The Cloud Passes Over
Angus & Robertson, 68 pp $9.95 pb
This book signals a dramatic shift in the poetry of Robert Harris. His three previous books – Localities (1973), Translations from the Albatross (1976), The Abandoned (1979) – were born out of an intense and self-propelling passion for the glitter and the glow of words, the power they have to transform reality through a kind of internal poetic combustion. This was a poetry laden with abstraction and with quasisurrealist imagery, heavily influenced by the French symbolists, by American poets like Robert Duncan, and in particular by the Australian poet Robert Adamson. Some of it stands up pretty well, though there was always the tendency for the verse to veer out of control, overblown and unfocused in the headiness of its phrasing. Harris’s problem in these earlier books was not an insufficiency of content or a lack of expressive power but a persistent haziness of outline, as though the young man’s yearnings which impelled the poetry were finding their evocative if not their indelibly precise verbal correlatives. The books have a slightly unfinished, ‘unedited’ feel about them, which is made the more interesting by the fact that the poems so often confront a sense of incompleteness, of dislocation and loneliness in the face of an unstable, unaccommodating world. This is true whether Harris is writing about love or some menial factory job or the desperate ecstasy of poetry itself.