Beautifully Composed Poetry: Judith Beveridge launches Magic Logic by David Mortimer

Magic Logic by David Mortimer. Puncher and Wattmann 2013. Magic Logic was launched by Judith Beveridge at the Friend In Hand Hotel Glebe on on 22nd June 2013.

magic_logic_310_418_sThis is a delightful book. There is a terrific refinement of sensibility working in David Mortimer’s poetry. David seems able to get to the heart of a matter by application of mind and an astute discernment and selection of details. These details are often small evocations of a time and place which carry with them a great deal of tonal atmosphere and feeling.

Reading David’s book, what struck me time and again was the acute and loving attention he pays to his syntax, to his diction, to the cadences of his lines. This is beautifully composed poetry. He lingers on things and the words for things, delighting in their sound and texture, and often in the longer poems, building up crescendos and graceful flights of musical expression. It’s no wonder quite a few of David’s poems are about music or composers, as he is himself a poet who sings and who plucks his lines like melodious strings.

David’s poems have that admirable ability to grow out of their own emotional necessity. Many of these poems seem to rise to discoveries of – and are themselves – epiphanies.

Here’s a lovely example of his ability to draw out meaning and significance from an observation:

Cold wet frozen

Early morning
And a small child on a huge drenched oval
Maybe eight, maybe ten years old
In a school uniform, winter-weight
Even a blue blazer
Kicking a soccer ball

And her dad the goalie
In a business suit

Something’s dragged them out –
Some promise or madness

Perhaps their car’s broken down
And they’re making the best of it
Kicking ice off the grass
Scuffing curves into almost mud

And who cares if her socks will be wet all day?
If he gets a cold?
Here’s memory being made, laid up, forever
Brighter than rinsed sunlight

And her flashing feet are more awake
Than anything else on earth

I think it’s true to say that poetry almost always returns to the inner life, to the hidden feeling, the buried motive, to the details that embody emotion. Each poet for us defines a world and it is important for us as readers to be exposed to as many of these differing worlds as we can. David’s world, as we witnessed in the poem I just read, is often full of glittering perceptions, of magic, of the power of the imagination. Wallace Stevens argued that the power of the imagination to transform reality is what enables people to cope with the pressure of reality. Poetry can help us escape the numbness of daily routine. The imagination enables us to enter the experiences of others and if we wish, make them our own. I have a feeling that David Mortimer would agree wholeheartedly with this statement of Stevens. His title ‘Magic Logic‘ seems to beautifully encapsulate what Stevens meant, and here’s a poem which memorably illustrates this:

at the pedestrian crossing

at the pedestrian crossing
a single butterfly
in the middle of the city
in the morning rush hour
shapes at the traffic lights
and delicately
disturbs the flow

and in turn
denies the tableau
with moving graffiti

the status quo
of metal pole
with metal button
and intermittently indifferently
the switching box
the hooded glass
the people waiting

by dint of
circling the woman’s hair-do
but then
landing on the man’s hand
to be held up
like the most beautiful wristwatch
ever imagined

David’s poetry makes us feel welcome and makes us value the work that poetry does, which is to say things with a “passionate syntax” on the margins of the sayable and allow readers to become participants in their own relationship to the world. David’s poems acquire both heart and mind in startling ways. You need to be “holy in small things“ – someone once said, and this I think applies very much to David’s writing – as well as some very impressive long poems, there are quite a number of shorter, haiku-like poems which are resonant and powerful:


Doesn’t get
Dirt in its eye

Or this slightly longer poem with its sharpness and precision of image and detail:


The little beak of the water jug
Is narrow and plastic and – articulated by the pressure of
the water –
Twitters away
Into the throat of the electric kettle;
For all the world – in a world of white kitchen accessories –
The very picture
Of an attentive parental bird
With a huge fledgling

Time and again David’s poems work to discover value and meaning in the world through the redemptive power of perception, observation and imagination. These poems carry the undertow of an engaged, intelligent mind operating with a grounded and responsive heart. These poems are written out of a respectful, almost humble attitude towards the world of others and towards the dailiness of the self. The poems are investigative and always humane.

All those of us who write poetry know that the magic of the art is inseparable from its risks – that this risk is a necessary component of poetry as it performs that balancing act between reality and the imaginative force at work within the poem. It seems to me that David is a poet well able to tread that fine line.

I’d like to conclude by reading one more poem that typifies what I have been trying to say about this work: the sense of wonder, the imaginative play, the strong yet mellifluous cadences, the poignant perceptions, the spirit of tenderness and lightness of touch, the vigour of the syntax all come beautifully alive in this poem called: no wonder:

no wonder

once there was fire
a car alight burning in a side street
so intense I nearly drove off the road at the force of the fact

intenser than rain thunderstorm anger or Brueghel’s colours of heat in snow
fire bright brighter here more real rounded flagrant in the back streets near the train line
than whatever half-baked errand I thought I was on
after the football before dinner weekend wheel-turning
cauterised in one glance up against

torch crucible Bunsen burner bonfire

people from front yards drawn to watch boredom wrong-footed
residents with phones shouldered angling out to catch reality vouchsafed
and everything else in late afternoon not noticeably incandescent with flame and petrol
seemed to be seen to be concealment compromised with grey

no wonder Heraclitus felt that to only rub drag break anything open
would be to find fire

-Judith Beveridge


Judith Beveridge is the author of The Domesticity of Giraffes, Accidental Grace, Wolf Notes and Storm and Honey all of which have won major prizes. Her new collection, Devadatta’s Poems, will be published by Giramondo Publishing in 2014 and Brazilier Publishers are bringing out a new and selected volume, Hook and Eye, in 2014 for the US market. She is the poetry editor for Meanjin and teaches poetry writing at postgraduate level at the University of Sydney.

Magic Logic is available from

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