A review of micromacro by rob walker

micromacro is an easy to read collection which presents a light, gently spaced series of poems that appear simple as they cover the Australian terrain and glide over current affairs. Look closely however and the poetry is sharper, more intense and deeper – using cutting humour and painful structures to illuminate, radiate and open the mind to other people’s pain, to the pain we cause ourselves, or to the “rosetta stone” beneath our feet.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
micromacro
By rob walker
Seaview Press
Westlakes, South Australia, ISBN 9-78174008-5154, Sept 2006, 78 pages, $22
For orders visit: http://www.users.bigpond.com/robwalker1

I’ve been coming across rob walker’s poetry fairly frequently over the past few years. In compilations like Friendly Street New Poets Ten, Best Australian Poems 2005Going Down Swinging or on radio programs like poeticA or Writers Radio. Whenever I hear his work, there is always something memorable that draws me into the poem: some combination of observation and introspection; humour and lightness mingled with that twist that moves the poem away from the experiences it describes into meaningful transformation. micromacro, walker’s first full length solo collection, is no exception. There’s a quiet understatement about this book, with its black zen dice cover, its simple text and basic titles, and the matter of fact landscape it traverses. That’s something of a ruse though, as much as the quiet exterior of Walker himself. Beneath the surface of the poems is a sparse intensity which bubbles through the acrostics, the modernity, and the domesticity of his subject matter.

micromacro is rooted in the modern Australian landscape, with poems about galahs, jarrah, in Mitchell Park, SA, the mouth of the Murray, detention centres, Ikea, redback spiders, gum trees, at the physiotherapist’s, or focused on current government policy. In every poem, however bleak, and some are indeed bleak, there are flashes of humour that go beyond wit. One of the more overt examples of that mixture of dry cynicism and humour is “A Villanelle on Certain Provisions in Relation to a Bill concerting Anti-Terrorism by the Hon.Phillip Ruddock”. The use of repetition and rhyme here in a way that would normally be lighthearted and singsong is striking when paired with governmental doublespeak: repetition and rhyme taking on a sinister effect:
This is not a matter for feelings of remorse
The appropriate committee will put its position undoubtedly.
This legislation I most heartily endorse.
These matters would be considered in due course…(17)

The modern world is everywhere, from a Michael Bublé concert, big day out, petrol stations, or losing control at the pokies. Walker makes use of the layout of the poems to convey meaning, sometimes in a full concrete poem, or sometimes with just some minor visuals as letters begin to separate, using typography to depict the instability of the notions he’s playing with. In “pokies at the emu”, Walker begins expansively, opening the poem with the excitement of caps, and slowing the entrance with spacings between the words that fill the page. The poem peaks with the moment when the gambler is transfixed, “beyond spouse beyond your Home and kids” until it narrows again to the denouement:

your life a spinning chocolate wheel
past the glass case of prizes
step out into the poverty
of carpark darkness

and the silent
desperation
of loss(22)

“microworld”, a poem which informs the book’s title, takes a spiritual magnifying glass down to the earth and perceives beauty and awe, presented in a kind of Fibonacci spiral of words:

geometry of the seen
constructed from the lego
of the invisible (30)

Many of the poems do this, in a way that is almost Haiku-like. The words sweep briefly across the page, painting a visual scene lightly, but opening a much broader scope of meaning, as in “Prime” which fills the page with white space. The nineteen words which make up the poem are simple ones, reducing the language of politics and complexity to the relationship that occurs between two people: “but you will only ever have yourself/and one/other.” (64) Calling to mind the theme conveyed by the book’s title, the poem moves continuously back and forth between simplicity and complexity as the poems structure moves the readers eye across the page. This kind of tightrope balancing is something walker does well, on both a visual and an intellectual level. In the next poem, “love at the physio”, there is a mundane heaviness in the subject’s “fat ankles” and “fat bum”. But the love of the title is no less attractive for its realism, with its jokes and gentle sacrifice. The poem is beautiful in its maturity, but also subtly critical of the unrealistic “diamond ad” with its “pert breasts” and “corrugated abs” suggested in the first stanza. Of course there is also some humour, black and resigned perhaps, but funny nonetheless, at the contrast. This humour is always present in Walker’s work. At times it’s more obvious, as in “Rock paper scissors” which follows the children’s game through time’s arrow, divorce, and the long term impact of poetry. Or there is “Al Zheimer”, “a thief/each time more brazen”. The poem is set up as a puzzle, but ends with a chilling warning in its personification.

micromacro is an easy to read collection which presents a light, gently spaced series of poems that appear simple as they cover the Australian terrain and glide over current affairs. Look closely however and the poetry is sharper, more intense and deeper – using cutting humour and painful structures to illuminate, radiate and open the mind to other people’s pain, to the pain we cause ourselves, or to the “rosetta stone” beneath our feet.

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