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Dragon's breath

May 2006, no. 281

Glassmaker by Shane McCauley

Sunline Press, $27 hb, 111 pp

Geology by Kevin Murray

Domain Media, $16.95 pb, 48 pp

Dragon's breath

May 2006, no. 281

Okay, I’ll take up Kevin Murray’s challenge in his poem ‘Freelance’ – that the reviewer is ‘a rogue knight / circling other men’s dragons’, though, like Max Richards, I reject Walter Benjamin’s Romantic formulation of criticism as a ‘fulfilment / of the artwork’. Each of these dragons has some fine points; all are modest in their own ways and illustrate Shane McCauley’s gloss of Robert Frost, ‘having the grace / to say that perhaps poetry doesn’t matter very much’. But in different ways, all three focus intently on the compelling significance of the minute, nuanced moments and details as a means of exploring big questions about ageing/mortality; the revelation and casualness of nature; the meaningfulness of history at both personal and public levels; and the functions and significance of art and writing. All are in various ways influenced by both the Romanticism of Wordsworth and Coleridge (particularly the ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’ aspect) as well as the modernist urban scepticism of T.S. Eliot. These are mannerly dragons. None will scorch the gentil reader-knight. Nor is there a hint of halitosis.

Glassmaker, Shane McCauley’s fifth collection, is a beautiful beast: richly and elegantly designed, on heavy, cream, semi-gloss paper, suggesting a close connection with its own production processes and with the poems’ preoccupation with painting, calligraphy and translation. The title poem isn’t the only one to hold out a belief in crafting to make order out of chaos: ‘unravelling from a night’s black throat.’ Andrew Gilchrist’s cover illustration has a window panel in which the universe is glimpsed in a swelling glass bubble.

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