Alex Skovron

Poet of the Month

by Australian Book Review
October 2021, no. 436

Alex Skovron is the author of seven poetry collections, a prose novella, The Poet (2005), and a book of short stories, The Man who Took to His Bed (2017). His volume of new and selected poems, Towards the Equator (2014), was shortlisted in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. His work has been translated into a number of languages, and he has co-authored book-length translations of two Czech poets: Jiří Orten and Vladimír Holan. His new collection, Letters from the Periphery, is now available. He was born in Poland, lived briefly in Israel, and arrived in Australia aged nine. He lives in Melbourne.

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To those who have followed Alex Skovron’s poetry since The Rearrangement (1988), it’s not a surprise to learn that he has been the general editor of an encyclopedia, a book editor, a lover of classical music and chess, an occasional translator of Dante and Borges, and the author of six well-spaced poetry collections, a stylish novella, and a collection of short stories. He can often seem the very embodiment of the European/Jewish/Melburnian intellectual (despite an adolescence spent in Sydney).

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It’s our runaway imaginings that seduce us / away from the meanwhiler pleasures: / even as we cross each i, dot every t, / we calibrate our fantasies like rare treasures, / false memory-to-be ...

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This is a playful, intelligent, unsettling series of stories, fourteen of them, collected from publications going back a few decades from 1987 until 2012 as well as, presumably, unpublished work. Due in part to this long span, the book traces back and forth through time. There is even a Sydney pre-Opera House (just) ...

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Alex Skovron’s impressive volume of new and selected poems, Towards the Equator, drawn from all of his published work to date, shows him to be a writer of recurrent and abiding preoccupations. He cares passionately and sometimes rather fastidiously about culture (particularly European culture), and continually worries about words, books, and their import. H ...

With the likes of Helen Garner, Arnold Zable, and Chris Wallace-Crabbe, the contents page of this essay collection reads like a who’s who of Australian literature. The editor–contributors are the poet Alex Skovron, philosopher Raimond Gaita, and novelist Alex Miller. The publisher is Picador. The man honoured in these essays is Jacob Rosenberg.

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For months Mozart has been so crucial I haven’t played him.
The winds, filibustering the house, have heard
the chimney crackle and the paint strain
while the old obsessions went ignored. What was the point?

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In one of these beautifully crafted prose poems, the speaker, recalling his childhood self, says that ‘I was gradually learning my own name, though there are times when the knowledge escapes me still, and another reveals itself’. This suggests complex trajectories of the self in time: self-knowledge comes ‘gradually’, but at times cedes to another, more profound, self-transcending form of knowing. Alex Skovron’s work, which includes four earlier volumes of verse and a novella, often counterposes two dispositions towards the self: a schematising impulse to ‘chart’ the ‘soul’, and a heuristic delight in the liberating processes of self-transcendence. Some of the ‘autographs’ – the accounts and traces of the self – that comprise this volume are of the first kind, others of the second. The book does not so much adjudicate between these kinds as embed them in a loose, fugue-like structure which is rich in delicate shadings, contrasts and variations. The book’s three sections – ‘Dance’, ‘Labyrinth’, and ‘Shadow’ – indicate axes of imaginative exploration rather than lines of narrative progression. Yet, cumulatively, the fifty-six poems in this collection nurture a passion for transcendence and a fear of excessive schematisation, the latter associated in this Jewish writer’s work with fundamentalism and totalitarianism.

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So there he was in the library, crouched above the floor
      like a mousetrap, squinting into his rickety parallel edition
of the Satires. The paperback was from the late fifties;

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The Poet is an unusual book. Dispensing with many of the conventions that underpin most extended works of prose fiction, such as significant characterisation, it presents a central protagonist, Manfred, who is ‘honest’ – as the author repeatedly states. Manfred is also a poet. The novella is written in formal and refined prose, as if the narrative style is designed to reflect Manfred’s obsessional nature and estranged condition: he has never been ‘in love’, is ‘something of a loner’ and is highly anxious.

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