Gazebo Books, $24.99 pb, 112 pp
Alcatraz is an international anthology of prose poems which builds on the success of previous collaborations between the artist Phil Day and poets Cassandra Atherton and Paul Hetherington. Contributors include many outstanding poets from the United States (twenty-eight), the United Kingdom (ten), and Australia (thirteen), with smaller numbers of poets from India, New Zealand, Germany, Singapore, Vietnam and Hong Kong. The title with its alphabetical alpha and omega, was offered to the poets as an inspiration. I was halfway through the book before I realised the book itself embodies a multitude of jail breaks, vaulting over a range of conventions. These include its front and back cover – entirely taken up by a numinous painted image, the title on its spine the only printed word – and even the luxurious feel of its paper.
Each poem is paired with a line drawing by Phil Day. These have been executed on a cream-coloured Japanese paper whose textured surface, even in the photographs, contrasts with the flatness of the black-and-white text in a pleasurable way. The drawings respond, the notes tell us, to a line in each poem. But neither the poem nor the image is subordinate. Rather, the juxtaposition seems to generate a space in which each art form lifts off the page all the more sharply for its contrast with the other. Not for Alcatraz, either, the usual jostle of poems on facing pages, each poet vying for attention with the other. The image is on the left, and on the right is a poem (with the order reversed toward the end). It’s a small detail, but the sheer spaciousness allows the reader to pay leisurely attention to both poem and image. The sense of freedom is further enhanced by the happy absence of page numbers, releasing the reader from the mirage of speed. In fact, the reading pace decreases the further you go, since the anthology is ordered from shortest poem to longest: another escape from convention. So the poets, too, recur at odd intervals, depending on the length of their poem. It’s all a breath of fresh air.