Every Night They Dance by Andy Kissane
Five Islands Press (2000)
Andy Kissane's second collection of poetry begins with the evocative lines:
In my dreams I blow glass.
My breath spirals easily
up the rod,
My lips are loose and supple
as if I'm panning cool notes
into the evening.
This is an apt description of Kissane's work. There is a certain lyrical effortless to his poetry that makes it very readable, and indeed many images and details in this collection have the beauty of blown glass. However, there is also a very different sensibility in operation; many of Kissane's poems are also robust, meaty creations packed full of information.
Just as there are two poetic sensibilities, Every Night They Dance is in a sense two books. The poems in Part 1 are dramatic monologues with Kissane slipping easily into a range of different voices and skins: Arthur Streeton, a suffragette, a Kanak, a colonial farm girl who saves the life of an Aboriginal man, various nineteenth century workers and others. In a particularly long poem, The Ghosts of Marrickville Metro, the essence of a job is captured beautifully in the choice of language and rhythm:
– I think with my hands.
And my hands say stay. They say pick up the mallet,
place the block of wood over the kip
and let it fall, let it fall, let it fall.
Most of the poems in this section have political-historical slant and a keen awareness of human suffering. Perhaps because of this there is sometimes an excess of literal description, but for the most part the passion of the writing carries the reader along. Kissane has also included some comic poems: an entertaining modern take on Tristan and Isolde and a whimsical rhapsody on hats. Yet I felt Kissane to be most compelling when dealing with the duality of life and death:
I could have been beside Patrick
as the bullet passed through his ribs
and the stain, black as octopus ink,
spread across his shirt.
In Part 2 Kissane discards his chameleon skin in deeply personal poems which cover topics such as miscarriage, the loss of a child and separation from a partner.
These poems are more conventional in their confessional nature, yet they offer an emotional intensity that is only glimpsed in the previous section.
As a collection Every Night They Dance is a hybrid of two quite distinct genres yet it's surprisingly successful; each genre satisfyingly informs and compliments the other.