Poetry review – Music for broken instruments

Music for broken instruments
A.S. Patric
Black Rider Press

'Music for broken instruments'Music for broken instruments, an e-book by Melbourne writer A.S. Patric, has already been endorsed by a formidable group of writers and poets, including Aural Text’s Alicia Sometimes, and Page Seventeen’s Tiggy Johnson. Reading the collection, this comes as no surprise.

Each page of the book has been beautifully typeset by Black Rider Press, against their trademark olde worlde crumple-watermarked pages in typewriter font. The tactility of the collection is frustrating, in part, for a digitally delivered book: Music for broken instruments begs to be printed on thick recycled paper, ribbon-bound and covered in leather or cloth for those winter afternoons with blanket, cat and cocoa. On the other hand, the aesthetics of the book cleverly serve as an enticement to press print.

Patric, a widely published prose writer whose work has previously appeared in publications such as Quadrant, Page Seventeen, Overland and Etchings, has often declared prose to be his first love, and indeed there are several poems in this first collection in which this ongoing affair is evident. The narrator in ‘Public Places’, for example, with his self-examination and rhetoric, could very successfully be escorted into first-person short story territory.

Patric’s poetry is at its best when the writer commits to form and style: when we see A.S. Patric The Poet in his element, structure and safeguards thrown to the wind. The otherworldly surrealism of ‘A Lover in Fortuna’ is a particular victory, the astonishing juxtaposition of images threaded together with extraordinary ease:

First thing I’m going to do is grow me a Friedrich Nietzsche moustache / and then I’m going to hunt down all the men dressed in bear suits… / …I just don’t know which way is up inside the cardboard packing box…

Elsewhere in Music for broken instruments, Patric brings this magic imagery to the every day. In ‘King Hit’, he conjures prisons only mice escape from, a coffee cup skull and an old man dancing like a king. In the poem ‘We of the Synchronised Yawns’, destiny becomes the train that leaves at 3.13am in the station of your mind. Each image is a wonder in and of itself.

Such is the beauty of Music for broken instruments: poems sit within poems, which crouch within poems, devouring poems. Ambitious, perhaps, for a writer who has not previously published much poetic work, but for the most part Patric’s grasp is as strong as his reach.

‘We publish like thieves in the night’ is the Black Rider Press mantra, and so captivating is Patric’s wordplay that one is unaware the intruder has visited until the house is all but empty.

This post has been cross-posted from slamup.

Maxine Beneba Clarke

Maxine Beneba Clarke is an Australian author and slam poet of Afro- Caribbean descent. Her short fiction collection Foreign Soil won the 2015 ABIA Award for Best Literary Fiction and the 2015 Indie Award for Best Debut Fiction, and was shortlisted for the Stella Prize. Her memoir, The Hate Race, her poetry collection Carrying the World, and her first children’s book, The Patchwork Bike, will be published by Hachette in late 2016.

More by Maxine Beneba Clarke ›

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  1. Thanks for this review, Maxine. I will go purchase. Might get some decent paper and print it out also (if only I’d done that Coptic binding class. aaaaaah.)
    And may I say in case I get too busy to do it another time, how nice it is to see reviews here! bravo.

  2. While I’m sure AS Patric’s poetry is very good, it had me thinking about where poets are published. Yes, there are many places that provide opportunities to be published in Australia but is that a reason to be published?

    How can an author feel comfortable being published by a journal, like Quadrant, who has a clear right-wing political agenda, which includes the dispossession of Indigenous people, while also being published in Overland?

    After reading this review, I went to the front page of Quadrant’s blog and this is what I found:

    “Sorry Day” anniversary 
(History Wars, May 26, 2010)
    The day we remember something that never happened.

    While not every poet needs to identify as being political, I have a certain expectation that a poet who publishes in a journal at least shares some of the journal’s ideals, whether it’s the experimentation of Going Down Swinging or the progressive ideas of Overland.

  3. Thanks for the review Maxine. Much appreciated.

    As Genevieve said, it’s great to have poetry reviews on the Overland blog but I do miss the actual poetry that used to be a vital part of it as well. Back in the day when a poem like ‘The Deputy Prime Minister is a Racist Pig’ could feel like the focal point for the whole Red Faces fiasco. The 39 impassioned comments on that post still reveal the unique power poetry has to emotionally open up a fault-line issue. Check it out–> http://web.overland.org.au/2009/10/11/the-deputy-prime-minister-is-a-racist-pig/

    Beyond the political charge such a poem is capable of releasing, there’s also a missed opportunity to further the development of e-literature. Which is to say, instead of doing our best to resemble print media–> moving in a new direction and seeing what else is possible. Because what’s clear to anyone interested in the question of e-media is that Literature itself is in transition. A revitalised forum of poetry is just one of the signs of this new territory we find opening up, right at our feet.

    * * *
    Oh, and Benjamin, let me be clear about my politics. I’m an Anarchist. I have been since I became political in my early teens. I was part of the Overland Master Class for Progressive Writers because of that sense of solidarity with what Overland represents. I thought it was a great honour to write for Overland’s blog for months and I would have hoped all of that would have spoken for itself. You certainly would not have read my posts and still found yourself questioning my political attitudes. But I suggest you relieve your ignorance and go back a few months and read what I have published here.

    For example, read my Overland post, Radical and Progressive–> http://web.overland.org.au/2009/12/06/radical-and-progressive/

    In regard to the question of me publishing a piece in Quadrant. I hadn’t published anything and they were the first. I wasn’t reading any literary journals at the time. I started sending my stories to magazines that I found in The Australian Writer’s Marketplace (Queensland Writer’s Centre), which described the journal as, and I quote, “Australian intellectual monthly magazine. Ranges over the whole intellectual spectrum.” Needless to say, when I found what those arseholes actually represented I did not send them another thing.

    And lastly Benjamin, read my work and make up your mind rather than judge me on some anomalous bit of my publishing history. I suppose that didn’t occur to you.

    1. I didn’t say poetry shouldn’t be political. I think all writing should be political. (By this I mean, all writing is already political but the author should be conscious of the politics of the piece.)

      Are you claiming ownership over Maxine’s poem? Because I happen to think Maxine’s poetry is an expression of what’s really powerful in a political voice, and in a poetic voice. And it is very powerful having poetry you can identify with when you’re not white in Australia.

      For some people, it might just be a question of an anarchist publishing in Quadrant, but for other people, it’s a daily fight.

      If this is your attitude to being published, that’s your answer. For some people it doesn’t matter where you’re published, as long as you’re published. And I guess this is what happens when writers don’t read journals.

      And I am familiar with your work, and have noted that anytime you’re published, you mention Quadrant. Given your post, ‘Radical and Progressive’, why keep Quadrant in your bio? You tacitly endorse them by keeping them in your publication history.

      (recaptcha: in barrooms. Apt, no?)

  4. Hi Benjamin. Thanks for your positive comments on my poetry.

    Below is an extract from the actual piece Alec published in Quadrant:

    “My father, as far as his language goes, will never have abandoned the shores of his homeland for longer than a few months. I became a translator before I was in my teens. I dealt with video salesman describing features I didn’t really understand and haggled over price through mumbling embarrassment, and with doctors and mechanics and lawyers and repair people. My Serbian was also good enough to translate most of my thoughts from English, but we would never have our feet in the same country, me and my father. A language barrier that really wasn’t about language at all, and not even me and him, and not about Australia or its English.

    Some boys get the paper route. Maybe that’s just in American films, because in our country we prefer pensioners for the job. But there were those kinds of jobs at the local supermarket stacking shelves and collecting trolleys. I don’t know what the other ‘paper route’ jobs for boys in my neighbourhood were, because mine was working in a gear making factory. And mostly I liked it. Thought the two-dollars fifty an hour I got paid, worthwhile.”

    (you can find the full text in his blog archives).

    In many ways, the essay is one of the most progressive pieces of A.S Patric’s work I’ve come across. Perhaps in the end, even if (originally) unintentional, the joke’s on Quadrant.

  5. I agree with Maxine, the poems within poems are fantastic, and it was thrilling to read poetry with such invention, especially when it came to word choice and image juxtaposition.

    Thank you, Alec!

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