With Pretty Air and Marginal Grace: Rebecca Kylie Law review’s ‘The Sea of Heartbeak (Unexpected Resilience)’ by Les Wicks

The Sea of Heartbeak (Unexpected Resilience) by Les Wicks.Puncher & Wattman 2013.

sea_heartbreak_310_438_sOne of the quirks of Performance Poetry is to speak from the heart; and if a word or phrase brings to mind an image then such matters need to be voiced. It seems this spontaneous combustion of language happened to Les Wick’s in his composition The Sea of Heartbeak (Unexpected Resilience), as, I can only suppose, he wants to paint a familiar metaphor but at the word ‘heart’ falters and sees a bird’s beak instead of the more painful realisation inherent in ‘break’. In this sea inside Wick’s, the waters are rough but expertly thwart by denial. Wicks has come up with a strategy it seems, in overcoming disappointment. ‘Love hurts but it can be cured’, he says, ‘divine then dive’. It’s not apathy but a gung-ho battle of wits to demystify romantic demonstrations. ‘Seems even harmony is a habit’ writes Wicks, the trick being, it seems, to believe in something besides the obvious, to ‘riot in the empty’.

With six sections dividing the poems in The Sea of Heartbeak, the labour of love is an odyssey buoyed by hope and reckless humour. ‘Lament ruthlessly’ suggests Wicks and the ‘new lyricism’ will be a ‘walk in wonder’ with ‘the heart in there somewhere/ but hardly worth the mess’. From a cemetery to a forest of trees, past a ruler of three winds to a bay disassociated from others, the journey is a ride in strange lands where matters of the flesh are the only reminders of life as a heart-beat or ‘a silenced chick’. ‘Got nothing this year/ just what I wanted’ remarks Wicks in “On the Nature of Wickedness and Plums” and it’s not humour this time but a cunning to outfox hope’s opposition, despair. With history directly behind us, there’s ‘barely a cloud says the weatherman’ and ‘christmas is dead, /right on schedule’. This poem, wedged midway on our journey from cemetery to ‘yawning daffodils’ purports a selfhood wounded by the past, uncertain of a future but glad of company. ‘Cats snigger in the shade/ But I’m smiling and silly is my key’. This, it seems, is the unexpected resilience finding its way through the stodge of misfortune, the wickedness and plums.

The poetry in this collection is aptly both surface and depth at once, both performance verse and poetic literature. If, as Les Wicks tells us, he is the ‘afterthought of birds’ then the voice, for its sing-song quietude is authentic. There is an irony to Wick’s poetry for though he is rioting about his own life, caring less for this, sparing thoughts to regard that, his poems are peaceful musings close to scores for a whistle. Towards the end of the collection he suggests we are blundering in our dialogues and need to go ‘back into the wood’. That this is the perpetual cycle of life, a back and forth movement like the tides is, for Wicks, the consolation that keeps his spirit joyous, albeit a fence-sitter. There is a lot of ‘flapping’, ‘smiling’, ‘tinkling’ and physicality in the poems that succeeds in achieving a sense of their immanence. They are restless, balletic and seemingly wanting lift off though authored by a smiling hopeful, know better than to leave. There is a ‘silence beyond glance’ says Wicks and in spite of the frivolous tumbling, walkabouts and fleeing from love, the poems have not forgotten the gravity of the very substance they choose to shut out: love through a window pane than behind a closed door. Of course, lest we forget, this is poetry.

They call Les Wicks a “stage” and “page” poet and for the purposes of this review, considering the latter, I can attest to this being an actual fact. Although there is nothing stylistically outlandish or radical about the poetry in The Sea of Heartbeak (which one would suppose a “page” poet would strive to accomplish) there is the expected attendance to rhythm, syntax and grammar for all their respective traditions and creative potentials. The poems are all left to right on the far left of the page, which I hasten to add, is not, these days, stating the obvious. Aside from this however, they are unique compositions that capitalise letters when required, italicise accordingly and arrange stanzas in the usual fashion. I am pointing this out by way of emphasising just how much of a “page” poet Wicks is…though the honesty of the language, the stop, starting you see best explained by ‘heart’ (stop) ‘beak’, is where the stage is envisioned comfortably. Wick’s poetry has a beat, a steady, unrelenting beat that pauses only when acknowledging another presence- a dog or woman, cloud nine or a’ holy man’s chant’. Phrases such as ‘Love you as the stars cave in’, cram the collection with playfulness and childlike innocence (‘that suddenly purposeful possum’) and appear as welcome antidotes to more despairing realities such as death or a heat-wave leaving ‘eucalypts inflamed, mangy’.

The unexpected resilience assisting the journey’s end or perpetual return as Wick’s would have it in The Sea of Heartbeak backs up a poet who ‘knows less each year/ & cannot rise to judge’ but considers ‘another day of life’ as marvel enough not to restlessly walk around with ‘grey abandon’. For Wick’s love comes in smoothly and goes away like rough rain, at times ‘placed in blossom’ and others as bleak as ‘the bogong moth…fooled by trashy suns humans make’. Culture these days is casual and hippie, Wick’s is wearing Indian shirts, backpackers are aimless in Coogee and the water skiers have found the river. There’s new road works taking place on the pathways to Hell, someone’s noticed the potholes,; and the stars belie a higher paradise, best to keep an eye on that or more delightfully find promise in a sun. Cerulean blues on white spell out the cover of The Sea of Heartbeak, Unexpected Resilience like the night and tides that accompany bed linen, fingers that ”ferry’ and a tinkling mind.

– Rebecca Kylie Law


Rebecca Kylie Law is a Sydney based poet, essayist and reviewer. Published by Picaro Press, her poetry collections include Offset, Lilies and Stars and The Arrow & The Lyre. Other publications include The Wonderbook of Poetry (http://wonderbookofpoetry.org/?s=Rebecca+Kylie+Law), Notes for The Translators, Best Poem Journal, Virgogray Press, Australian Love Poems 2013, Southerly and Westerly. She was short-listed for the Judith Wright Prize in 2012 and holds a Masters Degree in Poetry from Melbourne University.

The Sea of Heartbeak (Unexpected Resilience) is available from  http://puncherandwattmann.com/books/book/sea-of-heartbeak/


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“There is history, but it won’t tell”: Rae Desmond Jones Launches Sea of Heartbeak (Unexpected Resilience) by Les Wicks

Sea of Heartbeak (Unexpected Resilience) by Les Wicks, Puncher & Wattman, 2013 was launched at the Friend in Hand Hotel Glebe on 22nd June this year. Rae Desmond Jones wrote the speech but as he was unwell it was delivered by David Musgrave.

Photo by Susan Adams

Les Wicks – Photo by Susan Adams

I have never before been asked to launch a volume. It is an honour because of the nature and quality of the volume and the long ongoing creative relationship I can claim with the author. I also deeply regret not being able to deliver the address in person, and would gladly forego the ease and attention of a sickbed to attend, simply to support the author, one of the most generous and selfless supporters of the cause of poetry in this country.

Be that as it may, this occasion is about Les, or more specifically the achievement of his book. Les’ poems are demanding, and don’t reveal their intricate layers on a first reading. Even the simpler poems are dense with imagery so that they require a second and even a third reading, but the effort is well worthwhile. For example, the first poem in the book is conversational and superficially casual in tone:


This dozen amused tourists
surround a dead dragon on the sand.

Its last ferocity
is the stench that armours each ending.
Already delicate fins are trimmed to lace
by the scission of crabs.

Beneath a corona of flies
spirit is urged to shuck flesh.

Harp of teeth
reach out to voice.
A roadmap of spine leads to the spume.

Hygienically cleansed
under flash-bulb asepticism.

Any shift in the tide will send this
crashing to the tale.
There is history,
but it won’t tell.

Each line in this casual sounding poem contains an image of great weight, with the possible exception of the first, which sets the scene of the dozen tourists: however they are amused. One interpretation of the deep seriousness of the rest of the poem is that it is a comment on this amusement. It is a dead dragon, a warrior … ferocious, when alive. I check out dragon: the biblical reference is to “a large serpent, a crocodile, a great marine animal, or a jackal” then “A name for Satan”. Immediately the image of the great whale in Moby Dick arises … “Hygienically cleaned / under flash bulb asepticism”, free from the living germs of disease, fungus or putrefaction. But what is being described but a process of putrefaction? It is the flash bulbs of the ‘amused’ tourists that are censoring the process of death, & the dignity of this great animal. When looked at with this level of detail, this poem yields up much more than the casual tone would suggest. Then there is history … but the real great whale, not entirely distinct from Herman Melville’s prophetic version, isn’t history. At least, not yet.

The contrasts and conjunctions between animals, the environment and the human mind & body is a recurring theme through these poems. In ‘Tuart’,

It is said elephants & crows share
This knowledge of death it
Is the crown of our intellect
“Things are happening” are all
In slow resolve.

In launching these poems, I can think of no better tactic than allow the poetry to speak for itself. It does this so excellently that it makes any speech focused on the halcyon days of the poets union in 1978 or a long friendship seem facile. This poetry is serious and addresses significant issues that should be of concern to all of us. Underlying issues which appear regularly on the news or in the papers which are too often described in terms of party politics and sectional self-interest are described in this poetry with unflinching moral courage:

Only humans play all their years, biologists think maybe
something about efficiency.
Do we take to the air
while refusing to look beneath?


Sea Of Heartbeak is determined to take the reader on a dive beneath. It took me on a voyage which I found bracing and stimulating at the same time as it did not turn away from the discomforting reality of the costs our lives inflict on our futures.

What I have said so far does not do justice to the other aspects of this volume. Just in case some of you may be thinking that to read this volume is to be immersed in some of the more obscure philosophy of Mr. Heidegger, Les Wicks also has a lively and irreverent sense of humour on display. He indulges in some lighter relief with a series of aphorisms under the tongue in cheek title of “Secret Saids (everything I know)” where he displays his gift for whimsy:

“people in glass houses enjoy the view.” (pause)

“Britney’s sister is gluttony.” (I won’t repeat this one to my daughter)

“Love hurts but it can be cured” (How, I ask… don’t torment me Les. Tell me the secret…

“Hair is the window of the brain..” (where are the curtains?)

“Sex would never reach minimum / occupational health and safety standards.” (Nor should it. The human race would die of boredom…)

There is also a poem I must mention, not only because it is a poem around my hometown, Broken Hill. It is an area where the environment and colour attracts painters and film makers but not often poets, but it is attractive to Les Wicks. In ‘Aeolus at the Mulga’:

The desert wind wears a blunt dust
Cantankerous yap
lifts sheetmetal
from the deaths
of the snub nosed Silverton buses all
cut like raw opal
pressed into a humiliating servitude
windbreaks for camels.
Punctuation of crows
affixed on air.

The description of wind lifting the iron is something familiar which Les has caught in a way that is unexpected for anyone who has not grown up with it. The old buses I rode in as a schoolboy are now dumped to rust in a paddock on the border of the town where Les has spent some time as a writer in residence, and he catches the pathos of those ancient clapped out machines perfectly.

Les’ tone is terse and he concentrates a complex web of simple seeming words, through narratives that are complex and demand intense concentration. Links and breaks between images, puns and dual meanings demand close attentive reading. The way he solders each image to the last brings to mind the metaphysical poetry of John Donne. It is my business to launch this excellent volume, not to review it: I recommend it and declare this volume duly launched.

– Rae Desmond Jones


Rae Desmond Jones is a major Australian poet. His first book was Orpheus With A Tuba, Makar Press, 1973.  His Selected Poems has just been published from Grand Parade Poets and was launched by Kit Kelen in August . He is also the editor of The Selected Your Friendly Fascist (Rochford Street Press) 2012.

Sea of Heartbeak (Unexpected Resilience) is available from http://puncherandwattmann.com/books/book/sea-of-heartbeak