walleah press



Review: And The Ringmaster Said, by David Stavanger

Small Change Press 2008

An original and provocative voice from Brisbane, David Stavanger offers a poetry imbued with a keen sense of the wasted beauty and beguiling horror of modern life. What distinguishes Stavanger’s work from many of his fellow midnight ramblers is a finely honed irony and human vulnerability and refusal to take itself too seriously. One of my favourite poems from the collection, Old Poet To Young Poet, starts with a fierce denunciation by the ‘old poet’ that concludes:

"I" and "we" should not be used as poems are illuminations not spotlights

but then settles into a kind of counter-litany of the poets’ respective qualities:

young poets throw lavish launches / old poets decline invitations


young poet dreams / old poet is happy to sleep at night

It would be easy to go for the jugular here (especially one imagines, that of the ‘old poet’) but Stavanger treads a tightrope between the two and brilliantly humanises them both. (I won’t give you the ending except to say that ‘old poet’ does indeed get the last word).

Stavanger uses a spare, taut diction often couched in an avian imagery that is menacing and predatory:

On Saturday night the raptors strike
shirts tucked in / claws out taxis record their flight plan
                                                                (15 Birds )

men of grand vision circling above the village while the women wash
their feathers and cut up the worms.
                                                                (And the Ringmaster…)

In a fairly audacious gesture, Stavanger juxtaposes his ‘Ringmaster’ poems with his more spare and direct free verse offerings, creating an uneasy alliance between the two (one I suspect that has precedents in his David Stavanger/Ghostboy split personality). As William Blake says, ‘Without contraries is no progression’ and the voice of the ‘Ringmaster’ constantly playing on the metaphor of life (and poetry) as an elaborate juggling act,

He knows, without his hat the crowds would eat him
                                                                (And the Ringmaster)

provides his book with a dynamic tension. The metaphor of perception as sleight-of-hand spills over into the ‘straight’ poems:

a woman laughs
clouds disappear like rabbits
                                                                (Exit Sign)

This book is a worthy offering by the vibrant Small Change Press from a poet who is not afraid to put himself in the 3 a.m. line-up of suspects:

shoot the first man who steals your heart
but remember you were born a thief too