Reviewing is a labour of love, and in this case the labour was a long one — elephantine in fact — nearly two years gestation! Thank heavens this review popped out in the end, of David Stavanger’s intriguing poetry collection, The Special:
This book is dedicated to the dead
who are bravely living
(and to those who wake wild-eyed in the dark)
So begins David Stavanger’s first full length collection, The Special, published by UQP as wining manuscript of the 2013 Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize. As the dedication suggests, this book is an unsettling read; one feels, intentionally so. The poems deal with what is dark and broken in the human psyche, informed, presumably, by the poet’s own personal and professional experiences with mental illness. This is Stavanger’s first serious foray into the world of ‘page’ as opposed to ‘performance’ poetry (a distinction he eschews), the leap between these two hotly fought over territories no doubt entailing a certain risk of the poems falling flat on the page. Yet while the book may, on first reading, appear somewhat stylistically and tonally ‘flat’, upon deeper reading it becomes clear that this has less to do with Stavanger’s poetry not transitioning well onto the page, and more to do with the nature of what the poet is trying to achieve. When exploring states of mind such as depression or psychosis, an emotionally disconnected, disjointed, or even dissociated style of poetry may indeed be the perfect mode of expression…
If this tickles your fancy, please read the rest over at the wonderful Mascara Literary Review, where you can also enjoy their latest issue comprising some of the finest writing in the land. A huge thanks to editor Michelle Cahill, who works hard to support the publication of a diverse range of Australian Literature.
I’m thrilled that Engraft has received its first review, and that it didn’t say anything terrible, and that it was published in such an esteemed journal. My thanks to Michelle Cahill, editor of Mascara, Anna Couani (for not saying anything terrible!) and, of course, to Island Press (Phil Hamial, Les Wicks and Martin Langford) for publishing the book in the first place.
Island were fantastic to work with and I feel honoured to be among the long list of incredible poet’s they’ve published. Founded in 1970, they’ve made a significant contribution to independent Australian publishing, and I dearly hope that their recently cut Australia Council for the Arts grant will be reinstated so the press can continue.
If you’d like to learn more about the colorful history of Island, take a look at the first and second installment of this article published in Rochford Street Review. It’s a fascinating window into the world of poetry and publishing in Australia over the last 45 years.
And please click over to Mascara to read Engraft’s first review!
I recently had the pleasure of reviewing two new Australian poetry collections: Distance, by Nathanael O’Reilly, and Fixing the Broken Nightingale by Richard James Allen. Here’s a little taste of each review; please follow the link to read the full versions at the wonderful Mascara Literary Review. (And a big thanks to managing editor Michelle Cahill.)
Distance, Nathanael O’Reilly’s first full-length poetry collection, is separated into three sections – ‘Australia’, ‘Europe’ and ‘America’ – the first and most substantial section (which deals with the experience of growing up in Australia) functioning as the emotional cornerstone of the collection. The title and section headings immediately alert us to the major themes of the book – distance, separation, identity, expatriation, connection and disconnection – but the distances and proximities explored here are not simply geographical or physical; they are also temporal, cultural and emotional. (Link to the rest of the review here.)
Fixing the Broken Nightingale, Richard James Allen’s tenth poetry collection, is a small treasure of a book – one you might pop into your bag and dip into at idle moments for bursts of inspiration, contemplation or solace. Indeed, the physical design of the book (it’s part of Flying Island’s petite Australian Pocket Poets Series) recalls a more romantic time when poetry was indeed carried and savoured in this way; while the title – evoking Keats’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ – suggests that similar themes of mortality, bliss, suffering and the power of words to save us will be explored. (Link to the rest of the review here.)