The thirteen poems in this chapbook cover a range of themes, working between personal turmoil and political issues. The book works between a number of dichotomies: sickness and health, sanity and insanity, youth and age, city and wilderness.
What separates human accomplishment and failure? In the slinky, seductive “No Danger,” using rhythm as a sign or symbol of desire, Rahsaan Patterson describes love as protection against the cruelty of indifference; but in the song that follows, with a theme of unhappiness, “Pitch Black,” a cross of rock and funk, featuring Patterson’s low voice, a fat slow beat, and guitar feedback, there are “pitch black panic attacks.”
The grammatical syntax is also inflected, though not enough to lose the coherency. Instead, the conjunction of familiarity and distortion provides a cognitive dissonance that, mingled with the lovely imagery, is simultaneously pleasing and intellectually tricky.
At the heart of Smith’s everyday experience is an expansiveness that calls to mind the universal. Life on Mars is an extraordinary collection that will no doubt draw new readers, intrigued by what poetry is able to achieve. Life on Mars’ rich tapestry traverses a broad spectrum of modern experience, linking pop-culture to science and the geography of human pain, forgiveness and transcendence.
While poetry may be worked and rewritten and sculpted, the ‘poems’ from birds are more spontaneous, ‘lines that arrive’, as the birds appear and disappear themselves, according to mating, food, seasons. They produce their own works of art in song, and in themselves, without the accoutrements of human production.
It is in the extended anthropomorphism of animals where Gibbins’ work really shines. My favourite poem in the collection remains “Field Guide”, where the a range of creatures are allowed to express themselves in such a poignant way that their unique essential characteristics are illuminated at the same time as they highlight something utterly relevant to the human condition.
Jessica Bell’s Fabric is a rich collection of poems that take the reader on a deep tour of the psyche. Charting and moving across politics of language, Bell explores love, pain, failure and redemption from a variety of angles. Most of the poems sit at the fragile threshold of instinct and meaning, using symbol and sensation to get to the shock of denouement.
Regardless of topic, from war, oyster bars, junk yards, to fluency, the reader never finds a word out of place, over frilly phrases or rigid format. Instead, the poet offers clear language, with specificity of detail and style that meets the needs of the poem.
One of the key links between both sections are mountains – the linked chain between the past and present; between Korea and Australia. There is always, a great deal of respect for the native landowners – the Yugambeh people whose stories and artwork are present throughout the narrative.
The blurb on the back says it all: “This is David Barnes’ first and last book.” That David ever came to be a poet is a kind of miracle in itself. He’s an unlikely candidate. A ward of the state, placed in institutions and physically and sexually abused – there was little likelihood that he would become a functioning adult, let alone a loving one who could have a happy relationship, a much-loved son a self-deprecating sense of humour – or a writing career.