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Life Before Man

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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The poetry community in Australia, as in the United Kingdom, has been slow to accept prose poetry as a legitimate poetic form. Yet there have been celebrated exponents of prose poetry over nearly two centuries – and even longer if the prose component of the Japanese Haibun, developed by Matsuo Bashō (1644–94), is understood as prose poetry.

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Life Before Man (LBM), the poetry imprint of Gazebo Books, was founded by artist and publisher Phil Day in 2020. To date, seven books have been published, including works by Subhash Jaireth, Cassandra Atherton, Anthony Lawrence, Gary Catalano, and Alex Selenitsch. Forthcoming is a substantial international anthology of prose poetry, titled Alcatraz.

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