Paul Munden Reviews The Best Australian Poems 2016

By | 28 March 2017

Almost regardless of these formal and stylistic gambits, it is the moments of observational brilliance, and the precise sensual renditions of imaginative leaps that consistently impress. In David Brooks’ ‘The Pig’:

The screaming of a pig
that shreds the air above a village
is no more than the sound
a heavy metal table makes
as it is dragged across stone.

And here is the scintillating lizard in David McCooey’s ‘Invisible Cities’:

Its solar-powered musculature moves
across the paving stones. Its skin is both matte
and jewelled in the sunlight. It stops and flicks
its front legs down to its sides, like an ingenious
Edwardian gadget snapping itself shut.

Sarah Day’s ‘Wooden Horse’ is portrayed at first with keen-eyed clarity:

Your hard round eye
has been drilled right through
your plank face

but by then end of the poem it is the horse that offers an enthralling, contemplative gaze:

seeing not, in your long life,
that children grow old,
but how, from each tide,
rolls the continuum of each wave.

Sarah Holland-Batt was winner of the poetry prize in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards 2016 for her book The Hazards (UQP, 2015). As editor of BAP 2016 she has understandably not included any of her own work, and this is just one obvious reason why the title of the anthology needs some qualification. These poems are of course not the best, nor even (in their entirety) some of the best; no other poet would have made the same choice, any other poet would undoubtedly have excluded some of these poems. The book is nevertheless successfully representative of the best poems of the year, and indeed the variety of current Australian poetry: its moments of formal perfection; its adventurous failures; its ongoing attraction to sprawl; and yes – its playfulness, that connects rather than separates it from what’s written in the northern hemisphere.

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