I've read a lot of poetry books
this past year, commiseration not necessary. This country's output of fine work continues
despite the ever present financial pressures. If we're near the end of the age of paper,
teetering at abyss of irrelevance for the poem at least we can say we are bearing up with
a dogged panache.
The exception to this has been
the verse novel. Never a robust breed, the last year's crop has been almost universally
disappointing. Superb poets disappoint with works that fail to engage the reader on the
level of the novel whilst simultaneously stumbling poetically. For me, the best of the
crop was Alicia Bennetts Faith which explores the interactions between a
prostitute and a policewoman. With her dense characterisation, stringently sparse language
and coherent narrative this was the verse novel of the year.
A friend of mine commented that
whilst reading Juggernaut, they felt as if they were being physically assaulted.
There is no other poet in Australia more promiscuous in his language and imagery.
- ... caught up no doubt
- in the backstage antics of
mistress Cleo who with
- perfect aim from a great height
pisses in the mouth
- of an elderly gent gurgling like
I confess to a conflict of
interest here, being a voluntary director of Island Press, but I had no role whatsoever in
the publication of this title. The quality of the work demands I include it in this
overview. Begging bowls are German tank helmets, three old women are a commentariat on
sex, the dead supply a sealed-off town with soiled underwear, mouldy bread. We are invited
to "wear my skin give me money, millions" but for most of us we wouldn't dare,
couldn't keep up the pace. For regular readers of Hammial one would recognize returns to
familiar themes a bizarre bazaar of imagery, reckless autobiography and a viciously
sharp humour often in the form of abrupt contra-philosophical propositions. Many past
readers will have given up on Hammial because the language is simply too much work. He has
become more accessible over the years whilst retaining all that which makes his work
Love in the place of rats is
the first book of Hardacres that I'd read, it won't be the last. Like Juggernaut,
this is a breathless book - hot and flighty. Both books assert the vibrancy of life lived
and the reader is viscerally engaged. Hardacre sweeps through aggressively (telegraphed by
a superb cover from Sam Shmith), a gale of a book punctuated by the twisted power poles of
slashes above the turbulent stream of ampersands. Reminiscent of early Kerouac, the poet
tosses a passing wave to Waits, Duggan, Forbes, O'Hara & Seuss on the way to a voice
that is demonstrably his...
- nurse ramps morning past
- the assembly of vomiting puppets
Universal & horseback
- & this bus seat smells
- of urine & burnt plastic
- sea of tranquillity
- one zero five is the room &
- & the lightbulb is bare /
Old Crow Monday
Marvis Sofields Interstitial
Journeys runs at a very different pace. A poet's first book is both culmination and a
birth... years of progressing one's art to a point where you can put a body of your work
irrevocably on display can and should be honoured. But it is also just the first signpost
on what one expects to be a long journey. Themes and approaches hinted at here will expand
in future books.
This is a very good first book.
Sofield's background has spanned New York, the Illawarra and the outback, this rich life
has spawned a knowing, honest poetic voice. The tone is deliberately sparse with carefully
placed incandescence. The reader will marvel at the implacable pulse of Broken Hill:
- i wheeze in this town
- of electric hums
Broken Hill 1.
rocks jut into syenite sky
But Sofield roams wider:
- Shimmer metal green
these wings will never
- rise from Horyuji Temple
held by gilded
- filigree a
- of impeded flight.
In a time when words are spilt
too cheaply we again have a staunch but human book that frankly matters.
From baguettes to vignettes -
Tasmanian James Charlton's So Much Light ranges both in place and theme
(Japan/Tasman Peninsula Truganini/Antwerp 1233). This is a book of spiritual searching and
deep observation, perhaps not so fashionable nowadays but I found it to be a rewarding
At the bottom
- of hopelessness
- another hope is given
- We sing
Another great book from a fine
How many enduring characters
can you remember in Australian poetry? One for me is Peter Henry Lupus. At long last we
have a complete body of work celebrating Australia's leading rabbit. Not finding
Wittgenstein is a remarkable collection - playful, brutal, intelligent and empathic.
We start with him arriving in Australia. Occasionally bereft and puzzled, Peter is almost
- he meets a travelling
- flock of boastful galahs
- who tell him they are poets of
A Good Rabbit?
There is a vast wry cleverness
behind these poems as human politics, philosophy, pretension and practices are identified
then judged. The always interested rabbit spends time in Iraq, studying gore and
- Peter Henry decides,
& - especially - Thales
- was wrong about sand - in the
season without rain
- in the Iraqi Western desert:
if sand is chewed,
no water will come from it. He has tried.
Thales of the Pre-Socratics
Wildly different works, all
provide real sustenance in an time of fatty noise. And this is why poetry wont die.
Theres a way forward into readers lives, a reason why we poets continue nailed
to our computer desks. Buy these books and get a little richer.