An old literature professor I once had used to say, regarding the writing of poetry, “Don’t use the I”, “Don’t talk about feelings”, “Don’t be personal”, “Don’t use dialogue in poetry”. In I Have Decided to Remain Vertical Carbis breaks every rule, and the result is magnificent.
In any biography of a great and celebrated figure, we’re always carried along by the climb to the top of their field. And it’s the same here. We applaud as Houdini goes from triumph to triumph, accompanied by his darling wife Bess, and even more by his first great love, his Mama. Inevitably, the crash occurs, if not the fall from grace, then at least the consequences of advancing years.
The contradictory images reflect themes throughout Stiefel’s verse, which oscillates between nihilism and contentment – or at least resignation and a sensual appreciation of the ephemera of the world. As he writes in the opening poem, “Lest”: “I devour everything I can, the mind defaced, a tattered gown, strawberry leaf, a statue, half-submerged.”
This ability to make us, as readers, ‘opener and unfamiliar’ is one the poet exploits deftly, peeling away any preconceptions we may have until we, too, see and feel his world anew. In part, this is down to his style. A novelist as well as a poet, Radmall’s poetry has many prose-like traits, in particular a freedom from rhyme or metre, heavily enjambed lines, and the hovering arc of a narrative.
A Tide Should be Able to Rise Despite Its Moon is Bell’s first book of poetry in over ten years, but regardless of where her extensive creative practice takes her, her work has always reflected a poetic sensibility, so it feels almost like this is her centrepoint.
Adair is not afraid to bring up difficult issues such as the cruelty of online chats, sacrificed ecosystems and the greed and entitlement of First World multinationals. The poet is also very skilled in narration, and tells stories with a voice that is poetic beautiful and deliberate.
Not at all self conscious, these poems are quite deliberate, the made thing. Each has its note of authority, as in the first poem’s first image, “the common loon made a thumbprint on the lake.” Part elegy, part journal, part memoir, part love song, part accusation, part celebration, all in the voice a person with something to say, a poet with the ability to make a word—loon, cattails, meadow—all her own.
The work feels intimate and subtle, as if a curtain were being opened, little by little, inviting the reader to peak behind the immediate appearance to find something more, for example, the simple act of putting up wallpaper–child and father, revealing so much that is unspoken and understood with hindsight:
If I imagine these poems written on canvas, I think of them as “blood-anointed.” Queeney bears witness and makes frank the realities of these women, or the female experience that may read removed but isn’t always entirely separate from us today.
Leach is a scientist and this shows in his preoccupations, with the natural world and our place within it as actors, colonisers, in sickness and caregiving. The focus moves from heavenly bodies to human ones, from the earth to the mind, all with a precision that reflects Leach’s methodical process.