A review of Zen and the Art of Astroturf by Bronwyn Anne Rodden

Reviewed by Dr Beatriz Copello

Zen and the Art of Astroturf
by Bronwyn Anne Rodden
Wyndow Books
Nov 2021, Paperback, 108 pages, ISBN-13: 979-8759231202

Bronwyn Rodden is a well-known writer with a long list of publications. Zen and the Art of Astroturf has been written following the same vein of the famous seventies book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. Rodden intermingles contemplative and absurd ideas and situations with a deep regard for the environment and the natural world.  Many of her poems can be said to fall within the umbrella of Absurdism, which is a philosophy based on the belief that the universe is irrational and meaningless and humans, in search for order, enter into conflict with the universe.

At 101 pages, Zen and the Art of Astroturf is a large poetry book, which is a delight to read. Some of the poems are memories coloured by nature, many are narrative poems, some very long and some very short like the following one titled “Tuesday, only it’s Monday”. As the title suggests, a veiled sense of humour runs throughout the poem, which is characteristic of many of Rodden’s poems:

The bus is the one after the one that’s supposed to have arrived.
My complaint confirms to the driver that I have just come from
I wouldn’t mind so much if the sky wasn’t the colour of Dad’s eyes that
just like the cat’s, half-open and dead.

The variety of the places mentioned by the poet would appeal to those who appreciate different sceneries around the country. Sydneysiders would recognise many landmarks.

I find very interesting that in the collection there is an ekphrastic poem which is different from the rest of the poems.  This poem, titled “Floating”, is based on a Japanese print from The Floating Island exhibition at the AGNSW, note the unusual and unique style:

Above is the allusion
but they don’t.
they’re fixed in amusing poses
or fucked.
Geishas, Courtesans
the gallery signs say coyly.

In some of the poems the poet describes characters with precision and vivid descriptions, the reader can see them in their mind’s eye: real, vibrant, true to life. A sprinkle of politics graces the pages of Zen and the Art of Astroturf, like the issue with eating animals, corruption in the police and the rights of first nations people. The poet covers these issues in a gentle manner, but the messages are very clear.

In some of her poems Rodden asks questions that are profound and poignant. These are mainly questions about the absurdity sprouting in our world. I asked the poet if there was a thread in her poetry or a commonality and she answered: “Absurdism is something I think is relevant to people today, where we have been dealing with an international pandemic and environmental catastrophes, and people can relate more to the absurd than at many other times in history.”

Having counselled people impacted by the fires and seen the devastation in nature, I was touched by a very long poem titled “Fire Days – January” because it is so very true to life and it paints a real and evocative picture of situations and events. Is Zen and the Art of Astroturf an absurdist book? Yes, but also a meditation on life and death. Is the book entertaining? Yes! Should you buy the book? Yes!

About the reviewer: Dr Beatriz Copello is an award-winning poet who writes poetry, fiction, poetry reviews and plays. The author’s books are: Women Souls and Shadows, Meditations At the Edge of a Dream, Under the Gums Long Shade, Forbidden Steps Under the WisteriaA Call to the Stars translated and published in China and Taiwan, Witches Women and WordsRenacer en Azul and Lo Irrevocable del Halcon (In Spanish). Copello’s poetry has been published in literary journals such as Southerly and Australian Women’s Book Review and in many feminist publications. Copello is mentioned amongst the forty “most notable people” graduated from the University of Technology, Sydney.