Melinda Bufton Reviews Ursula Robinson-Shaw’s Noonday

By | 6 July 2020

I have never had cause to consider vultures and commodified eroticism together but am happy to do so in the case of ‘Vulture Phantasy’. It is a poem-trip but one where the conflation of ‘these talons, this crown/of more or less erect feathers’ and ‘dicks are not real just a thing we have in dreams’ both shows the joins and erases them. Then somehow – in their innate freshness – these components also exhibit a patina. This may be due to connective phrases that could be read as commentary; ‘words do not/keep us from deeds/scrambled by unserious activity/the search history manufacturing/a backwards glance, the past is/a wish compiled later’.

Noonday contains ten substantial poems and is a satisfyingly dense read. There is no doubt, however, that ‘Everything is Nice’ is the centrepiece of the work. This is an end-of-times poem with a surprise ending, wrought with wit that binds its story fragments’ deft logic. The fragments move in a circuitous way around the central idea, a repeated refrain that ‘they have announced the last day’. Disquiet is laced through the mundane and a sense of resignation:

the last day has dropped
and the properties of the real world 
collapse like a thumb puppet
the bubble of my person
flattens into a circle


they have announced the last day
we are tired and grateful
the last day is like a dream on purpose

During the poem the speaker moves above and out of frame, floating into out-of-body observation of ‘the smoke/the last copper light/the bats at their work’, and we wonder if we are about to experience a ‘rapture’ or a ‘bushfire’ (mentioned in surrounding lines). It’s not until the final line that the heart of the poem is revealed. This can be a gormless device if not done well; in this poem the execution is excellent.

Noonday uses all the tools it employs towards a statement of maximalism. Imagery is one of these tools, but whipped into high saturation with language, acuity and ideas. It does this smoothly so that we are never aware of exactly how fast we are moving. Similarly, as the book unfolds there are no clear markers of what will come next. The poems resist categories; they are too detailed for this and (although there are miniature stories contained within) elide a narrative. My serving suggestion is to consider each poem as a separate unit and return to them often.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of the poetry’s sureness is that each time I went to quote a small section – a line or two – it was difficult to stop. Repeatedly, I wanted to quote great chunks of the poems until it seemed preferable that I would just type the whole thing out to sit there on the page, to allow the work to speak for itself in place of any words about the work. What review is better than that? The review becomes the pastry scraps and the book the most ineluctable, absolute pie.

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