Peter Goldsworthy, doctor and poet, is a writer of significant style and concision. This new selection of his lyric poetry lives up to its jaunty, graffitied, lavender cover; it bespeaks lightness. And lightness is damned hard work. You don’t get there just by smiling and going to book launches.
The New Selected Poems bears out my harvested sense of his zest and pith. If Andrew Marvell had ever got into free verse, he would surely have delighted in Goldsworthy’s fancy footwork. He could have chuckled at such moments as ‘I prefer late friends / to burn in furnaces, / and not to visit in the night’, or ‘Arithmetic divides / and rules the world’. And he would have registered the gentle undercurrent of sheer mortality that runs bubbling along under the later poet’s unbuttoned ease.
Indeed, Andrew’s Metaphysical chums might have had much in common with Goldsworthy’s habits of mind, above all with that way of thinking that treats science or mathematics as a source of merrily dangerous language games. He now writes one suite of reflections on chemistry and its elements, another around the colours of the spectrum, those wonderful qualities that beguiled most of us in childhood, not to be explained away by physics classes. And when confronted by infinity he can say:
Number eight has fallen on its side,
an hourglass whose clock has stopped,
keeled lengthways, at attention,
like a Guardsman grown faint
with waiting for the count
Reading such lines, one travels easily back to ‘The Definition of Love’, with its famous parallel lines and teased lovers.