A Reader Runner in a Maze Bright: Hamish Danks Brown reviews ‘Maze Bright’ by Jaya Savige

Maze Bright by Jaya Savige.  Rare Objects, Vagabond Press, Sydney, 2014.

Jaya_Savige_-_Maze_BrightOn the same day that I received a review copy of Jaya Savige’s latest chapbook Maze Bright, I noticed the poster for a new movie The Maze Runner , based on the dystopian young adult novel by James Dashner, on display outside the local multiplex cinema, That same evening, I also saw the same movie advertised on television.

The definition of ‘maze bright’ derives from a famous experiment conducted by American behavioural psychologist Robert Tyron (1901-1967) in 1942, which tested the intelligence of successive generations of rats in finding their way through a maze, with the most proficient of the rats being labelled ‘bright’. The 10 poems in Jaya Savige’s chapbook also form a literary and linguistic maze which become a ludic challenge for the reader to play with, as these poems deploy a distinctive range of poetic devices, styles, and layouts to be explored, negotiated and remembered.

In considering the game playing of Pac Man in the opening poem “Etude”, I am reminded of the comment made in David Bellos’s biography of Oulipian writer Georges Perec (1936-1982) and his young student cohorts in Paris in the 1950’s, in which they frequented the same cafes as the intelligentsia of Paris, except that they were playing the pinball machines in the back corner rather that engaging in the arguments and discussions of the time.

“He wasted vast amounts of time in cafes, playing pinball machines. Billard electrique, “electrical billiards, is the official French term for these noisy imported toys, but they were called flippers by addicts, even though the earliest models lacked actual flippers and had to be banged and shunted to alter the path of the shiny steel ball – whence their other name in Franglais, tilts. Goerges would often hold forth mock-philosophically that his life could be compared to the brief and violent path of a ball in a tilt, rejected unpredictably by one blinking, spring-loaded pin after another before plunging – too soon! – into the black holle where all balls must eventually come to rest.” (David Bellos, Georges Perec: A Life In Words, pp. 137-38).

“French walnut tabletop video arcade
circa nineteen eighty-eight”

– Jaya Savige “Etude”.

The second poem “Wingsuit Journal” had a haunting resonance for me, as only the week before, my brother in Sydney, who is a netball coach in the local league in his spare time, told me that another coach he knew had just lost her son in a fatal accident when he struck a cliff while flying a wingsuit in the Swiss Alps. This poem also vividly reminded me of my own experiences and impressions of abseiling down cliffs in the Blue Mountains, caving in the Deua National Park and going on tandem paragliding trips from the crest of Bald Hill on the northern Illawarra coast.

“Never underestimate the sheer toil
required to work this simple aerofoil.”

The third poem “Magic Hour, LA”is an evocative but brief three stanza recollection of a drive along one of the busier billboard-braced and neon-festooned strips of that metropolis,

Number four in this chapbook “On Not Getting My Spray Can Signed by Mr Brainwash” holds to a tighter ABAB rhyming pattern for its seven stanzas with a wry commentary on American popular culture and the trigger-happy tendency of life in the USA today.

and I’m pretty sure I get
……the way out fetishisation
of the toy assault rifle
……inflects his canonisation

as The King. It’s just that capital
……encourages this: the endless
permutations of its effects
……are hardly less mindless

One aspect I enjoy of the whole chapbook is the deft wordplay which Jaya Savige utilises through most of the poems, especially in the firth poem“Citicity”, “and the eighth poem Cinemetabolic” It’s a trait in poetry that I’ve particular warmed to all my life, because my own late father was a keen admirer of word play, nonsense verse, witty song lyrics and what he described as “lightness of touch” in being able to address serious matters with humour instead of polemics. “Cinemetabolic” also reads and registers in my mind as if it could be performed as a sound poem by the likes of Canadian poet Christian Bok, who delivered readings of his own work, as well as that of Kurt Schwitters, Hugo Ball, and even a reworking of a section of “The Georgics” by Roman poet Virgil at the Queensland Poetry Festival less than a fortnight ago.

“Act of God”, the sixth poem, is a more intimate and observational short piece about a honeyeater consuming the nectar of tropical flowers outside the branch of a Queensland bank.

“Nick Cave at Buckingham Palace” is laid out as a visual poem of expansive and seemingly random pauses throughout the text, that renders it as an interior monologue by Nick Cave himself, who is described as

a brooding gothic currawong
among a froth of swans.

It’s also an unwittingly timely poem, given the concurrent release of a semi-fictional documentary about this expatriate Australian songwriter titled “20,000 Hours on Earth”.

“To His Coy Investor” is a skilful parody which most amusing updates the famous metaphysical love poem by Andrew Marvell (1621-1678) “To His Coy Mistress”. This rendition accurately hones in on the greed and the gall of the global financial market and merchant bankers while adhering to the rhyming pattern and the meter of the original.

Now, therefore, while the prowling bear
sniffs the pit for whiffs of despair,
and Goldman rogues blab to police
of vampire squids who shorted Greece,
now let us play ball while we can
and now, as sanguine businessmen,….

The final poem “Epithelial” is a reference to the connective skin tissue located on various parts of our anatomy, in this case around the corner of the eye. It’s a dramatic recall of an incident in which the subject of the poem is attacked by a “lanky lad” and, in the scuffle, sustains an injury to the skin dangerously close to the edge of his eye, which has him mortified at the prospect of loss of vision and blindness.

Overall, this is a chapbook which is of a very high quality and with a considerable substance that belies its modest format and its slender dimensions. Jaya Savige has, in ten poems, provided the reader with much to reflect on in every line. This is direct evidence of a poet who is accomplished in rendering his ideas, impressions and inspirations into a metaphorical maze through which the reader will surely become brighter for having found a way through this finely wrought publication.

– Hamish Danks Brown


 Hamish Danks Brown (born 1957) grew up in a soldier settlement farmhouse in Forestville NSW in an artistic family. He has worked in the arts, media and communities in Sydney, Canberra, Wollongong, Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast of QLD, where he was also a full-time carer for his parents until this year. He has been writing since schooldays, but it is only in the past decade that he has become a regular writer, blogger and spoken word performer a.k.a. Danksta Downunder. His interests include the arts, archaeology, astronomy, neuroscience and being a satirical opponent to the status quo. He has published one chapbook ‘All Other Destinations’, is working on his second, and publishes frequently online, and regularly in various poetry anthologies and journals in Australia and overseas.

Maze Bright is available from http://vagabondpress.net/collections/rare-object-series/products/jaya-savige-maze-bright.


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