John Leonard Press, $24.99 pb, 60 pp, 9780980852394
In ‘Painting’s Flatness’, Paul Magee ruefully observes the following: ‘If only surfaces were possible / here in the imagination / just to walk and to touch sincerely the ground.’ This, as the title of the poetry collection suggests, is the essence of Stone Postcard: a poet’s search for stability in the face of exquisite and inscrutable change.
Magee takes us on a journey from Melbourne to New Jersey; from the claustrophobic atmosphere of an Employment Plus office to an abandoned observatory observed only by kangaroos; from life entering the world to life leaving it. The sheer number of topics Magee covers in this slim volume could leave the reader disorientated, poetically jetlagged by the breadth and depth of Magee’s interests and explorations, but he manages to hold them together through his attentiveness, as if the impressions of these disparate events have stamped themselves firmly onto his mind: ‘From such moments we are shaken decades later’ (‘Study’).
Stone Postcard, as a title, also evokes a correspondence never actualised, given some weight dragging it down: a sunken promise of connection; a flight into love, shackled. In ‘Elegy’, a son never has the chance to learn the mystery of his father’s easy nature; in the title poem, a patient glimpses the promise of psychotherapy not from his therapist but from the small victory of usurping his chair; in ‘To Music’, the narrator learns too late that the voice of Montserrat Caballé was his friend’s final gift.
Among these ‘stone postcards’, Magee continues to explore his love of translation, which began in his first collection Cube Root of Book (2006). His nine-page depiction of Virgil’s Turnus Decides, with descriptions such as ‘air creaking with the shafts of spears’, is a delight to read and a powerful ending to a collection that began, so gently, with a four-year-old child.