TEXT review

Double bind: modern discontents

review by Mary Pomfret

Steve Brock
Double Glaze
Five Islands Press, Melbourne 2013
ISBN 9780734048547
Pb 86pp AUD25.95

Double glazing involves two sheets of glass separated by air, thus creating a space between two rigid but transparent panels. Through this title image, Steve Brock’s recent collection Double Glaze, from the outset, advances the notion of dualities and the invisible force that separates but at the same time, connects. Brock sifts through the tensions and conflicting desires that are present in this territory, the space between potential lives and possible selves. Taking us into the prosaic life domains of ‘Work’, ‘The Commute’, and the more intimate concerns of ‘Writing’ and ‘Family’, Brock’s characters seem to swing on a pendulum between what is and the desire for what could be. Set against the urban backdrop of the city of Adelaide, the poetic voices express the dilemmas that exist in the oppositions of attachment and freedom; safety and insecurity; contentment and discomfort; satisfaction and frustration; and the known and the unknown.

For the reader who has lived in or even visited Adelaide, the distinct sense of place in these poems is difficult to ignore. The collection is full of references to the city’s iconic places and venues, both past and present, including ‘Café Paradiso’ (11) in the poem of the same name; ‘Falafel House /on Hindley today’ (12); ‘the seaside suburb of Glenelg’, ‘Hallett Cove’ (74) and ‘Port Willunga Beach / just below / the Star of Greece Café’ (70) However, there is a sense that the city of Adelaide is neither the subject, nor one of the chief concerns of Brock’s poems.

It may seem a strange comparison given the style and era, but the collection's title poem ‘Double Glaze’ has echoes of the sentiments of romantic yearning in AB ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s ‘Clancy of the Overflow’. The poem ‘Double Glaze’ expresses the ache of longing:

as I gaze
out the office
looking for something
outside of me
to fill
the emptiness (45)

Whereas Paterson’s poem reflects a nostalgic craving for freedom from ‘my dingy little office’ where ‘foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city’ (Paterson 1991: 105) floats through an open window, in Steve Brock’s poem the window is not open, nor perhaps can it be, causing ‘… a density / to things’ (45). Through a different window ‘in a pub/laughing/over after work drinks’, Brock envisages those ‘desperate to get in’, evoking images of asylum seekers with ‘children drowning’ but who can’t be heard, ‘above / the background noise’ (46). Politics and popular opinion creates a hard, invisible divide between people, just like glass, and the poem ‘Double Glaze’ suggests that much of what separates and isolates people cannot be seen. Invisible partitions and barriers are exacerbated by what isn’t mentioned as ‘we wave goodbye’ (46) and might be more insurmountable than geographical borders, causing ‘crashing against the edge’ (46), as hard to penetrate as double glazed glass.

In her essay A Room of One’s Own,Virginia Woolf pondered ‘how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and … worse, perhaps, to be locked in’ (Woolf 1928: 25-6). Throughout this collection, there is a sense of being locked in rather than being locked out, of both entrapment and of a longing for escape, particularly in relation to the city work environment. In the poem of the same name, Brook uses the metaphor of a Buddhist mousetrap, a construction that allows an unsuspecting creature to enter with ease but from which escape is extraordinarily difficult if not impossible. The poetic voice laments

they let us go
each evening
only we come back
the next day. (20)

Brock offers a technique for surviving the daily drudgery of the treadmill routine of the daily return to the place of entrapment – work – in ‘not depressed, hung over’. Survival is simple provided you ‘cut your hair occasionally’ and ‘iron your shirt / each morning’ (43) and:

tell yourself
each Monday morning
you’re not depressed
hung over. (43)

In ‘travelling companion’ the mood of alienation is lessened. The narrator acknowledges another commuter travelling on a parallel but ultimately divergent track. This companion, ‘like an old friend’, albeit a transient one, also travels ‘this even length of steel’, though their destinies differ: ‘our hearts fixed / on our chosen paths / with equal intent’ (42).

The angst of a writer attempting to continue with the craft whilst at the same time earning a living is palpable in ‘unpublished’.  The writer is filled with regret that ‘my heart / is the negative of a photograph / unpublished’ (62). By contrast, the poem ‘the writer’s life’ gives a lighthearted take on the cliché of the struggling writer, with an injection of humour.  The writing friend ‘is always about / to go some place / & write something’ (57) but:

as it turns out
he didn’t write a line
the joint project fell through
the girl fell through
the apartment fell through. (58)

Whilst writing is a pursuit often fraught with frustration, the family offers more contentment- or does it? The voices in the section ‘Family’ suggest a conflict between love and commitment and the desire for freedom and responsibility. The voice in ‘on my 37th Birthday (Hallett Cove)’ declares ‘I’ve found my place / here at 37’ (76). And yet despite the joy of a birthday on the beach, with pelicans, fossils and handstands there is still a pressing anxiety because ‘time’s running out’ despite family and the joys if offers ‘it doesn’t leave time / for much else’ (77).

Steve Brock’s Double Glaze needles away at the discontents, constraints and pace of modern ways of living, but at the same time is not cynical about the joy of love and family and in this milieu ‘things are looking / far better / than one might expect’ (73).


Works cited

Woolf, V 1928 A Room of One’s Own, Penguin, London return to text


Mary Pomfret is writing a creative PhD at La Trobe University, Bendigo. Her work has appeared in a variety of Australian and international journals. Her collection, Writing in Virginia’s Shadow, was published in by Ginninderra Press in 2012 and Cleaning out the Closet is forthcoming in 2014.


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Vol 18 No 1 April 2014
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Kevin Brophy & Enza Gandolfo