Carolyn Tétaz reviews Chris Andrews

24 September 2002

pub_cacutlunch.jpgCut Lunch by Chris Andrews
Ginninderra Press, 2002

Cut Lunch, Chris Andrews' second collection of poems, is a work strong on nostalgia and reflection, which is neatly captured in the title. In this age of foccacia, ciabiatta and pide, a cut lunch is an object from our recent past, a descriptor for plain white bread, single fillings and frugal practicality. Part of the charm of this collection is Andrews' fascination with the poetry inherent in the everyday, what he calls minor poetries, and a cut lunch is an apt symbol of his affection for the poetry of cupboards under the sink. It is also a phrase that summons images of symmetry and, as with much of Andrews' poetry, the visual is gently reinforced by his skilful use of language, in this case, the assonance of the title.

The structure of Cut Lunch reinforces the symmetrical flavour of this collection. The book is organised into three sections. Parts I and III both contain 21 poems, all written in the same form and rhyme scheme, and every third poem of Part I has a mirror image in Part III, such as Movie (I), Part I and Movie (II), Part III. The poems of Part II, the meat in the sandwich, as it were, are varied in form and length. The sections of this book are unified by Andrews' close and questioning examination of urban rituals and practices. Cut Lunch is a selection of Andrews' meditations, musings and digs, launched from subjects such as Scones, Dumb Things and Weekliness.

Easy Living (II) is a good example of the style and tone of this collection:

Season of cool cantaloupe cubes in the fridge
Mr Whippys music stopping suddenly
droopy blu-tack and the pleasures of complaint
an open soundscape and lifestyle glimpses while
householders try to make blocks of hot air budge.

Doing pretty much nothing like an old saint
refusing to move from a cave perilous
steps lead to half way up a sheer wall of chalk
with a nanny-goat for milk and company
and a bend in the river to contemplate.

Season in which youre more likely to be struck
by the little tune of the word thunderstorm
or how slow motion replays show a thin edge
so much more clearly these days but are bright drinks
still home delivered somewhere off a clinking truck?

Like many of the poems in Cut Lunch, Easy Living (II) moves from the ordinary to the exotic, as we follow the poet's imagination up a sheer wall of chalk to return to watching cricket on the TV. Daydreaming, wandering, wondering and fantasising are all regularly endorsed in this collection. ':Idler imagines accessing layers of historic olfactory impressions from fingers stained by the chopping boards crevasses / inundated with garlic juice'. Movie (I) wanders off from the main frame to lose the plot in a nice bit of background and The Encyclopedia and The Atlas follow a boy's journey through pages of topographic maps to reach the nameless minor peak where he might be the first to stand, perhaps.

As with Easy Living (I), all the poems in Parts I and III are three stanza quinzaines. All the lines are 11 syllables long, which, apart from stirring memories of This is Spinal Tap, enhances the casual approximations of Andrews' language and lends itself to the nervous tone of his work. These poems catch the voice of the quiet cynic and the socially sidelined, or what Andrews identifies as the really callow and the shallowly callous. These voices are self-effacing and circumspect; maybe perhaps and almost appear often in this collection and many of the poems pose plaintive questions, such as 'Looking back do you regret having chosen / now over never or never over now?' and 'How is it this one can attain a sublime / degree of charm by condescending to act / like a dag while that one tries just a bit too / hard to be cool …'. Supporting this tentative tone, Andrews' punctuation and syntax is often awkward and unsettling, mimicking the shuffling mumbles of conversation and thought.

Within these speculative stanzas is a playfulness with language. Andrews has an ear for the poetic, such as the little tune in the word thunderstorm. In other poems, he breathes life into threadbare phrases such as losing the plot, queen of clubs or a day of nervous trading and his poetry celebrates both the plain phrase and the poetic precision of words such as ammonites and ziggurats. Andrews successfully employs a range of poetic techniques, such as the alliteration of the cool cantaloupe cubes of Easy Living (I) providing a cold contrast to the huff of householders budging hot air. And his rhymes are worth close consideration, carrying much of the wry humour of this volume. Agenda, a mantra for suburban procrastination, is a rhyming, rhythmic stomp through a day, from waking – 'Lift an eyelid Lift a finger / Open up from the inside out / Chill your soles on bath-enamel / Scratch a mouldy bit of grout', to rest – 'Lift a finger Kill the alarm / Light the pilot light and wait / it is the way it is and you / forgot to put the rubbish out'.

In the midst of approximations such as Sort of Kind of Like, Think Stuff and Sketchy But, Andrews' descriptions are disarmingly exact. The image of 'bright drinks / still home delivered off the back of a clinking truck' is so familiar and accurate that it is easy to miss the precision of his poetic imagination. Andrews' sharp eye is the highlight of the best pieces in this collection, such as Pittosporum. This portrait of a widower, housebound if not yet bedridden, demonstrates Andrews' ability to catch the patterns of the mind in the detritus of a life: 'grey pegs on the line; / ivy stealing the small window light; / mouldy grout just holding tiles; / the wardrobe in the spare room, locked for years'. Cut Lunch is packed with fresh, well articulated observations from the engineered resonance of a car door to the 'dark aquarium / where one giant catfish sucks the glass / a long way from Brazil'.

Within this collection of 58 poems, there are themes and images that Andrews repeats, whether this is intention or coincidence, the result is the construction of a poetic lexicon. Mr Whippy appears on a couple of occasions, as does an interest in grey on gray, gold thread, mynahs, phosphorescence and how beaches end. Cut Lunch is also awash with blue, which gets a mention in a fifth of the poems. Amongst others, there's gunmetal blue, submarine blue, cerulean blue, fragmentary blue, blue immensities, Europe's far blue limit, the bluish light of the drunken bathroom and blu-tack. This colour of sky and deep sea, of sorrow and constancy, of brawls and swearing, provides the backdrop for Andrews' poems.

Cut Lunch, with its references to Mr Whippy, Lickety Splits, Victoria Bitter, Channel 9, trams and cricket, is firmly located in urban Australia. From this address, Andrews reflects on the ironies, injustices and colours of this world with skill and insight, sounding his poetry from the rumble of wheelie bins and Eno's ever-bright Windows opening sound.

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