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Cabaret Volume

July 1999, no. 212

Dalliance and Scorn by by Alan Gould with drawings by Anne Langridge

Indigo Press, 84 pp

Cabaret Volume

July 1999, no. 212

Alan Gould is not noted for being a poet of light verse, but with this volume he has achieved what brewers of light beer aim for strength without the hangover. The blurb rightly highlights Gould’s technique and lyrical gifts, and his acute vision of absurdity is present in abundance. Perhaps Gould has become the Heinrich Heine of Canberra, charting his city of decadence, with its down-and-outs, retired Army Majors, cheap opiates and X-rated entertainments, its dandified lobbyists, ‘Tsarevnas-on-the-dole’ and divorcees desperate for dalliance. Anne Langridge’s illustrations add to the book’s cabaret atmosphere, though you wouldn’t say Gould was paying homage to Berlin’s in the 1930s, with its Dada and expressionist camp.

For a committed free-verser like myself, Gould’s grasp of traditional verse form is dazzling – form as a ludic performance, a virtuoso doing a Paganini. Perhaps this is a ludicrous book for all that, and occasionally, an over-use of iambic pentameters sounds wrong, as in poems inspired by Jazz; I prefer the more vernacular breath of the Black American poet Komunyakaa, or the New Yorker Kleinzahler. What Gould has though, is the knowledge of Old and Middle English rhyme schemes, and its alliteration and sprezzatura sound effects: ‘Bees are pestering sparaxis’ for example. Metaphorical inventions abound. In one poem, the moon is compared to a topaz, a briolette, a ‘little gizmo’ earring and a ‘whitefaced, puffy, balding bloke’.

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