This is an elegant and satisfying novel. Like fine food, good sex, lasting relationships, and memorable music, it takes time to develop and the artistry that sustains it is understated and deceptive. It is, however, memorable. There is the instant gratification of Farmer’s delicate but sensuous prose and a finely woven narrative about a Danish woman, Dagmar, who is ‘over-wintering’ in Australia after the death of her husband, but this is definitely the tip of the iceberg. It is the cumulative effect of this virtuoso performance that surprises. Throughout, Farmer maintains a balance between the apparent simplicity of one woman’s exclusive story (with its nuances, modulations and personal significances) and the intricacies of a narrative (a kind of linguistic tessellation) which demonstrates a thesis about the inter-relatedness of our ‘one world’.
This collection of poetry is similarly accommodating. It is shaped by four quite different tonal movements: ‘All Blues’ (eight lyrics closely observing the ‘still life’ within season, art-work, society and self), ‘Trans-Europe Express’ (a travelogue of past times and places where conscious reflection momentarily counters the movement and cross-currents of historical process), ‘Dogs’ (where Diogenes’ cynicism is invoked to ‘lower the tone’, reminding me of the blues singer’s injunction to ‘laugh just to keep from crying’) and ‘More Blues’ (where episodic vistas of ‘blue hills’ unfold from Tailem Bend to Mount Segur). The collection ends with a nine-part retrospective called ‘The Front’ which is partly about the art of making poetry or music in the face of ‘prevailing imagery’. Here a littoral between performance and reputation is reached as today’s determined play with a language is set against inherited ‘fixed ideas’.
This is a distinctive and unsettling voice, one that doesn’t have time for overly polite concessions to our finer feelings. You either keep pace (and it’s compelling) or stand aside as the spadework gets done. Reading this poetry, we are involved in an unearthing of past events and made witness to the laying bare of personal response. But there’s nothing self-indulgent or hollow about Gig Ryan’s disinterment. The poetry has a sometimes shocking immediacy, a curious mixture of fierceness and vulnerability that conveys feeling with integrity.
This is John A. Scott’s sixth collection of poems since 1975. The volume is slim but not thin. Each poem encompasses its observation, reflection, or moment from which departures are measured, as the positives and negatives of ‘delicious solitude’ are weighed. Amid urban blues, bar-speak, team games and the distorting foci of others’ projections, the ‘predicate adjective alone’ evokes either dignity, pathos, or something in between. Scott considers the prospects.