A review of Glass Poems by Justin Lowe

Glass Poems is an expansive movement and the persona of the poet is liberally dispersed throughout, rather than directly attained through the writing. While this involves a long search for the reader, it is also what makes this kind of work complex and interesting. The poet narrator seems to be both guide and guided into uncertain existence, that hold a vague philosophical undertone, so that a reader might ask – for how long was I gone?

Reviewed by Coral Hull

Glass Poems
by Justin Lowe
Bluepepper
2006, ISBN 978-1-4116-6996-3, $18.86 (printed), 130 pages, hardcover binding
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In Justin Lowe’s Glass Poems we find the poet existing as universal bard, traversing a multitude of realities through an ongoing exploration of consciousness. Lowe’s challenge and strength lies in his ability to provide a suitable frame of reference, from which the reader can begin to explore these realities.

for ours is a deceptive universe
thatched by binary
a frail house

its windows are on fire
and all its doors are locked
and the key could be anything. (Newton 14)

The keys to the truths that are slowly turning throughout this poetry, occur as perfectly natural and non-restrained moments: ‘the shiver of keys like a dog leaving the water’ (Sicilian Vespers, 77). In the territory of the poet’s psyche, creativity becomes the process by which to explore a myriad of circumstances that are briefly touched upon. In this way the poet becomes and creates his experiences of the world:

I guess I better start
with the rattle of her keys

echoes of echoes
like blood in the ventricle (Days of Wine and Bruises, 102)

By leaving the self-conscious ego behind, Lowe opens himself to unconscious processes: ‘It has been suggested/ that I disappear for a while/ follow the frost line into the hills’ (Samsara, 98) In this regard, the work offers sense of physical distance traversed and consciousness crossed and interpreted over lifetimes. This is made more apparent by the many characters and situations that are brought to life through narratives both convincing and compelling, even if one fails to understand who these characters actually are:

I don’t know who she is
but the lines are open again
and my hands were still as acorns in her hair (Richard Harris, 39)

The reader is offered glimpses into the drama of another: ‘The river is wide here/ but shallow, the eddies chatter/ I can hear Russians whispering’ (Wittgenstein, 23) Such poems create and involve a willing suspension of disbelief as they shatter reality into a myriad of distantly perceived semi-mystical truths:

as they blast the shattered birch stands
fences, walls, anything left standing
anything our gunners could use as markers
anything to bring this hell into perspective (Wittgenstein, 23)

Here is a poet who would be able to bring the worlds behind the sculptor’s chisel and the artist’s brush stroke into literary credibility. This is because he has a mind both capable of entering worlds and creating narratives. Lowe invites the environment to speak to him and through him. In this way he acts as a kind of channel for events: ‘I know my orders/ I crack the great light open/ its shutters screeching like night in a world of iron’ (Wittgenstein 24) or ‘in the great hall echoing with petitions and pledges’ (Macduff, 35).

Glass Poems is an expansive movement and the persona of the poet is liberally dispersed throughout, rather than directly attained through the writing. While this involves a long search for the reader, it is also what makes this kind of work complex and interesting. The poet narrator seems to be both guide and guided into uncertain existence, that hold a vague philosophical undertone, so that a reader might ask – for how long was I gone? It is writing to which one can return and find that the words have grown into something different. Most of the poems appear to be level-headed. Perhaps offering a balance of stoicism and mysticism affords us a ship with certainty as its anchor point, from which to observe many uncertain and unconscious musings, before we experience a touch of earthy nostalgia as in “Lawson”:

Henry, you’re like an old steel drum
humming in the wind

… but I’ve sat in a hundred paddocks
wondering when those old machines last shuddered

and the sound was there even then
among the weeds (19)

There is a dream-like quality to this work: ‘In these mountains/ sleep comes slow and steady as the rain// and as deep as the shadows/ from a fog-bound window’ (Cascade Street 97) This distancing from the subject matter is suggestive of a framed view of the lives of others as if from behind window glass. This adds to a poetry that appears to exist just outside our conscious awareness: ‘my conversation easy as wind in a wheat field/ (lots of chaff lots of broken whispers)’ (Voltaire, 38) coupled with a political modesty:

We
were not born into this world
to mend fences

we
are the weeds
that cluster at its gates (After the Gold Rush, 45)

In addition there is a non-obvious morality that enters the work through the voices and observations of others, in which case the poet acts as a channel of incoming information rather than a preacher of doctrines: ‘we left everything in our wake, even conscience/ and now we have no name for where we are’ (Horse Latitudes, 62) The role of the poet appears more subdued and receptive rather than politically active:

if you feel
a soft tap on your shoulder
it is probably me

come to whisper
something in your ear
that’s what we’ve come to (Olympics, 52)

Glass Poems is filled with ‘wind’ ‘whisperings’ ‘memory’ ‘mirrors’ ‘dreams’ ‘shadows’ and things half-heard: ‘and their sighs/ sweet as cemetery breezes’ (Khorramshahr, 48) While sometimes ghostly and disconnected, these poetic narratives are nevertheless convincing, since Lowe has the ability to both enter worlds and be swept up in them. One often senses the poet about to take flight: ‘I have been watching it for hours/ and I realise now that the horizon/ where the wide world waits// is a corner not a line;’ (Corners, 63) Perhaps more documentation involving obvious details would assist both poet and reader from being swept away into the multi-consciousness of the universe and so that what we actually require is:

Something smaller than angels
pinning a map down
on a table

while the wind howls
through an open window
and the slamming of doors

cuts down anything taller than a syllable (Collateral damage, 78)

While there may be moments of obscurity and disconnection: ‘there was nothing/ you wouldn’t share with me/ if only I knew how to ask’ (Lost, 88), Lowe’s primary purpose appears to be to maintain an overall connection with a myriad of events, where he will continue into many realities as creative explorer: ‘with our hunger for horizons/ and the maps that drive us on’ (Shadowlands, 96). These poems are concerned with a series of ongoing universal truths, where realities develop through consciousness coupled with the creative process, and the poet is the muse who lives ‘on an island of time/ full of wonders’ (Crusoe, 127).

About the reviewer: Dr. Coral Hull is an established Australian writer, artist and photographer and the author of over 50 books including; poetry, fiction, artwork, digital photography and non-fiction. Her books are now published through her own label Artesian Productions. Coral is the Director of The Thylazine Foundation Pty Ltd: Arts, Ethics and Literature. She is the Executive Editor and Publisher of Thylazine; an annual online zine featuring articles, interviews, poetry, book reviews, photography, visual arts and the recent work of Australian writers and artists. She is based in Darwin, The Northern Territory, Australia.

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