Judith Bishop reviews 'Zanzibar Light' by Philip Mead

Judith Bishop reviews 'Zanzibar Light' by Philip Mead

Zanzibar Light

by Philip Mead

Vagabond Press, $24.95 pb, 104 pp, 9781922181701

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 that I have not before?

The title and opening poem, as in many collections, are intentional signals, and set our expectations. To begin with, the country of Tanzania is absent from these poems. The common lyric frame of ‘X Light’ is at once made visible and dismantled, as in René Magritte’s famous painting of a pipe, Ceci n’est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe). In the same vein, the title of the opening poem, ‘Cumquat May’, flirts with the vernal shades of May that arise despite our hemisphere, but neither May nor citrus is anywhere in sight. ‘Come what may’ is heard instead, a pointed allusion to the temporal resignation that is the weather of this book. It is not surprising to find clouds in many of the poems, as we do in John Ashbery – neither poet shuns the lyric trope of cloud as volatility. The clouds may be a signifier of affinity with that poet. As Mead writes in ‘Cumquat May’: ‘We’re bound together by a long arc of occasions / and a future that’s semi-fictional.’

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Judith Bishop

Judith Bishop

Judith Bishop lives in Melbourne, Australia, and has studied in the United States and Britain. She is Director of Linguistic Services at a multinational language technology company. Her poems have won many awards, including the Peter Porter Poetry Prize (2006, 2011), an American Academy of Poets University prize (2004) and the Marten Bequest Travelling Scholarship (2002-2004). Her translations from French poets (Philippe Jaccottet, Gérard Macé) have appeared in Australian and international journals. Her first book, Event (Salt, 2007), won the FAW Anne Elder award and was shortlisted for the CJ Dennis Prize, the Judith Wright Calanthe Award, and the ASAL Mary Gilmore Prize. She has recently published a second collection, Interval (UQP, 2018).

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