or quasi-comic conceits. Beveridge’s poems about animals are notably mixed in their tone and approach, bringing in the elegiac and historical, in addition to the comic, and they never sentimentalise or trivialise the lives of animals.

These poems show Beveridge as a profoundly post-Romantic poet for whom animals are part of a natural world that is, if not redemptive, then consolatory and inspirational. This domain, and these animals, allow for the poet to look beyond her own subjectivity, and to deepen and renew her, and our, understanding of the material word. While a number of later poems – such as ‘To My Neighbour’s Hens’ – also show a more explicit animal-rights perspective, all of Beveridge’s animal poems are essays into the otherness of their non-human subjects. In her extraordinarily artful linguistic constructions, Beveridge paradoxically allows us access to the profoundly non-linguistic world that animals both inhabit and represent.

But Beveridge is not, of course, concerned only with the world of nature and animals. Many of her poems focus on humans, often (as is consistent with her post-Romantic poetics) marginal figures, as seen in ‘Man Washing on a Railway Platform Outside Delhi’ and ‘The Saffron Picker’. These, and numerous other, poems attend to and/or give voice to subjects who are conventionally voiceless and unseen. Perhaps the most ambitious example of this project in Sun Music is ‘Driftgrounds’, a sequence that had the subtitle ‘Three Fishermen’ when it appeared in Beveridge’s 2009 collection, Storm and Honey. These poems, in their depictions of fishing life, tilt Beveridge’s poetic more to the side of the sonic. As Beveridge points out in Sun Music’s introductory ‘Author’s Note’, ‘I have amplified the poems’ nuances and tones through their sound structures’. This is easily seen (or heard) in ‘The Shark’, the sequence’s opening poem, which begins:

We heard the creaking clutch of the crank
as they drew it up by cable and wheel
and hung it sleek as a hull from the roof.

There is the ghost of Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse in this poem, with its conjunction of heavily stressed syllables and alliteration. In the rest of the sequence we also find the use of caesura as a structural unit, a key feature of alliterative verse. But as ‘Spittle Beach’ shows, Beveridge’s imagistic inventiveness (and the modern world) is far from overwhelmed by such stylisation:

       Near the boathouse is a washed-up skate,
a boy lifts it above his head—he’s a waiter with a drinks tray—
        then he hurls it hard, back to the sea. It whidders down
               as quietly as a UFO.

For what it’s worth, I wasn’t altogether sure about this sequence upon its release, but its appearance here makes me realise that what I took for factitiousness is a sophisticated example of piscatorial (anti-)pastoral. Like classical pastoral, these poems strategically confuse the simple and the complex, the baroque and the unadorned, and the sophisticated and the rustic, as seen especially in the lyrical dialogues of the fishermen. But like modern anti-pastoral, they do not idealise the milieu, offering instead some of Beveridge’s most inventive, gritty, and (sometimes literally) visceral poetry.

‘Driftgrounds’ is narrated by one of the fishermen, showing Beveridge’s attraction to the dramatic monologue. As Beveridge writes in her ‘Author’s Note’, ‘I use masks and voices frequently in my poetry. These allow me to open up and expose my emotions in ways that are far more interesting to me than simply using the first person singular’. The interest in the dramatic monologue and the sequence also comes together in Beveridge’s poems on the life of Siddhattha Gotama (who became known as the Buddha). Sun Music doesn’t include any of this poetry. Instead, Beveridge promises (again in her ‘Author’s Note’) a new volume that will bring together a selection of this work (which includes the 2014 collection, Devadatta’s Poems) with a new sequence on this subject.

Because of this, Sun Music doesn’t represent a career in the way a ‘New and Selected’ usually does. But it is nevertheless a profoundly important summary of one of Australia’s leading lyric poets. (It also makes for an interesting comparison with 2014’s Hook and Eye, a selection of Beveridge’s poems published as part of Paul Kane’s Braziller Series of Australian Poets. Interested readers should definitely seek out Kane’s deeply insightful introductory note to that selection.) The new poems in Sun Music deepen Beveridge’s characteristic concerns and practices, especially with regard to place, animals, and imagistic catalogue. They include ‘Peterhead’, with its memorable description of the eponymous Scottish coastal town – ‘Stone houses, side streets // with shadows limping like cruelled dogs’—and two powerfully elegiac poems, ‘Sun Music’ and ‘As Wasps Fly Upwards’.

Even within these elegiac works, Beveridge’s poetry is notably sensual, deeply concerned with embodiment and the intense rendering of corporeal (sometimes erotic) experience. Beveridge’s sensual mode is related to her stylistic exuberance, a feature one finds throughout The Domesticity of Giraffes, and still present in her later work. But, as also seen throughout her career, Beveridge is clear-eyed about the world’s injustices and violence. There are few lyric poets, here or elsewhere, who write with Beveridge’s skill and power. It is not surprising that Beveridge is so esteemed among her fellow poets and readers.