Judith Beveridge reviews 'Happiness' by Martin Harrison

Judith Beveridge reviews 'Happiness' by Martin Harrison

Happiness

by Martin Harrison

UWA Publishing, $24.99 pb, 112 pp, 9781742586861

'Happiness' may seem like an odd word for the title of a book of poetry, and given the circumstances of Martin Harrison's final years – his illness, the tragic death of his younger Tunisian lover, Nizar Bouheni – the title is rather ironic, but the poems in this posthumous volume are rich, bountiful, full of the same 'worshipful attention', the same sense of open contemplation and wonderment that characterised his previous volumes. Indeed, the sense of ecstasy that deep looking at the material world can bring seems even more heightened in these late poems. The dialogic investigations, not only with landscape and things of nature, but with ways of seeing and perceiving, are intensified, along with Harrison's recognition that the world stands before us in such plenitude that our immersion in its multifariousness can bring both intense joy and also a sense that we are totally incapable of holding such richness.

Harrison is so adept at active seeing and exploring how a sensual panorama is implicated in various abstract questions, usually to do with perception, value, aesthetics, memory, and how we negotiate the changing aspect of experience. The poem 'White-Tailed Deer' enacts this gloriously, the first two stanzas setting out a range of sensory detail constantly coming into being and dissolving: 'For a moment you understand / startled ecstasy – it's a squawky wattlebird landing / (no, that's a dream half-merged with a memory) / or it's the elbow jerk with which the car boot slams, / happenings which aren't noticed or which can't be, / how the shopping brought home brushes the passage wall, / how events change time's flow beneath perception. / Really, you've no idea what's going on. You hardly grab a thing.'

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Published in December 2015, no. 377
Judith Beveridge

Judith Beveridge

Judith Beveridge won the 2015 Peter Porter Poetry Prize. Her latest poetry publications are Devadatta’s Poems and Hook and Eye, which was published by George Braziller for the US market. She currently teaches creative writing at the University of Sydney.