Rachel Schenberg Reviews Gareth Morgan and Harry Reid

By | 11 November 2021

Harry Reid’s gorgeous and considered first collection of poetry, the best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend, was also published last year with Slow Loris. It is a 20-page chapbook composed of nine discrete poems written in verse, with the occasional dip into prose.

Like in Dear Eileen, the poems hold multiple voices: a potpourri of intertextuality spanning high culture to pop. Reid references a wide variety of authors, as well as musicians from Elvis Presley to The Beach Boys to Rihanna. A maximalist with such an eclectic mix, the author acknowledges their approach to poetry as ‘glean[ing]’ or mimicking sounds around them: ‘doing my magpie bit again— / to master the poem’.

Even if one does not recognise the full scope of the poems’ references (like this reader doesn’t), Reid evokes a feeling of being invited, over a beer *cheers*, into a cool clique. They use the collective voice of first-person plural, address questions to a ‘you’, and share anecdotes and exchanges mentioning friends by name,

handsome in our new jeans. the yard recedes, / what’s your soul look like? mine’s mid- /
September 2015, texting from a / grounded airplane. or this morning, wanting a smoke /
wonder what Anne meant by quiet as a bone—

The reader is brought into a social relationship which emulates the closeness of shared experience and shared space (within our kitchens, suburbs, cities).

The author’s subjectivity is revealed through description of place: an Australian ’burbs aesthetic. They navigate the stereotypical scenes of the great Australian dream, of a house with a big backyard, a local pub to watch Australian Rules, and a local café to pick up your morning coffee:

imagine a company credit card, / or Australia’s best vanilla slice—you make / a face like
latte art & glancing back / to the yard the spirit of real estate / shines over you / […] but
soon we’re at the pub / watching the football, I’m hungover

These images speak to underlying structures in Australia, perhaps as a way to understand Reid’s own position within it.

A characteristic way Reid handles images is through unveiling a chain-link of impressions. They do not commit to one, rather they allow this chain to unfold the poem. For instance, in punkless Reid writes:

it's dangerous / all this sincerity / like the Flogsta scream / like a dog on wheels / try
walking it back / but find it again / in the muffler of a Suzuki / in a pair of leather pants /
heat shimmers / off the backyard / lousy crickets / at the coalface of the evening // punks
not dead it’s / taking math            concerned / with mythos production / I’m renaming streets
/ I’m making lists / sky opens up you

Their poems are densely associative and images advance quickly like a sequence of radio advertisements (which Reid also includes in death of the maxi-single) leaving the reader with a shadow of the initial idea. Perhaps their way of reaching understanding – of getting to, what Alice Notley describes, ‘the poem of’ something – is by moving through it. As the author so poignantly points out, ‘a house is just a house ‘til you step through it / a lawn, a thistle’.

In their poems, Reid abandons any sense of hierarchy from where meaning can be found: a neighbour’s TV, the green grocer, voicemails. This is clear in the title of Reid’s book and final poem, the best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend, which is a slogan lifted from the back of a Mainfreight truck, as pictured on the first page. Where Morgan’s authorial voice surfaces through their relationship to Myles’s voice, Reid’s emerges through their relationship to place. Both authors remind us how we find meaning in relation to where we situate ourselves, as well as the company we keep; in the poetry of daily exchanges; in our ‘brief g’days’.

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