We the Mapless: new and selected poems by Ian McBryde (Bareknuckle Books, 2017)
In the long-awaited collection from Melbourne poet, Ian McBryde, We the Mapless we are treated to a retrospective of his work, spanning over twenty years. Organised into sections showcasing poems from six of his collections, unlike the people of the title, we have a map to trace the poet’s trajectory chronologically from 1994 to the present, with the addition of an entire section of new work.
Something that may have gone un-noticed to readers of his other collections is the recurring motif of titles, particularly, ‘Reports from the Palace’ that also acts as the end piece for the book. It is as if McBryde has released them episodically over all these years and only now are we treated to the full narrative they create. The palace is a hospital or institution, where the narrator must hide photos of his loved ones in his clothing. The well-guarded drugs are echoed in the poem, ‘Coming off Morphine’ in the final section. The mapless ones of the title are referenced in the final episode.
McBryde has a forensic eye and because of the timespan covered here, his fascinations and fixations are brought to light. Particularly notable are the vignettes of broken men enacting violent fantasies. There is a hyper-masculinity to the work. McBryde is not one to indulge in sentimentality or flowery, romantic language. In his poem, ‘Moon’, he is at his most poetically transgressive, calling this often-praised heavenly body, ‘predatory…venomous…a brittle light…’ with ‘no vestige of salvation’.
As we delve deeper into the work, we find love poems peppered amongst the rubble of war, murder and general mayhem. The tenderness of these poems is almost palpable and at times, as raw as a nerve. His odes to Melbourne hum with an obvious adoration for the city. In ‘Melbourne 4 a.m.’, he compares the city to a woman in repose, ‘…draped around the bay’. It describes a town comfortable in its allure and comforting in its shape and form. McBryde shows his skill here, weaving through vignettes of Melbourne’s inhabitants in each suburb going about their sleepy business.
In ‘Satellite’, we have a portrayal of desire and unrequited love, bordering on predation, where the suitor is aware of the unspoken feelings of the love object:
Below, on your surface,
but with each pass
you stir in your core,
aware of me out there,
His poems are always succinct with signature short lines and stanzas leaving us wanting more. We are treated to a poignancy; the works are potent. His is simultaneously a poet, journalist, documentarian, and novelist. His love of the narrative form shines through clearly, despite occasional attempts at obfuscation. The poems from slivers are of course, a collection of one-line poems.
The two concrete poems seem slightly out of place. It is common for poets to include concrete poems to add interest, many of which don’t reveal more than the words could tell us. However, the poem ‘Dresden’ works in this format. Through its shape, the reader experiences the claustrophobia of a war trench, a bombed out hollow, or a bunker.
It is obvious after reading the collection that McBryde has always been a muscular and exacting poet. If there is any faltering, it is in the typos and hum drum cover that don’t quite do the work justice. Often with a retrospective, the reader can observe the growth and development of a poet. Here, it is as if McBryde never had to stumble before he could walk. He is strident, with a clear eye on the future; map or no map.
– Anna Forsyth
Anna Forsyth is a writer and freelance editor, originally from New Zealand, now living in Melbourne. Her poems have appeared in FourW, Landfall and other journals. She is the convener of the monthly female driven poetry event and refugee fundraiser, Girls on Key.