A striking feature of this collection of Geoffrey Lehmann’s poetry of fifty-six years is how few loci of interest there are: ancient Rome, a farm in rural New South Wales, parenthood. His characteristic mode seems to be to explore these exhaustively by holding them up to the light and investigating every facet. Wallace Stevens’s ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’ hovers behind these poems as an emblem of their method, and it is no accident that the fifth-last poem is called ‘Thirteen Reviews of the New Babylon Inn’.
We meet this in the first group of poems, ‘Simple Sonnets’. Their title is, I suspect, an allusion to Prokofiev’s ‘Simple Symphony’, which established a good strategy for artists keen to do something distinctively new in an established, rather old-fashioned form which is already the site of forbidding masterworks of the past. There are fourteen of them; one more than the poems about the blackbird, but one for each line of a sonnet. Each poem is made up of seven roughly rhymed couplets, and they tap into the near-nightmare world of some of the border ballads: ‘I saw a deaf man feeding with the pigs, / And further on among some poison figs / A child lay dead.’