apparently – Joanne Burns (Giramondo, 2019)
After reading apparently, Joanne Burns’ latest collection, I was perhaps most struck by the seeming luxuriousness of it all. The first section, ‘planchettes’, consists of poems inspired by crosswords, the glorious on-the-clock pastime of bored poet-cum-office workers. Here the clues bleed into small, surreal poems that scratch that same itch and demand that same re-reading.
The last few poems, from ‘the random couch’ section, consist of – gloriously – poems written while reclining, probably on a weekend, though hopefully on a day taken off ‘sick’.
The poems themselves, though, leave little room for luxury. They are dizzying, blistering, attention-demanding. They are poems that resist being read between phone calls and emails, and which boast a remarkable breadth. ‘The optional anchovy’ is an ode to takeaway pizza, ‘a query or two’ gives voice to a gnawing scepticism of the over-complication and perhaps over-consumerism of queer culture, while ‘pro-tractor’ is a real cat-scratch of a poem, refusing to be forgotten and moving deliriously between deceased estates, organic vegetables and psephology.
Burns’ poems square up to the scrap of everyday living, at times swinging wildly but always with a keen eye. Nothing is missed here and nothing off table. ‘Swivel chairs’, ‘syrian soap’, ‘local barramundi’ and Macbeth are all brought into laser focus and just as quickly done away with. Nothing escapes Burns’ poetic scrutiny, and we are all the richer for it.
Suns – Tim Wright (Puncher & Wattman, 2018)
There has been a lot said about contemporary Australian poetry’s current preoccupation with the ‘everyday’ (a rather useless word) – if not in theory then at least in the beer-gardens and backyards where that kind of poetry resides. Perhaps no-one is doing it better than Tim Wright. His latest collection, Suns, seems to catch everything, like a wicket-keeper playing out of his skin – ‘tenured seagulls’, ‘tasmanian pulp’, ‘yuck colours’ are all folded into a kind of winking lyricism that seems at first so easy, but then suddenly whips your bails off.
Yet, it’s a lovely walk back to the changeroom. It’s as if each of these poems was written on a deliriously beautiful day – so many seem to stem from Wright’s uncanny knack of knowing ‘there were photographic moments happening’, and his ability to capture them. So often we seem to be right there – on a footpath, a bike line, a living room— and yet we’re never weighed down by the kind of over-explanation that can so easily cause a good poem to come unstuck. The problem, of course, is the difficulty in finishing a book that demands you put in down, take a walk and write poetry of your own (before inevitably giving up and returning to Suns).
All of this, though, seems rather redundant in the face of the title poem. We’re told on the back cover that this book collates poems from around ten years; an attempt, I think, to explain the broad-reaching nature of the collection. It becomes something of a brag, however – a decade writing only that one poem would seem to me to be a decade well spent. It’s ten wickets caught behind, backed-up with an opening hundred. It’s a 5-0 series whitewash. It is, quite simply, a cracker of a poem.
CRAVE – Holly Friedlander Liddicoat (Rabbit, 2018)
It’s always a pleasure to ride high in the passenger seat as a poet shows you through their town, which is exactly the feel of Holly Friedlander Liddicoat’s debut collection, CRAVE. From the pub to the bottle-shop, these poems rollick through a side of Sydney that you can’t help but feel is in its last gasp. What happens to the ratbags now that the Liberal party has won another term? It’s a question this collection seems acutely aware of, with poems like ‘Kirribilli Car Park Spots Sells for $120,000 at Auction’ and ‘Sydney vs London’ rightfully worried about the insidious wealth divide that has caught us ‘navel gaz[ing]’.
Perhaps the answer is moving to the ‘seething grey’ of Berlin, a ‘site of comings / of comings / of comings / and goings’; but even when overseas the poems are still concerned with the anxieties of home. In Hamburg, surrounded by Australians (an inevitability nowadays, it seems), we’re left staring at our bank accounts –
in Sydney statistically
if you spend more than 30% of your income on rent
you live below the Poverty Line
(I’m giving you time to do those calculations)
Where to then? Back home, I suppose. To ‘brunch in jars’ and ‘$18 burgers’. Holly is right to lament this, alongside our national tendency to shirk responsibility for the circumstances we find ourselves in – even if we are not to blame (another question entirely), why aren’t we ‘waving flags outside/ the detention centre gates’? Yet there’s hope still in this collection – in the face of a ruthless governmental effort to bag the few remaining rats in Sydney, CRAVE is a testament to the ongoing tradition of poet-as-a-stick-in-your-throat.
Sergius Seeks Bacchus – Norman Erikson Pasaribu (Giramondo Books, 2019)
In an interview with Books and Bao, Tiffany Tsao remarks on the difficulty of translation – ‘it took me months to figure out a version of the last two lines [of ‘Finding Leo’] that Norman and I were happy with’. I can only imagine, then, the love and labour that has gone into translating Pasaribu’s collection Sergius Seeks Bacchus.
These poems navigate queerness in the face of hostility with tenderness and humour – the poem ‘Aubade’ so perfectly captures the pains of coming out and, more acutely, the pain of wanting to in the ‘long shadows cast by parents’. ‘On a Pair of Young Men…’ moves deliriously between the front seats of a Toyota Rush in an underground Jakarta car park to John Henry Newman’s single room, tracing a line through 150 years of queerness kept hidden, secret. The poem ‘Saudade’ deals with falling in love on the koasi, but with a backdrop of danger unfathomable to those riding the 59 tram. While in ‘Lives in Accrual Accounting, Yours and Mine’, life under capital reaches its final stop, as Pasaribu audits a life’s worth of pain and pleasure into a net loss/profit, ‘in the hope of perfection’.
To be writing this review at the same time as the UK Home Affairs Office has changed its twitter profile picture to include a rainbow flag background is almost unbelievable – only because it’s astoundingly true. What is brutally apparent in this collection is the homophobic colonial legacy that has been left behind in Indonesia. As Pasaribu himself notes in an interview with Electric Lit, ‘liberation is never a gift. You have to snatch it from the fuckers’ hands’. This collection is a pointed act of queer resistance, but also of love in the hope of ‘a new day / [where] fear is far behind’.
Reading for a Quiet Morning – Petra White (GloriaSMH Press, 2017)
To start, a confession. My knowledge of the book of Ezekiel, the biblical text off which White’s opening lyrical mini-epic ‘How the Tower Was Built’ is based, was until a week or so ago limited entirely to Talking Heads’ ‘Slippery People’. I was worried I wasn’t going to ‘get’ it, but then I read the poem – then i read it again, and again. I’m sure that more discerning readers will glean a much deeper understanding of the mythic prowess that is on display here – but regardless of biblical know-how, this is a truly great poem.
The God of this poem – grappling with a being that has so quickly outgrown him – seems to me a much ‘truer’ entity than any more recent imagining, which is to say, I suppose, that a god of creation seems more likely than a god of surveillance. White’s passage, imaging this act of creation, ‘planets cascading like ash from his sleeve’, is magnificent.
Esther, Ezekiel’s wife who in the Bible’s telling remains forever nameless and who Ezekiel is forbidden to mourn, is given a profound agency here. She ‘reeks of life’, passing Eve the apple ‘to crack her eyes open to the world’.
‘You only like the beginnings of things’, she spurns God by noting – an observation that feels rather contemporary. When thinking about these epic tales, it’s hard not to feel we live in distinctly un-mythic times – certainly there is no-one lying on the top of a hill, ‘one day for each year / of the people’s iniquity’. White’s poem, at least for a while, brings a little back.