Brentley Frazer reviews Justin Lowe

13 January 2004

trylaughter.gifTry Laughter by Justin Lowe
DeadPan Press, 2000

'When reading Justin Lowe, I keep looking over my shoulder, even on the bus, not as though I am being watched, more as if I expect to see someone who looks like a master philosopher from the middle ages who has traveled through time to observe us, here and now, taking down notes.'

The wind has a contract to fill this space
Between your world and mine…
            ('Studio')

The poems in this collection are like a minimalist yet sprawling portrait of a process, if that is possible &#151 like a picture of learning, or a photograph of understanding in progress. His fishermen, who seem to be playing a dirty game with the world, are a good metaphor for this collection. They are there casting to the tide while there is a great big bullethole bleeding down the world's side. There is a pervasive serenity in his poems, yet it is not always a peaceful scene:

Midday
the sun rests on black flowers
wilting in a vase
drooping petals onto the floor of a room
where two people spend their evenings
Listening to the footsteps of the frost
            ('1895')

While there is an otherworldly, observational quality, his words do not fail to connect with and move the reader. The work also contains a cautionary wisdom which sometimes lets our minds run free and other times corrals us with a big whip.

chewing his tail it is a desperate monotone sound in the night he has chewed it right down to the seething bone the blood flows dully in the streetlight's spill             ('I Can't Stop')

I have been familiar with Lowe's work for a couple of years now as he has been widely published in literary journals. His poems stand alone as though they are a summation, a scene taking account of itself in a very unique and self reflective way. Reading his work as a collection seems to contextualise the texts anew. Imagine finding just one page of a book on the beach, where that one page leaves you hungry for more. This is how I feel coming across Lowe's work in a magazine or newspaper. So now I have Try Laughter, which I feel is a worthy addition to any collection of serious literature.

We have all had days like this one-
days that seem to run backwards:
the phone disconnected
a publisher's cheque thrown out with the junkmail
your ex-girlfriends puppy sick on the carpet

I'm sure the great Lord Chancellor himself
suffered many such days…
            ('Thomas More')

My only point of contention is physical. This collection is very slim and therefore not very pliable: I have nearly destroyed my copy, having half thumbed it to death.

In the future, I want to see Lowe's work in a nice, chunky paperback, one of those new style ones you can bend without destroying, stick it in your jacket pocket when you head out for a coffee and to get the papers.

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