Judith Bishop

J.S. Harry and her lapin alter ego, Peter Henry Lepus, would assuredly have had ‘words to say’ about the war in Ukraine and its manufacture by a group of human beings. Peter, a Wittgensteinian, would have pondered hard the nature of the war ‘games’ that preceded use of arms: games in which each ‘move’ was a crafted piece of language and (dis)information, known as ‘intelligence’ or ‘diplomacy’, but where the ‘endgame’ and ‘stakes’ would involve the disposition of human flesh and blood. ‘The dead do not have a world ... / A human’s world is language: “logic” & “words”, Peter thinks’ (‘After the Fall of Baghdad’).

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There could be someone, there, walking through a forest – upright or / slightly bending – gathering, not berries, or fallen nuts, or mushrooms, / but thoughts; there could be thoughts like whining insects that drill down

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We can walk into a room not knowing. / It doesn’t happen every time. // A white room can be painted to be pure. / I mean, just to show us that it’s clean.

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i.
Look, said the sonographer, your sister says hello!
A black photo
where the future rival sucks a thumb-to-be.
Never in all history
was such a portent visible
without a guiding star ...

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Very rarely, a poem comes almost complete. Even then I’ll tinker. That could mean as many as twenty drafts. A typical poem will take fifty to seventy before it rings clear, without a false note, or a word that trips the tongue. Some drafts are minimal – one or two words. I save them all as Word documents and number them sequentially. That way, I can always go back to an earlier draft if I take a wrong turn. 

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Change Machine is an exceptionally strong third collection. To the extent that a schematic of thesis–antithesis– synthesis applies to poets’ books, this one both exceeds and incorporates the work that came before. Intriguingly, the title poem seems a late addition, citing the pandemic in three clipped lines, borne on the shoulders of two innocuous words, should and but:

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In a letter to a friend, American poet James Wright reflected on the meaning of a Selected Poems for a peer he considered undervalued: ‘It shows that defeat, though imminent for all of us, is not inevitable.’ He quoted ...

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Original voices are always slippery to describe. The familiar weighing mechanisms don’t work very well when the body of work floats a little above the weighing pan, or darts around in it. As in dreams, a disturbing familiarity may envelop the work with an elusive scent. It is no different for poetry than for ...

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To celebrate the best books of 2018, Australian Book Review invited nearly forty contributors to nominate their favourite titles. Contributors include Michelle de Kretser

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It is a curious thing, and not a little moving, to see writers celebrated for their work in other genres turn in later life with renewed vigour to poetry. David Malouf, like Clive James, has avowed a desire for poetry now, as the main form of writing his expression wants to take. Certainly, its brevity has a part in this ...

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