TEXT review


A parcel of rogues in search of a theme

review by Sandra Burr

 



David Brooks and Elizabeth McMahon (guest eds)
Southerly: A Nest of Bunyips
Volume 71, Number 3
Brandl Schlesinger, Sydney 2011
ISBN 9781921556296
Pb 264pp AUD26.95

 

In his editorial, David Brooks says that this edition of Southerly contains a backlog of submissions “too good to reject but refusing an easy categorisation” (6) for inclusion in previous, themed issues. A poem by Michael Sharkey, ‘Where the Bunyip Builds its Nest’, prompted Brooks to pull together this collection of poems and literary criticism by or about poets, and which seemed to fit the profile of bunyips, those ‘strange hybrids whose shrill quarrellings can sometimes be heard late at night’ (7). It is a considerable collection of poems, essays, stories and reviews indeed; the edition is not only longer than usual, it has overflowed into The Long Paddock, Southerly’s online sister site. The relationship between the writing in this collection is nebulous as the content of a bunyip’s nest; difficult to appraise.

Sharkey’s inspirational poem is a delightful conceit – a bricolage of 200 lines of poetry taken from the work of other poets that traces and celebrates 200 years of Australian poetry. Sharkey’s introduction, or gloss, provides a very interesting and illuminating explanation of the poem, which, while dealing with a serious subject, is clearly written with a sense of fun. The poem is made up of five centos (poems made up of other poet’s lines) and of necessity, includes pages of endnotes for the forensically inclined. It really is a masterful work and we should be indebted to David Brooks for its publication.

Many fine poems are inspired by nature, the bush, animals, plants, and birds: works by Thomas Shapcott, Kate Middleton, Andrew Burke, Tom Overdale, John Kinsella (the ‘Jam Tree Gully Poems’), Julia Maclean, and Graham Kershaw.  I was particularly entranced by Burke’s description of ‘lace faced fungus’ and ‘... snails/that deckle our mail’ (‘The Name of the Game’, 149).

Other poems exemplify the diversity of the collection: from the whimsical ‘Surplus’by DJ Huppatz, and Jennifer Maiden’s equally wonderful ‘The Pearl Roundabout’ which invokes Hilary Clinton and Eleanor Roosevelt, to the reflective mourning for lost things by Peter Kirkpatrick in ‘The Angels of the House’. There are funny poems like the self-deprecatory ‘Poetry and Violins’ by Michael Crane, and deeply unsettling poems such as the brutal images of slaughter in Dimitra Hervey’s ‘Sport’, which brought me to tears.  Sarah Jane Barnett’s ‘Marathon Man’ is a gem; a beautifully constructed piece moving through traditional stanzas to prose poetry and looping back to a paragraph structure in a compelling narrative about a prosthetic leg.

There are four short stories, the best being Matthia Dempsey’s evocative contemplation of love and loss, ‘One Week Gone’, and Greg Bogaert’s tale of an ageing, disabled Parisian market porter who, through unusual circumstances, experiences a profound change of luck (‘Market Porter’). The story is accompanied by a delightful photograph of a market porter taken in Paris at the end of the nineteenth century.

The subject matter of the essays is as wide ranging as the poetry. Kevin Hart’s in depth discussion of the story of Susannah and the elders in ‘Susannah without the Cherub’ focusses on her ambiguous nature as ‘both butterfly and cherub, beautiful and chaste’ (77). He critiques AD Hope’s view of Susannah as presented in his poem, ‘The Double Looking Glass’,and concludes that ‘we are left with a dream that became a vision and that will be smashed, at least temporarily, by a brutal reality’ (95). Kevin Hart is himself the subject of an essay in this edition: Lachlan Brown’s ‘The Edges and Voices of Silence in Kevin Hart’s Wicked Heat’.

Two essays explore poetry in the media. John Jenkins’ essay, ‘Poetry as Cinema’, traces the influence of poems in the pantheon of Australian movies and documentaries. They are surprisingly numerous and range from a number of ballads by Adam Lindsay Gordon; Henry Lawson’s ‘The Man from Snowy River’; and CJ Dennis‘ The Sentimental Bloke’, to the contemporary verse novel, The Monkey’s Mask; the character of Tom, an aspiring poet, in Luke Davies’ Candy; and the oral stories come poetry which is the basis for Ten Canoes. Jenkins concludes: ‘The historical influence of poetry on Australian cinema is unmistakeable, and strongly reciprocal, with filmic techniques also employed in a great many Australian poems, in their disposition of imagery, their structure, formal strategies and very grain’ (148). Mike Ladd’s ‘Notes Towards a Radio Poetics’ explores the morphology of sounds. He discusses their physicality by revisiting his own experiences of reading poetry on radio and finds himself agreeing with Zvonimir Bajsic’s tenet that ‘radio is a humble trade, a work of the hands, and of the ear, as much as of the intellect’ (169).

This edition also contains several reviews: Craig Powell on the Collected Poems of Francis Webb; Michelle Cahill on Elizabeth Campbell’s second collection, Error; and Andrew Carruthers review of Geoff Page’s A Sudden Sentence in the Air: Jazz Poems. Cahill describes Campbell as ‘an uncompromising poet who is able to meet her own challenges’ (244) and Carruthers concludes that reading Page is as good, if not better than listening to music.

In reviewing a collection of this size it is inevitable that many pieces are left out. This is not a reflection of their worth or their quality. Indeed the high standard of nearly all the contributions points to a collection that, while strangely hybrid, is compelling and fascinating.

 

 

Sandra Burr is an adjunct in the Faculty of Arts and Design at the University of Canberra where she teaches in the fields of cultural research and creative writing. Her research interests include human-animal relationships and animal art.

 

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Vol 17 No 1 April 2013
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