Strange Beauty: Amanda Anastasi launches ‘We the Mapless’ by Ian McBryde

We the Mapless by Ian McBryde, Bareknuckle Books 2017, was launched by Amanda Anastasi at Collected Works on 16 February 2017

Ian McBryde reading at the launch of We the Mapless, Photo by Melbourne Spoken Word.

Making my way through these poems – and I say “making my way” because there is never a feeling, at any point, of having to work the poems out. It is much like walking through a gallery of striking paintings – each beautiful, savage, tender and stark. These word paintings and snapshots resonate long after you have put the book down.

We are eased into the collection softly with selections from Ian’s 1994 collection The Familiar, with the very slight and quiet ‘Cat to Antelope’. The poems from The Familiar imprint some unforgettable lines upon us. The moon as “a venomous shrunken nun”, for instance. One can faintly hear “the music from the south tower” in ‘Reports from the Palace’, and the faint music still plays in each of Ian’s Reports from the Palace poems thereafter. Upon reading the selection from Flank, I swear that I could hear the muted horses of the “blind cavalry”, each camera click in ‘The Still Company’ and an exquisite music emanating from ‘Prelude’. Then, there is the Westgate Bridge collapse depicted as “a terrible child splitting the insect.”

McBryde captures, in his characteristically minimalist way, crimes and disasters of history – many clear, detailed and razor-sharp reportings, dense with atmosphere. Dallas’ 63 documents the JFK assassination, Melbourne Bitter the Julian Knight shootings. And of course, there are the poems from Domain, the 2004 collection based on the events of the Holocaust.

Here, McBryde hones in on the ordinary, human things occurring around the inhuman atrocities – Himmler retiring for the night; Heydrich dining out, the piles of clothes carefully labelled. It is an insightful view into the emotional distance of the criminal mind. The most striking image here is the flower blooming in Auschwitz – the stubbornness of beauty and life amid the obscenest human ugliness.

Similarly, the poems from Equatorial often depict the dark side of the human psyche. Here we have an arsonist, a sniper, a “fallen priest, defrocked.” In so many of these poems, there is a fascination with the mindset of the outsider, the deviant, the broken. And yet, there is always a searing beauty even in the most disturbing recollections.

The Adoption Order poems take a softer turn. Here we are presented with the tenuous, yet immovable presence of biology and family. From the bitterness of ‘Songs for Paul’ to the surrender of ‘Motherlode’ containing the repeated line “I will die with your name in my mouth”. Here, the loud silences that exist between us and those who birthed us, are perfectly conveyed.

The strange beauty contained in many of McBryde’s poems lies in what is not said. There is always room to wander, and there is always just enough unresolved to keep you thinking afterward. The selection from Slivers, lifted from an entire collection of monostitch poems, aims to create a complete poem within one line. Each contains its own mystery. Each is a hook; a door slightly ajar. Yet, each is complete.

We are also gifted with new poems, which I will not talk about. These are the surprise of the book and, as Ian does, I will not say too much. It is in the final poem of the collection – the last instalment of ‘Reports from the Palace’, that puts the title of the collection into context. It reads: “We the mapless are here, knowing that this pale house is ours.”
It is with pleasure, that I declare We the Mapless by Ian McBryde…launched.

 – Amanda Anastasi

 Amanda Anastasi is a Melbourne writer, and the curator of La Mama Poetica. Her writing has been published in magazines and anthologies both locally and internationally, including The Massachusetts Review, FourW and Cordite Poetry Review. Amanda’s poetry collections include 2012 and other poems and The Silences’(Eaglemont Press). a chapbook with Robbie Coburn.

We the Mapless is availabe from

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