Tag Archives: DURA
2 Mar

indexAs part of our project to make available reviews of poets taking part at StAnza 2015, we are obliged to DURA – the Dundee University Review of the Arts – for allowing us to re-post this review from their website. Written by staff and students, DURA supports independent cinema & publishing. DURA promotes diversity and supports local and regional arts. See more reviews of poetry and prose on their website at http://dura-dundee.org.uk.


Sandeep Parmar
(Shearsman Books, 2015); pbk: £8.95

Sandeep Parmar is one of the most exciting emerging voices in British poetry. As a scholar, she is known primarily for her work on the modernist poet Hope Mirrlees; as a poet forging her own voice, she is known for the 2012 collection The Stone Orchard, and now (and, one hopes, pre-eminently) she is to be known for Eidolon, an incisive collection of poems that is as well-executed poetically as it is well-conceived philosophically.

‘Well-conceived philosophically.’ Why? Well, without wishing to assess a work of poetry in terms more suited for conceptual art, it comes down to Parmar’s appropriation and development of the concept of the “Eidolon” from ancient Greek. As she writes in the collection’s afterword:

“An Eidolon is an image, a ghost, a spectre, a scapegoat. It is a device, like a deus ex machina, to deal with the problem of narrative” (p 65).

What initially attracted Parmar to this concept, she elaborates, was its very “otherness” to her, a British Sikh woman, raised with only a very limited knowledge of ancient Greek. Rather than taking up the “Eidolon” as a blasé token of highborn and anachronistic Western learning (being au fait with ancient Greek), this collection takes it up in a way that is, paradoxically, perhaps more in tune with the concept’s connotations – as a spectral term that is constantly eluding Parmar’s grasp as a self-conscious “outsider” to the linguistic contexts that birthed and transmitted it.

It is this very elusiveness that provides one of the key creative impetuses for this collection. This is because possessing what she takes to be a tenuous sense of the “Eidolon” has allowed Parmar to experiment with it in ways that might make more dyed-in-the-wool classicists balk. On the face of it, her collection seems to reprise a well-worn protagonist: her central “Eidolon” is Helen of Troy, a figure who appears in this guise in works dating back to Euripides’ The Trojan Women and Helen. It is what Parmar does with Helen, however, that shows that she is not merely slavishly recapitulating this tradition. As appropriated by Parmar, Helen becomes a metaphor for excluded femininity, from antiquity to the present. The “Helens” that feature throughout this collection, then, speak a multitude of ghostly female perspectives: from Helen the stateless refugee (poem xix), to Helen the witness to a disgusting act of casual racism (poem xxii), to Helen who stands triumphant outside of history, all avenging angel, in the penultimate (and to my mind best) poem here.

The collection consists of fifty poems arranged from ‘i’ to ‘l’ in Roman numerals (coming from a poet who reflects on the limitations of her grasp of ancient Greek, I took this for a playful exercise in cultural miscegenation.) Beyond the influences of the classics (Euripides, Homer), the style of the poems owes much to the modernism of Whitman, Woolf, and H.D., all of whom feature as references within the poems themselves. At points, this anchoring in modernism frustrated me, and I sensed a very occasional tendency towards academicism emerging from it. The real frustration in this sense, came from the fact that Parmar clearly has more than enough in her arsenal to transcend this tic, and to speak in a much less “mediated” voice. Take, for example, this stanza from poem xxxiii:

What historical irony
is the citizens of Tel Aviv
buying gas masks
irony itself a mask
for tragedy.

I felt that each of the poems in this collection offered the perspective of a different “Helen”, turning this proper name into a common noun for the “everywoman”. That may be an entirely errant interpretation of Parmar’s intentions; it is testament, nevertheless, to the power of her poetry to provoke sustained and deep reflection. Indeed, as she writes in poem xxxii:

An idea is not a woman but many women
the composite of an idea’.

Dominic Smith


Sandeep Parmar will appear at StAnza on 8th March http://www.stanzapoetry.org/2015/event.php?event=733

Review of Glyn Maxwell’s Pluto

1 Mar

plutoAs part of our project to make available reviews of poets taking part at StAnza 2015, we are obliged to DURA – the Dundee University Review of the Arts – for allowing us to re-post this review from their website. Written by staff and students, DURA supports independent cinema & publishing. DURA promotes diversity and supports local and regional arts. See more reviews of poetry and prose on their website at http://dura-dundee.org.uk.



Glyn Maxwell
(Picador, 2013); pbk £9.99

In his review of Pluto for Stride Magazine, Andy Brown is overtly critical of Glyn Maxwell’s “highly repetitious deployment of forms of ‘parallelisms’”, both synonymous and antithetic. That this style recurs throughout the collection cannot be denied. The first stanza of the opening poem, “Byelaws”, epitomises this technique:

Never have met me, know me well,
tell all the world there was little to tell,
say I was heavenly, say I was hell,
harry me over the blasted moors
but come my way, go yours.

It is also employed in “The Window”:

[…] I felt found
in your company, I felt lost
like one who’ll still be found,
however far he sails, steered by grace.

In turn, by way of a final example, consider the closing line of “Dunwich”: “Never have met me, know me well, be no one / else”. Here, Maxwell goes so far as to exactly replicate the collection’s opening line. That Pluto is repetitive in this sense is certain; whether this is the work’s downfall is questionable.

The concept of time rules Pluto, the collection revolves around it – in the words of “The Window”, Maxwell “steer[s] the thing through time”. Time becomes our opponent in the game of life:

At Greenwich we convene, sweet Time and I,
long having been each other’s only subjects,
for a game of noughts and crosses […] (“Greenwich”)

Losing, we “cry / Let’s play again! But time is moving on”.

In terms of his representation of time, in an interview with Ellen Cranitch, Maxwell exclaims: “What is there in our lives that disrupts time? Love is one thing and poetry is another.” Pluto is indisputably a deeply personal work. There are, for instance, intense moments of brutal self-reflection: “one of us said those chicks / were really hot I’ve a horrible feeling I did”. It is perhaps surprising, therefore, to read Brown’s criticism of Maxwell: “[l]ike Pluto, I felt at the outer reaches of Maxwell’s solar system, knocking to get in, but kept at arm’s length by the distancing effects of repetitious rhetoric.” In contrast, I feel that the poet’s utilisation of parallelism serves not to distance the reader but rather, as it embodies the very feelings the poet conveys, and as it is integral to the work, it tends to draw in the reader. The antitheses which characterise Maxwell’s paradoxical lines capture the nonsensical. To suggest that one can “Never have met me, know me well”, is foolish. Yet, this is a poetry collection which deals with self-reflection, with love, and loss, and change. Take for example “South-East of Eden”:

                                                     And out they come,
exiting one another with the kiss
to heal the bruise and be the bruise […]

In this context, the success of Maxwell’s parallelism is evident, for in dealing with the loss of love, and of oneself in the process, the feelings experienced are indeed often conflicting and contradictory. They are, at least to the person struggling with them, senseless; essentially, like Maxwell’s lines, they are absurd. Poetry, it would appear, becomes the ideal medium for the expression of our emotional perplexity. It allows us the paradox of emotion, perfect in that both poetry and the reader can be trusted, for:

[…] they drift together away in the dust while you lot
Stay to the end, which means the world to me. (“My Talk”)

Reviewed in anticipation of Maxwell’s appearance at the 2015 StAnza poetry festival, Pluto is an absolutely astounding collection – I cannot contain my excitement for his reading on the 5th of March!

Chloe Charalambous


Glyn Maxwell will appear at StAnza on 4th and 5th March http://www.stanzapoetry.org/2015/participant.php?participant=751


Review of Anne Stevenson’s Astonishment

16 Feb

astonishment As part of our project to make available reviews of poets taking part at StAnza 2015, we are obliged to DURA – the Dundee University Review of the Arts – for allowing us to re-post this review from their website. Written by staff and students, DURA supports independent cinema & publishing. DURA promotes diversity and supports local and regional arts. See more reviews of poetry and prose on their website at http://dura-dundee.org.uk/


Anne Stevenson
(Bloodaxe Books, 2012); pbk, £8.95

Anne Stevenson’s sixteenth collection, Astonishment, examines the everyday in an extraordinary way. Love, nature, childhood and old age are put through her alembic of lyrical compression and technical inventiveness.

The opening poem, “The Loom”, marks the beginning of life itself: “ And once my lungs were gills”. The image of the loom shapes both the structure and the content of the poem as it traces the genesis of the “liquid shadow”. The loom is both the instrument of creation that can “weave through a trembling warp” and also of destruction, “a weft that kills.” This threat that looms throughout the poem is transformed finally where the speaker is welcomed “with human voices”.

Water also features in “Teaching My Sons to Swim in Walden Pond”. Locating the poem at the site of Thoreau’s experiment in self reliance, the speaker exhorts her sons to abandon their “slogans, logos . . . ear pods and mobile phones” and return to the water,

scaled and finned,
for a cool trip home.

The language delights, whether the immediacy of her encouragement, “That’s it! That’s it!”, the startling metaphors,

to steal through water like grease
on a ribbon of silence

or the return to the contemplative mood,

no creature swims
that doesn’t need to swim, except us
who swim for fun, for play.

Nature animates this poem. The physicality in the profusion of nouns, “hickory”, “pitch pine”, “mallards”, muskrats” and “skater-bugs”, coupled with the yearning to “behave like a fallen leaf”, “to burrow underwater”, place Stevenson with Thoreau and his Transcendentalist enterprise. So too does her desire to examine the relationship between language and nature. Just as Thoreau “willed America’s wilderness to poetry”, Stevenson poses the question,

But isn’t everything we see in nature
known by how we name it?

Finally, her imperative to “listen to the ripples, whispering to the stones” underscores her recognition of the city as a rapacious creature advancing on the wilderness.

In section II, Sonnets and Variations, Stevenson plays with form and subject. Her poem, “Not a Hook, not a Shelf, maybe a Song?” examines love—its thrills, frailties and disappointments. She uses the three quatrains to define the nature of love. Her humour is sharp:

After the thrills of Ecstasy or booze.
The rites of hymen meet the wrongs of women.

This is love in the contemporary mode. When the “hook” of passion pales, she tries it on a “shelf” alongside “the telly, Tesco’s, kids, a four-wheel-drive”. Finally, a “song” proves a suitable home for “everyone knows it, beats it, hums it, Luv”.

The poems in section III are rooted in North Wales. They are “nature” poems: celebratory: “sweeping the air with haze and chaffinches” (“Then, like a present”), arresting: “spring, with its killer instinct, / keeps a strangle-hold on the year” (“North Easter”) and philosophical:

Another spring
–even an age of intelligence—-
may still be possible. (“Roses in December”)

The final section summons memory, mutability and the transformative nature of art: “Let a river be invented by a stroke of light / that anneals it as it vanishes from sight” (“Photographing Change”). In the poem “Tulips”, Stevenson remembers her friend Nerys Johnson, whose painting covers the collection. The tulips link old friends and lovers and although the flowers “have lost the battle. / Cut down, shipped alive into exile”, they are reinvented through the painting:

At the core of each flower,
a black star,
a hope-pod, a love seed
the seminal colour of night.

Astonishment encompasses awe and bewilderment. Stevenson discovers both, in the process of aging, in her poem “It’s astonishing” : “that these arthritic fingers once belonged to my bow hand”, that her “wild left foot” is now supported by a “Lycra sock”. This collection is, as Stevenson asserts, her “left foot poetry” – long may it continue.

Jane Baston

Anne Stevenson is reading at StAnza on Thursday 5 March at 5pm   http://www.stanzapoetry.org/2015/event.php?event=696

Review of Sheenagh Pugh’s Short Days, Long Shadows

13 Feb

Short-Days-Long-Shadows-by-Sheenagh-Pugh-191x300As part of our project to make available reviews of poets taking part at StAnza 2015, we are obliged to DURA – the Dundee University Review of the Arts – for allowing us to re-post this review from their website. Written by staff and students, DURA supports independent cinema & publishing. DURA promotes diversity and supports local and regional arts. See more reviews of poetry and prose on their website at http://dura-dundee.org.uk/

Short Days, Long Shadows

Sheenagh Pugh
Seren (2014); pbk: £9.99

The cover of Sheenagh Pugh’s new collection features a photo of the long shadows of two people, standing on a beach, apparently looking back on their own footsteps. Backdropped by a close-up of round, eroded stones in a blue-grey scale, that opening image accurately reflects the title – Short Days, Long Shadows.

Focused on the sea, and addressing both the past and the present, these poems discuss life and death in a clean, everyday fashion that perhaps belies their deeper significance. Pugh’s work reflects on the natural course of time, sometimes lingering on historical characters, and at other times commenting on the act of simply “being”. The opening poem “Extremophile” essentially re-tells the story of life evolving on earth. From the miniscule bacteria in the ocean at the beginning to the clear and conscious ending of “never to leave it”, it draws a picture of never-ending life. Instead of using self-consciously “poetic” language, Pugh’s wording seems unpretentious, at times even scientific – consider, for example the tone of “hydrothermal vents”. The absence of stanza breaks in this poem seems to convey a kind of general truth, serving as an unbroken and fluid introduction to the rest of the collection. “Extremophile” exemplifies those ideas of life and universality that feature strongly in Pugh’s most recent work. In keeping with the accessible nature of her poetry (for which she is sometimes criticised) most of the collection is written in couplets or tercets, enhancing their apparent simplicity, giving them a certain musicality, flow and rhythm that will resonate with readers.

However, it is worth mentioning that that linguistic accessibility does not necessarily extend to her subject matter – the specific and complex study of historical events and people. For those uninterested in history, particularly specific WW2 incidents, and most especially for the non-British reader, some of Pugh’s themes are less than captivating. To understand the implications and motivation behind, for example, the three poems about “Walsingham’s Men”, one needs to have heard of the man, and to have some basic knowledge as to what he stands for in British history. That lack of understanding, not so much on the linguistic and poetic level, but in terms of metaphorical representation, might create distance, provoking a certain kind of disconnection and void that words alone are not really able to fill.

Throughout the entire collection, the reader encounters the sea in many guises, both real and metaphorical. In “Sea’s Answer” and “Wasting Time”, it becomes clear that, despite their contrasting structures, both poems use the ocean to represent the flux of time and the endlessness of life itself. The tercet and quatrains in “Sea’s Answer” may also simulate tidal patterns, ebbs and flows that are both different and similar. The concluding stanza ends aptly – “I am myself the metaphor”. “Wasting Time”, which like “Extremophile” has no stanzaic form, and reads like a story about observing the ocean. Pugh’s description of the waves and the colouring of the sea go hand in hand with the poem’s layout; the lines on the page’s white space giving the illusion of waves hitting the shore, endlessly approaching and retreating. It is possible to “waste time” observing the sea the same way one can lose time, immersed in the world of this poem.

All in all, Sheenagh Pugh’s new collection is a very reflective work that draws inspiration from the past yet indirectly also anticipates the future. However, the main focus remains firmly on the passing of time and the representation of life and existence.

Ankie Huijben

Sheenagh Pugh will take part at StAnza 2015 on Thursday 5 March http://www.stanzapoetry.org/2015/participant.php?participant=726

Review of Simon Armitage’s Paper Aeroplane

7 Feb

paper_aeroplaneAs part of our project to make available reviews of poets taking part at StAnza 2015, we are obliged to DURA – the Dundee University Review of the Arts – for allowing us to re-post this review from their website. Written by staff and students, DURA supports independent cinema & publishing. DURA promotes diversity and supports local and regional arts. See more reviews of poetry and prose on their website at http://dura-dundee.org.uk/ – This review by Susan Haigh is of Simon Armitage’s ‘Paper Aeroplane’.

Paper Aeroplane: Poems 1989-2014

Simon Armitage
(Faber and Faber,2014); hbk, £14.99


…because he has no highfalutin song
to sing, no neat message for the nation.

(“Goalkeeper with Cigarette”, 1995)

To open up this Simon Armitage retrospective is to delve into a treasure trove of the surreal, the unlikely, the ironic, the laugh-out-loud comic, the darkly humorous and the downright horrific. Above all, it is a delightfully unpredictable collection; innovation and exploration are this poet’s watchwords. Spanning 25 years, from 1989 to 2014 (ten published collections and including work still in progress under the title of “The Unaccompanied”), his career as a poet began with a bang or should one say “Zoom”, the title poem of his first collection. Judging by the Magrittian dream-like titular poem of the present volume, the last in the book, his imagination and creativity continue unabated.

Armitage’s language is bold, often street-smart and unforgiving, yet it is also, first and foremost, accessible, colloquial, beating the rhythms of everyday speech. Critics have looked for deeper layers of meanings, but I believe him to be a straight-up-and-down Yorkshireman, a man with no side (as we say in the north) who thumbs his nose at self-conscious notions of high art. Take yourself too seriously critic and you will get a poetic-metaphorical slap in the eye.

“Brassneck” follows the trail of two pickpockets as they work the football crowds. Merciless in their choice of targets, they adhere strictly to their own code – and their own language:

He keeps his cunt-hooks out of my wallet,
I keep my tentacles out of his pocket.

Told with deadpan rhythm and rhyme, “The Stuff” is the grimly realistic story of the arrival of heroin on northern streets and its encroaching stranglehold:

Others …were quizzed, thumped,
finished off and dumped…

This poet is no moralist – merely an astute observer.

The sheer variety in Armitage’s oeuvre is perhaps one of its most attractive features, from the untitled sonnets of “Book of Matches” (1999), and the tragic, powerful rhythms of “The Winner” (Cloudcuckooland 1997), to the prose poems of Seeing Stars (2010). The latter, a collection of surreal poetic monologues, stands out as an experiment in the arc of Armitage’s work. Ironic tales of domestic strife (“I’ll Be There To Love And Comfort You”) and the sperm whale’s speech in “Christening” embrace the unexpected and the strange whilst, in an earlier collection, the ghost of T.S Eliot hovers over the rhythms and images of “The Lost Letter of The Late Jud Fry” (Kid, 1992):

The dawn will crack
its egg into the morning’s bowl.

Armitage’s fearless and darkly humorous sonnet about attempted suicides, “I Say, I Say, I Say” (Dead Sea Poems, 1995) sweeps along with wave upon wave of horrific images:

Anyone here had a go at themselves
for a laugh? Anyone opened their wrists
with a blade in the bath?

Violence is never far from his retelling of Homer’s epic, Odyssey. The blinding of Cyclops is real and bloody. In a scene which might, in a odd way, conjure up surreal images of his native Yorkshire, Armitage tells how the sailors escaped by binding sheep to their bodies as shields, and of the sense of fear and revenge lurking beneath the ocean’s surface.

No review of this volume would be complete without some mention of the Stanza Stones project that also appeared in print in 2013. Six commissioned nature poems, published under in the heading In Memory of Water, have been carved into rock at various appropriate sites on the North Yorkshire Moors, for the enjoyment of walkers. The poems, “Snow”, “Rain”, “Mist”, “Dew”, “Puddle” and “Beck” are not my favourite pieces, but the project is an imaginative and worthy one.

So which is my favourite poem? Perhaps “Poundland” from his latest collection. Written in epic even Homeric style, it describes an odyssey through the eponymous store with a shopping trolley serving as the fast black ship. A social comment? Unlikely – just pure poetic and mythological fun! I look forward to more from this poet who no doubt will have much more to give.

Susan Haigh

Simon Armitage will appear in three events at StAnza 2015 including the Saturday evening Poetry Main Stage readings: http://www.stanzapoetry.org/2015/event.php?event=715

Review of Ilya Kaminsky’s Dancing in Odessa

31 Jan

dancingAs part of our project to make available reviews of poets taking part at StAnza 2015, we are obliged to DURA – the Dundee University Review of the Arts – for allowing us to re-post this review from their website. Written by staff and students, DURA supports independent cinema & publishing. DURA promotes diversity and supports local and regional arts. See more reviews of poetry and prose on their website at http://dura-dundee.org.uk/ – This review by Beth McDonough, Writer in Residence at the University of Dundee, is of Ilya Kaminsky’s Dancing in Odessa


Ilya Kaminsky
(Arc, 2014); pbk: £8.99


I was born in the city named after Odysseus
and I praise no nation –

to the rhythm of snow
an immigrant’s clumsy phrases fall into speech.


Ilya Kaminsky is an immigrant but in this his first full collection his phrasing is anything but clumsy. Born in Odessa, his family was granted US asylum in 1993, and the poet continues to work in various ways supporting the rights of the poor and disenfranchised. Those reading his poetry may be surprised that English is his second language and that he was only in his twenties when this collection was first published by Tupelo in the US in 2004. So sure is his grasp of his adopted tongue that he can pattern Russian-structured English in direct speech differently from his own fluent English.

A beautifully sequenced and curated collection, Dancing in Odessa is divided into an opening prayer, followed by five distinct but linked sections. The final group excepting, each of these begins with a memory-deep poem (and in most cases a prose poem), sunk to the bottom of the page.

In “Musica Humana [an elegy for Osip Mandelstam]” (section II), Kaminsky defines the earlier Acmeist poet, Mandelstam, as a “modern Orpheus”. Tracing his predecessor’s traumatic life to his death in a Gulag in 1938, the reference is justified indeed. The reader expecting an unrelenting delineation of woe, or poetry shaped after Acmeist movement will be surprised. Kaminsky’s elegy travels through stanzaic forms, prose poetry fragments, square-bracketed interjections and even a recipe.

For all that undeniably harrowing biography, and by extension those of the Travelling Musicians, Celan, Brodsky, Babel and Tsvetaeva, these poems are far from misery memoirs. Trauma is never skirted but these poems dance in unexpected warmth and even humour; Kaminsky’s writing has a surreal aspect, often bordering on the ecstatic. George Szirtes offers high praise on the cover, and indeed there are parallels with his own work and that of Helen Ivory.

Poetry verging on glossolalia is arguably a high-wire act, not only for the poet but especially for the reader yet such is the strength of the imagery and the language here, and the structured quality of the sequencing of these poems that Kaminsky balances these challenges with panache.

In a sometimes pulsating joie de vivre, Kaminsky can conjure some remarkable effects. Consider “In Praise of Laughter”, all in tercets bar the final couplet, the lines ring with repetition, and with both internal and end rhymes. What can be read as a comforting rhythmic dance, albeit one telling of sadness, becomes utterly shocking in the fifth stanza, and all the more so because of the deceptive propulsion of the earlier words. How much sharper then for the reader are the lines


He was shot, and my grandmother raped
by the public prosecutor, who stuck his pen in her vagina,

the pen which signed people off for twenty years.


Or, in “A Toast”


October: grapes hung like the fists of a girl
gassed in her prayer.


“Natalia” (Section III) recounts a love song, again in ostensibly traditional verse, cut with shifting points of view, prose poems placed like footnotes, the section ends with the haunting “Envoi”, set in another time, elsewhere.

Kaminsky says that he began writing in English after his father’s death in 1994, “because no-one in my family knew it […]. It was a parallel reality, an insanely beautiful freedom.” Aged four, he became almost completely deaf and indeed hearing loss is a running theme in this collection. This freedom can be said to carry lyrically into a language that he has never properly heard.

Whatever past horrors Kaminsky remembers, there is also love and joyous detail. “But you asked for a story with a happy ending” the final poem recalls. There isn’t quite a happy ending as such, no forgetting any of his painful hinterland. There is, however, an openness to a thrilling future and happily, Kaminsky has much more to offer. His next collection tempts already.


Beth McDonough


Ilya Kaminsky will be taking part in events at StAnza on 7th March http://www.stanzapoetry.org/2015/participant.php?participant=708

Reviews of Bill Manhire

27 Jan

Bill Manhire

Bill Manhire

As part of our project to make available reviews of poets taking part at StAnza 2015, we are obliged to DURA – the Dundee University Review of the Arts – for allowing us to re-post this review from their website. Written by staff and students, DURA supports independent cinema & publishing. DURA promotes diversity and supports local and regional arts. See more reviews of poetry and prose on their website at http://dura-dundee.org.uk/ – This review by Andy Jackson is of Bill Manhire’s Selected Poems.

Selected Poems – Bill Manhire
(Carcanet, 2014); pbk; £14.95

Manhire is the pre-eminent voice of New Zealand poetry; that country’s first Laureate, and author of over a dozen collections, stretching back to the earliest part of the 1970s. He found some notoriety in his early career when a short poem, “Wingatui”, whose meaning was partially rooted in the vernacular of the New Zealand horse-racing world, was included in Private Eye magazine’s “Pseuds Corner” column. It was an act of philistinism for which the New Zealand poetry community took some time to forgive the British press, but that incident has served as only a minor footnote to what has become a significant literary career.

Manhire was from the start unafraid of abstraction; “Poem” from his 1972 collection The Elaboration reads,

When we touch,
forests enter our bodies.
The dark wind shakes the branch.
The dark branch shakes the wind.

However, it’s clear that the poet’s voice has become richer, more conversational over time, although many of the conversations are one-sided, as evidenced by his easily-distracted conversation with “Kevin” in the poem of the same name, from his 2005 collection Lifted:

I don’t know where the dead go, Kevin.
The one far place I know
is inside the heavy radio.

Manhire then goes on to speak more to himself than to his subject, recalling his own experiences of radio, while Kevin sleeps on. To a certain extent, the poet’s work is much more introverted and internalised than it first seems – he appears in most of his later poems as “I” and is rarely detached, which hints through the chronologically-arranged sequence at a growing self-concern as he ages. This not-quite-solipsism reaches its zenith in “1950s”, a supercharged list poem detailing the very personal paraphernalia of his childhood;

My cricket bat. My football boots.
My fishing rod. My hula hoop.
My cowboy chaps. My scooter.
Draughts. Happy Families. Euchre.

The most vividly-drawn poems are from his mid-period work, especially 1991’s Milky Way Bar, two of which are pieces of poetic reportage. “Hirohito” examines the de-deification of the wartime Japanese emperor and “Phar Lap” tells the tale of the legendary Depression-era Australian racehorse. In both poems, Manhire considers the geography of the South Pacific and its relationship with other nations along the Pacific Rim through figures of history and popular culture. In “Hirohito” the God-emperor is replaced by the God of capitalism and commerce in the final lines;

I catch sight of him through snow,
a man with glasses
staring out of the screen
of my 14-inch Sanyo.

In “Phar Lap” he pokes at the corpse of the great horse and the mystery of its death in the USA, evoking the conspiracy theories formed in response to perceived jealousy at the horse’s success;

Well, let’s say he died in California,
let’s say he died of absence.

Manhire is distinctively-voiced and largely accessible, more so as he matures into his fifth decade as a writer, with three new poems tackling the eternal theme of ageing and mortality. The selection’s final poem “Old Man Puzzled by His New Pyjamas” could perhaps serve as a simple metaphor for the older person’s hope for the coming afterlife;

I am the baby who sleeps in the drawer.
Blue yesterday, and blue before –
and suddenly all these stripes.

Bill Manhire has much to talk about – often himself, but also the concerns of others – but he says it with a confident lightness of touch and image, and he is never less than engaging. Infusions of melancholy keep his poems afloat in the mind, and the mood is always questioning, probing. His Selected Poems is a good way for the European reader to introduce themselves to a poet often marginalised by geography.

Andy Jackson

You can find further reviews of Bill Manhire online at:

Bill Manhire will be appearing at StAnza 2015 on 7th and 8th March. http://www.stanzapoetry.org/2015/participant.php?participant=716

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