Luke Beesley

Ken by Anthony Lawrence & Aflame by Subhash Jaireth

April 2022, no. 441

Australia has a stylish new poetry press. The two books reviewed here by Life Before Man, the poetry wing of Gazebo Books, preference book cover art and poem above all the usual paraphernalia: publishing details, barcodes, author notes – even the epigraph – are tucked into a back page, and there are no apparently distracting contents pages or page numbers. Most of the poems sit neatly on the right side of the page with a private blank beige page buffer. There’s orientation in a contents list, and I trust the poets have a choice about whether they want one. That said, there’s a holiday-like liberation in slipping through unmoored. It’s a subtle reading experience, but do these aesthetic somewhat precious innovations justify the use of extra paper?

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In one of the indelible memories of my life, I take in a room drained of sunlight – late afternoon, early evening – and the blotchy font of a 1990s Picador paperback edition of Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient. I feel a slipping sentence: ‘In the kitchen she doesn’t pause but goes through it and climbs the stairs which are in darkness and then continues along the long hall, at the end of which is a wedge of light from an open door.’ The words move and there is movement and ‘a buckle of noise’ and ‘the first drops of rain’.

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Hear the way these poets use moonlight. According to a delicious detail in Jill Jones’s thirteenth full-length collection, Wild Curious Air (Recent Work Press, $19.95, 76 pp), ‘The moon’s light takes just over a second to reach our faces.’ In the context of meaning, note the length of the sound in the word ‘faces’. Jones affectingly contrasts this second with the light that left a star, centuries ago: ‘Always a past touches us, as this hot January forgets us.’

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If I were to make gauche generalisations about the poetics of MTC Cronin, Jordie Albiston, and Michael Farrell, I might respectively write conceptual, technical, and experimental. But these established poets – each in their fifties, highly regarded – display fluency with all these descriptors, especially in their latest books.

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With her first book, Zoetrope, in 1995, MTC Cronin announced herself as a very particular force in Australian poetry. It was not just that her début was so much more immediately arresting than most poets' first outings, but also that it had real authority. This authority, coming from force of intellect and a kind of absolutist, almost inscribed imagination ...

after Koch/Cohen, Malley/Breton, Roussel!

This, too, is about a thousand characters. It’s much like the
last one. I wouldn’t even read beyond the following sentence.
The following sentence is a silky thing – purple in the late
day, drizzled in afternoon fog. Inside a microwave oven is

- What type of truck?
- A fire truck.

The taper of a cup
sitting pretty in a circle –

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