Poetry

David McCooey reviews three new poetry collections

David McCooey
Friday, 20 March 2020

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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Felicity Plunkett has being doing good works in the poetry sphere for some time now. She has edited for UQP a recent series of new and established poets; she reviews a wide variety of poetry in newspapers and magazines, as well as writing evocatively, in this journal, about influential figures in popular Australian poetics like Nick Cave and Gurrumul Yunupingu. Valuably, she has also made practical contributions to poetry teaching in the secondary English curriculum. Now she has published a second volume of her own poetry, a varied collection of highly accomplished poems.

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It is comparatively rare for a new writer to bring out his first two collections in the one year, and even more rare that one should be a collection of verse and the other of short stories. Yet this is exactly what Peter Goldsworthy has done. His name will be unfamiliar to many, but those who regularly read literary magazines will have come across his stories and poems before and he will undoubtedly be heard of again.

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How different can two books be? Peter Rose’s first book, The House of Vitriol, is one of the first off the rank for the new Picador poetry series – and a sign of things to come. It is mercurial where Lehmann is mild. Rose’s style is very distinct: gaudy and revved up from the start.

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W.H. Auden once rebuked Percy Shelley for characterising poets as ‘the unacknowledged legislators of the world’. To think this way is to confuse hard with soft power, coercion with persuasion. Poetry, as Auden famously wrote, ‘makes nothing happen’; he instead bestowed Shelley’s epithet upon ‘the secret police’. But in an age of surveillance and information warfare that has militarised the channels of everyday communication, the line between hard and soft becomes more difficult to draw. The very notion of a random or innocent signal seems laughably naïve as we are inundated by new suspicions and suspicions of news. But the state of mind in which there is always more meaning to be had is one that poetry invites us to inhabit. For Shelley, poems were ‘hieroglyphs’ and the poetic imagination an ‘imperial faculty, whose throne is curtained within the invisible nature of man’. Is the poet an agent, then, of this secretive control? Perhaps Shelley was on Auden’s side all along.

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Kevin Brophy reviews 'Sandstone' by Andrew Taylor

Kevin Brophy
Tuesday, 11 February 2020

On my most recent visit to Warrnambool in December 1994, the newspapers carried a tragic story about some local youths who had been digging in the coastline dunes and sandstone cliffs outside the town. One of them had died when their cave collapsed. It is this wild, unpredictably dangerous but attractive coastline that features in the title sequence to Andrew Taylor’s new book. In Sandstone, the blurb on the back cover tells us, Taylor returns ‘to the sight [sic] of his childhood’.

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The assertion that ‘love is strong as death’ comes from the Song of Solomon, a swooning paean to sexual love that those unfamiliar with the Old Testament might be startled to find there. Songwriter and musician Paul Kelly has included it in this hefty, eclectic, and beautifully produced anthology of poetry, which has ‘meaningful gift’ written all over it. 

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Having spent two decades or more writing massive verse novels – The Nightmarkets (1986) and The Lovemakers (2001, 2004) – it may seem that Alan Wearne, with his latest book of poetry, The Australian Popular Songbook, has finally returned to smaller forms and, as suggested by the title, a more lyrical idiom. But, as always with Wearne’s work, things aren’t that simple. The smaller forms were already present in the verse novels in the form of sonnets, villanelles and other verse forms buried in the sprawling architecture of the works’ narratives. The ‘lyrical idiom’ of The Australian Popular Songbook is ambiguous at best, offset as it is by Wearne’s characteristic attraction to the dramatic monologue, satire, vernacular culture and wrenched syntax.

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Kevin Brophy reviews 'Night Parrots' by John Kinsella

Kevin Brophy
Friday, 20 December 2019

Lasseter, it has been said, was a strange man, admired for his unusual and innovative ideas. He told a story of being caught during a storm in Central Australia: he put all his clothes in a hollow log, stood naked until the storm passed, and was then able to don his dry clothing. Though some claim that Lasseter was at Gallipoli, he did become the source of another great Australian myth of failure.

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James Jiang reviews 'Heide' by Π.O.

James Jiang
Monday, 16 December 2019

Heide is the final instalment of an epic trilogy that began with 24 Hours (1996) and was followed by Fitzroy: A biography (2015). It also marks a departure for π.O. In this third volume (the only one in the trilogy not to be self-published), the unofficial poet laureate of Fitzroy turns his attention away from the migrant and working-class characters of his beloved suburb toward the names that line the bookshelves and gallery walls of the nation’s most august institutions.

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