Vagabond Press

Capacity by LK Holt & Theory of Colours by Bella Li

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November 2021, no. 437

These days, poetry is primarily a visual experience. So claims the American poet and theorist Cole Swensen, whose essay ‘To Writewithize’ argues for a new definition of ekphrasis. Traditionally understood to be writing about visual art, ekphrasis typically has a poet stand across from a painting or sculpture, in a kind of face-off, and write about it. To ‘writewithize’, however, is to take a different approach: this is not writing made about art but made with it. This is writing that, in Swensen’s words, ‘lives with the work and its disturbances’. Two new Vagabond releases by Bella Li and LK Holt are doing ekphrastic and intertextual work that is exquisitely disturbing. These are moody books of allusion and visual play by two of Melbourne’s most brilliant poets.

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Good poetry uncovers the secret in the manifest, and the manifest in the secret. Three new collections throw this paradox into vibrant, unsettling relief. Each book deserves a broad readership. Each beats back the lethargic thinking that has invaded society under the cover of the pandemic.

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Tilt by Kate Lilley

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October 2020, no. 425

‘Even if truth be drawn from the work,’ writes Maurice Blanchot, ‘the work overruns it, takes it back into itself to bury and hide it.’ This strange, poetic movement to conceal what is manifest brings to mind another statement, by the psychiatrist and author Judith Herman: ‘The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma.’

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Peter Boyle’s Enfolded in the Wings of a Great Darkness (Vagabond Press, $25 pb, 82 pp) is a book-length elegiac poem dedicated to his partner, the anthropologist Deborah Bird Rose (1946–2018). Unlike other works lamenting the illness and loss of a spouse, Boyle’s collection largely avoids representing the day-to-day demands of suffering from (or caring for someone suffering from) an incurable disease. Instead, Boyle’s poetry sequence offers a more metaphysical approach to the uncertainty and grief that he and his partner faced.

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A few pages into this collection we read the line: ‘all of it is lies’. ‘It’ signals the irritation that motivates much of Pam Brown’s writing in click here for what we do. Memory, in these poems, is a problem. Brown’s is very much a poetry of movement: she desires to stay light and mobile, not to be detained by memory ...

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There is a shimmering, ludic intelligence to this collection of poems, Philip Mead’s first since 1984. The word ‘comeback’ is apt, with its grace note of gladness for renewed possibilities. Opening any new work, the anticipation is acute: will I be changed by reading this, and if so, how? What might I think, feel, or recognise ...

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Archipelago by Adam Aitken & Present by Elizabeth Allen

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May 2018, no. 401

Both Adam Aitken’s Archipelago and Elizabeth Allen’s Present examine the establishment and mutability of identity in the worlds of objects, histories, literature, and media in which they place their speakers. Of course, the exploration of identity is a common theme of poetry, particularly as it pertains to how the material of language ...

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All writers need good bookshelves, but the poet, perhaps more than any other writer, is charged with the involuntary dispensation and relentless accumulation of reading material. This is partly due to the proclivities of the producers and partly due to the characteristics of the form itself. As the notable cultural critic Pierre Bourdieu remarked, poetry's effects d ...

Jessica L. Wilkinson won the 2014 Peter Porter Poetry Prize with ‘Arrival Platform Humlet', a phantasmagoria of typographical and lexical invention whirling around a tune of the same name by Percy Grainger. This book performs the same service for his whole life and oeuvre, to stunning effect.

Grainger (188 ...

After Naptime by Chris Edwards

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April 2015, no. 370

Chris Edwards is an enigmatic presence in Australian poetry. Part of a generation of poets who came of age in the 1970s, he co-edited the short-lived Beyond Poetry (1974–76) but then abandoned publication for many years. With the onset of a new millennium, he unexpectedly re-emerged, publishing a series of chapbooks that culminated in his first full-length ...

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