When Romance is too Culturally Meaningful to be Common: Rebecca Law reviews Martin Langford’s ‘ground’

ground by Martin Langford. Puncher and Wattmann 2015

ground_310_440_sReading Martin Langford’s ground made me long for the kind of mood state celebrated in the Rick Springfield song ‘Free and Easy’. In this tense, studious collection ‘just knowing that you’re there’ is not enough to sustain happiness and ‘waking in the morning’ doesn’t illicit a casual ‘walk by the shore, miles from everyone…feeling free and easy’. So instead, here we are in Australia, you, me and the next door neighbour wondering with great angst why the climate isn’t great, the future looks bleak and the past is too miserable to forget. What’s needed is a beginning and the ground is a good enough start excepting that’s in trouble too- the clay is cracking and dried up, roads ‘shimmer, tacky with heat’, the ‘bleached grasses’ are dying and what is more, the sky here only ‘swells’ and the sun is ‘colourless’. With such constant negativity I wanted some sense of an RU OK day just to check if Langford’s insistence we never arrive anywhere and it is impossible to ‘articulate home’ was a nationwide catastrophe waiting to happen. A sort of where have I been all this time if this is what is really going on in Australia (says Langford with a wink and a nudge).

This is a poetry of disjunctions, of the pull of the wild that can’t sustain its original intentions, of the unsettled and the pathetique. The human gazes at its world looking for something and nature carries on its persistent evolutionary tumbles and turns; but always in reaching out or even meeting our utmost energetic states we are forced to recede again to ‘sorrows of the limpid and mild’. What happened was Captain Cook came and ‘planted a flag’. Our soldiers ‘died at Gallipoli’. First they said ‘nobody lived here’ then ‘they made room for Indigenous people’. And for that, the massacres and the silence, the absences and the emptiness (of spirit) there is the ‘working out what to do next, and then doing it’. There is a fight going on, a struggle to settle in and settle down but Langford is dismissive and wants to dance. After all, in “Broken Bay”, where there is a will there is way: ‘back in the suburbs/ the small rooms light up/ for the night cliff’ and ‘shearwaters shoulder/ the bomb of the wind’.

In the heart of Sydney’s CBD ‘someone/ keeps making a point but the listeners/ vague out when the seagulls tilt sideways’ and this is either the malady or upside of living in Australia: language matters less when the ‘air…is swarmed by a perfume called “Distance”/….and ‘there’s a breeze/ off the river so faint it’s like breath on the skin’. Here, the best conversations come in the wind or are summoned by the gaze but never form words: instead, find the ‘gaze of an other’. Good sense is like ‘woodsmoke-and-lassitude days in the streets without trees’, of little consequence or meaning for the intransience of living in a country whose histories are so eclectic even your own can be untold ‘heart-work’, a granted legend. The point is we are all here together, scrambling for place, for destinations, a sense of arriving ‘home’. But with consideration for the wildflower principle, there is another way to bloom and that is to amble and plonk respectively: for ‘beauty is not destination’. Which begs the question what was land first but ‘a clearing of prayer for our barley’. Or ‘a meadow at Windsor with hayricks and steeples’, a ‘pastoral idyll’, a ‘dancing-itself of the rhythms of seed-life’, the ‘site of our stories/ our lost child/ our sorrowing ground’. And then that familiar retraction, a kind of Langfordesque erasure: ‘what was this land?’

In ground everything is a problem because, like Eric and Annersley, the two dozer drivers who don’t gel, living in Australia is complex, complicated. There are animosities but in the end, we have to work the same land ‘because we are clever/ because need is tough’. Here, there are ghosts of soldiers ‘whose footsteps..echo in halls like important, dull songs’, crows who ‘tell the plain, not the kind truth’ and ‘thrushes…cuckoo-shrikes- / carving dusk-contours and -hollows’. And the ‘impulse’ to dance, ‘a sun of participants dancing/ a source/ not a grief’. That way we might ‘get the weight of this place/ in our bodyminds’ and in dancing help ‘the small creeks run clear again/ …the firetails and wrens to come back/ …our own understandings…/ specific, loose-limbed’.

On “The Kingfishers Wings” beautifically light can refract from the sorrows, deaths, dismissals and shadows to the ‘azure’ of our attention, our tears, our desire for flight from/ out of the mire. In ground meaning is lower case and simplified, less a definition and word than a sense of something to look at and look around from the vantage point of feeling it beneath you…Like a poetic encyclopaedia of Australia’s transition from paddock to city, from ship to house, war to a makeshift peace, ground is sensitive to its subject matter and respectfully inoffensive. Its gaze is studious and uptight and captures details with such eloquence they almost seem caught in the lines of their stanzas, prized or wittily expressive. The subheadings assist an orientation through what seems otherwise a hike through a terrain of surprises and eccentric journeys. Alas, you don’t feel ‘free and easy’ reading the collection, being in Langford’s world for the 155 pages of poetry, but you learn something and perhaps that too, is time well spent.

 – Rebecca Law


Rebecca Kylie Law is a Sydney based poet, essayist and reviewer. Her poetry collections include Offset, Lilies and Stars. The Arrow & The Lyre and In My Days and In My Sleep  (May, Interactive Press). Other  publications include Notes for The Translators, Poems for the Young Chinese Adult, Best Poem Journal, Australian Love Poems 2013, Southerly, Westerly, Rochford Street Review, The Australian, The Euroscientist Ezine, The Lake, Pacific Poetry, Spiritus and Assisi: An online journal of Arts & Letters. She is currently completing her Phd at the UWS. Rebecca Kylie Law was Rochford Street Review’s featured writer for Issue 16  https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2015/10/06/featured-writer-rebecca-kylie-law-biographical-note/

ground is available from https://puncherandwattmann.com/books/book/ground

Featured Writer: Rebecca Kylie Law – Biographical Note

Rebecca Kylie Law. Photograph by Tea Youn Kim-Kassor

Rebecca Kylie Law. Photograph by Tea Youn Kim-Kassor

Rebecca Kylie Law is one of seven children born into a Catholic family. She completed a year of an Architecture degree before transferring and completing a Fine Art degree from RMIT with a major in Sculpture. After graduating she left the art department to complete a folio of writing at Holmesglen in Chadstone and then gained  entry to Melbourne University’s Graduate Diploma of Creative Writing and eventually gained a masters in Creative Writing. Her first three collections, Offset, Lilies and Stars and The Arrow & The Lyre, were published by Picaro Press while her latest collection, In My Days and In My Sleep, is published by Interactive Press. Rebecca is now resident in Sydney and is undertaking a PhD at the University of Western Sydney. She has been described as “ a Contemporary Metaphysical poet” and in In My Days and In My Sleep she has announced herself as a Catholic poet and has spoken openly about the connection between her faith and her poetry.

Rebecca can be found at rbcclaw.wix.com

Some other links:

Rebecca’s reviews on Rochford Street Review:




Featured Writer Rebecca Kylie Law: 4 Poems

These four poems are new poems written since the publication of Rebecca’s last collection In My Days and In My Sleep. They are previously unpublished.


Hearthside then breathing

Sleeping close to the floor

those nights when a broken bed
had been dismantled

and its replacement

rested on a nearby wall
awaiting parts

I thought of the moon
emboldened by cold night air,

the small windows of yellow
across a distant township,

and those raindrops that stayed
on my window past the time

of their falling- everything

deep and blue in a world
outside this room –

Then later, high up on the mattress
of the bed and feeling the base

through a fault in design,

I thought of waking
to morning light or daybreak

and how it would come
from these intermissions of closeness,

my hands earlier, capable of touching carpet
now, my body raised, having only themselves.

Rebecca Kylie Law reading 'Hearthside then breathing'


Secrets and Loves

“shadowy, shadowy,
yet unbroken”
………..Edgar Allen Poe

In my small garden, sunlight

which is not from the token

the mist settled on the mountain

but seconds the light
of waking, there shadowy,

a pillow in  which
dreams lie, the breath

of stillness- where

the mist settled on the mountain

and the lamp shines
upward on the white ceiling

morning had come again
in my small garden, glinting
halfway through winter

a brightness to the token

not in the trees its warmth

but of a base intensity

– one fresh sheet upon a bed
in summer –

that way, symbol for memory
could be cast upon the sky

as a white jagged stone in which

the mist settled on the mountain

and my dreams are the shades of
my pillow, the breath of stillness
warmed to the rise and fall

of sleeping, a togetherness in this
my small garden, plants glinting

in winter sunlight- “who would
buy our wonderful morning, the
sweet red roses too”-

Photograph by Billie Theodoridis- Law

Photograph by Billie Theodoridis- Law

Autumn leaves

The flowers graveside
were bright enough.

Yellow ones, some only buds
standing past the others

and moving; yet lower and full,
orange, red and pink blooms
bunched close with criss-crossed

stems, green and vanishing
in an embedded vase, rectangular,
narrow and boxed in copper.

In sunlight, that diagonal
shaft from the Right side:

the angels were not sleeping.

And in that morning
after rain, an echoing birdsong
carrying its clear notes

whilst so many skies
held onto an exact blue-

baby, early April
– or at least, the first weeks.

At night, in the Cathedral
two six-tiered candelabras either side
of a stone altar, low to
high, left to right, right to left.

The heart of shades, annexes,
unlit aisles, rows, rows of
wood benches, rails at our
feet to kneel on: after everything,

our wakings and our sleep.

The songs we could sing
with the guitarist in darkness
at our side, of apology and

love of the light. O constant.

And the two children
playing make-believe in a next door
garden, falling in turn

wounded and rolling
in fake agony, disbelief.

Whilst the older person
in a chair in sun

misses the place in her eyes
that was once reflected.

Yet the diagonal light
from behind clouds

and just after dusk,
the sound of approaching stars.


Summer, January

That the magnolia flowers, in falling,
had fallen on steps seemed one
of two things: the first, lovely
or wouldn’t it be nice to walk
there, up or down the
stone walkway dividing a road
from a cloister, the tree itself
overshadowing and secondly or
is it, lastly, how perfectly sad.

Later, sculpting my pink candle
with a chipped kitchen knife
I restored its cylindrical shape
and lit the blackened wick
outside in the courtyard.

It was after six and again
those dark shadows lowered
their angel weight upon
the boxed garden and slab
tiles while the wind took
to moving through the new plants.

Watching the candlelight shift
from side to side I saw how the
cradle came about, as though
descended from these pleasant
and sad vignettes. And in that,
the darling and uttermost beautiful
taking rest. I said “goodnight”
in blowing it out, leaning over
the tip with a cupped hand
and then some other things as well.


Conscience before Poetry: Rebecca Kylie Law reviews Paul Carter’s “Ecstasies and Elegies”.

Ecstasies and Elegies by Paul Carter UWAP 2014

Paul Carter’s Ecstasies_ElegiesEcstasies and and Elegies moves at cosmopolitan speed but if you listen closely, you find a pedestrian so well used to transport it can speak the poetic in its mechanical otherness. The whole suite sounds vehicular in its contemporary intellectual beat, an upbeat if you like, aware of a culturally enforced suspension.  I think in colloquial terms it is called ‘going with the flow’.

The traffic here is people but also historical artefacts or statements so that a pure glance at anything, a quince for example, is impossibly laden with reference, becoming to the newly suspicious eye a ‘Renaissance lemon’ or that very same ‘Tuscan persimmon that harmonised oak leaf, pomegranate, wine’.

In true keeping with this obstinence of language to keep the conversation valid, the poetry is humbled by the poet in its moving world and takes the backseat perspective of companionship, sustenance, reprieve.  There is art to seduce it but then, something far greater, music, to entwine the soul in a mission toward sorting out the mess piles of the psyche in trauma. These are important, affecting emotions that at times, overwhelm  the poet – ‘I wish I could ignite you with the memories/ that you bring but tears put out the fire instead’ – and poetry is there as sympathiser, a carriage, a perfection of meaning.

Scarlatti is itinerant, following the poet to Lisbon, Seville, Madrid, the New World, joined at the hip of the soul and whispering the promise over and over of a dying, living or both. ‘The singer of the saeta is hauling in nets/ in the name of Death extracting the darts’ and ‘the Baroque sonata is the exhausted Fatherland, / the Classical sonata the Promised Land./ Is it my fate to compose the transitions, / unable to hold you, unable to lose you?’

These are poems of excesses colliding across the yawn of the poet’s loss in the confusion of what it all means. ‘Your coming is doubled in your departing, / a shadow springs from the blindness of light.’

The poet explores the visual world like a brain scan, noting its beauty and ugliness; but with his own mind close to his heart he can only talk endlessly to the air, to the lost one, to life itself lest it become silenced in the underworld of his grief. ‘No one is strong enough to heal what is done. / The bullet flies, blood blossoms, the heartless / nightingale of your soul goes on singing.’

The final chapter to the collection reminded me of a poem by Peter Porter called “A Great Reckoning in a Little Room”. Here, unlike the build-up of energy in the previous sections, the poet has resigned himself to the reality of his loss and faces now, the task of reckoning, of the what next of his and her future. Porter does something similar in an intimate study of himself alone, a body ‘stamped as art’, reflecting on ‘life’s allusiveness’. But the parallel can’t be extended further.  Carter’s poems have a distinct International voice, or even ‘lost’ voice still seeking a sense of a homeland.

The collection itself is poignant and tender, ‘You lie your head against my shoulder / I put in my diary the date of your departure’. The language is honest and the reality described most often civic and when not, close to perfection.

Ecstasies and Elegies claims from the start to reveal within “Poems”; and as the quiet settings of a sometimes hectic conversation, they are indeed, with us.

– Rebecca Kylie Law


Rebecca Kylie Law is a Sydney based poet, essayist and reviewer. Her poetry collections include Offset, Lilies and Stars. The Arrow & The Lyre and In My Days and In My Sleep  (May, Interactive Press). Other  publications include Notes for The Translators, Poems for the Young Chinese Adult, Best Poem Journal, Australian Love Poems 2013, Southerly, Westerly, Rochford Street Review, The Australian, The Euroscientist Ezine, The Lake, Pacific Poetry, Spiritus and Assisi: An online journal of Arts & Letters. She is currently completing her Phd at the UWS.

Ecstacies and Elegies is available http://uwap.uwa.edu.au/products/ecstacies-and-elegies-poems


“Tactics for an enchanting coexistence”: Rebecca Kylie Law reviews “Anonymous Folk Songs” by James Stuart.

Anonymous Folk Songs by James Stuart. Vagabond Press 2014

James_StuartThe title poem of Anonymous Folk Songs by James Stuart, “Anonymous folk songs from the Music Bureau” is an ad hoc assemblage of two worlds, the individual and the culture it commingles with, the progressive and the cyclical. His childhood behind him, the garbage collected and ‘a lazy afternoon’ begun, Stuart has only ‘the sound of Autumn rain’ and ‘the sight of it/ streaking a blackened window’ to contemplate whilst the quiet ‘revolution’ of dreams for ‘future ghost cities/…sky-scraped gestures…largely unaffordable for the likes of you & me’ finds its voice in ‘the boom times again’ and ‘from distant woods/ the high-pitched squeal of a circular saw rings out’. Everything finds its place in the restructuring and morphing of things, ‘bird trills punctuate a brilliant dream’ and the city finds its ‘shape’. History has its traits, ‘a thousand years pass, distant battles’ and even if ‘you like things fine/ just the way they are’ be casual, suggests Stuart, ‘and you jump on reality as though a freeway’. A family have their dinner inside after ‘the cold hours descend’ and their past is the song of a flute or wind instrument, forever absent but heard as nostalgia.

Like this and other poems in the collection, the human goes with nature in its compatibility with being, emotion, informality and sense of the real and authentic. Rendered mute by the surprising and sudden beauties of his natural surroundings whilst camping in “The romantic myth’, Stuart finds pleasure in the view of ‘a silver moon’, surprise delight in ‘a shooting star streak(ing) across a star-full sky” and joy in a dawn ‘sky gorged on pale blues’. But as a cultural product he relinquishes his subjectivity to the objective principle that really, there ought to be more to it (life) and in reality, after the star ‘nothing more arrives, just/ this desperate desert cold’. For Stuart it seems best to have both worlds, nature and the cultural quest for something else, not because he agrees or is disenchanted with the present but because this is his place and time.

What is most striking about Stuart’s poetry is the reverence for individual memory as a human need, as something to possess as the ‘ghost gum disappears into its sapling’. This poem, entitled “Into its sapling’ considers not only memory as a place of dreams but also free expression as that which is permissible on nature’s terms only. Nowhere, plausibly in this poem, is there a sense of the outside world; the couple are lost in their natural setting and at peace. Just as, in other poems, there is some justification for Stuart’s cultural conformity as he finds so far, accepting things has not reduced his freedom, downsized nature’s beauty or restrained his sex life. Sure, sometimes the carpet choice is ‘vulgar’ and you ‘can’t find a supermarket these days!?’ but in ‘Postcard for Marilla’ we read a portrait of a father trying to believe its child is growing up in a world of ‘marsupials/ you’ll never meet, even as they ghost/ across scrubland on the television screen’ and the adult responsibilities that come with this interaction between Stuart’s world and ours/theirs.

The poem ‘Double Happiness’ is a little like the Stuart personality of the collection, the romantic happily lost in the real world he is not only conscious of but worried about, someone else’s reality in which ‘happiness expands at the percentile rate/ of your income portfolio’. Nevertheless, there’s a trend observed in the arch of the Opera House and ‘the handle of that vintage vinyl suitcase/ you picked up for a fiver in Enmore’ so maybe the secret is to be yourself and get used to the idea. Above all, for Stuart the art of living is to know your time and place and then romanticise yourself into its absence where you can cradle your emotions and just watch the world go by, like, in “Sudden Rain, Tilba, Tilba” when ‘I slip underwater into turquoise light, towards/ sea urchins; the dream of abalone & bream’.

Replete with Chinese iconography, the poems are full of dragons and ‘paper lamp shades’, pagodas, temples and Gods. As Stuart makes mention of in his Acknowledgements, the book owes much to an Asialink Literature residency in Chengdu, China. It is to his credit that their inclusion contributes a great richness to the imagery and seem symbolic in themselves of an unexplained historical happiness he frequently mentions as important to his own absence in the real. It rains often, but never heavily, there are potholed streets and incense ‘instead of smog’. Old men ‘in their finest silks’ are playing ‘Chinese checkers to the tamarind/ flavour of candlelight’ and through the good and bad reigns peace albeit a harking back to the past, to a romanticism in which, as in the poem “Later, the Romantic period”, Stuart is forever seduced by and the ‘music of the Romantic period succeeds/ the contemporary and, for the first time, /seems real’.

It was a delight to read these poems. Are they anonymous? Most certainly not, the voice is consistent, contented, enthusiastic, humorous and unnervingly clever. But there are so many small songs to be heard in the landscape of his time and place that Stuart has done his artificial and natural surroundings a favour by ensuring no one’s ‘ditty’ is left out. When even the garbage truck siren can sound musical we know this poet is somewhere else in his perspective of the real. In the dream, his personal dream and with the quiet reader, letting them know no different.

– 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. She was short-listed for the Judith Wright Prize in 2012 and holds a Masters Degree in Poetry from Melbourne University.

Anonymous Folk Songs by James Stuart is available from http://vagabondpress.net/products/james-stuart-anonymous-folk-songs


Rochford Street Review relies on the support of its readers to continue. If you like what we are doing please consider making a donation.

How Can A Garden Grow? Littlies and Biggies in David Mortimer’s “Magic Logic”. Reviewed by Rebecca Kylie Law

Magic Logic by David Mortimer. Puncher and Wattman 2013.

magic_logic_310_418_sJust before dad died I was leaning on the timber frame of an open doorway talking to him in the sunroom. He was to my left, seated on a couch reading and I was telling him about the William Blake Awards night. As we were talking, a rainbow landed on the rock wall to my right and dad interrupted me to point it out. It was just a segment of the arc on a single quarry rock but it carried the full spectrum of colours. Some months later after dad had passed on I remembered an older web post that mentioned David Mortimer’s book Magic Logic was available for review. Those two words coupled together seemed to work for me in the joy of knowing dad was finally free of pain and the sorrow of enduring it with him; or that it happened at all. But this, the book title and the third chapter in the 78 page collection, is the final word on what is otherwise a fraught investigation throughout the book. Was Nietzsche right, are humans living as foreign to their natures, is public transport a second option or a romantic form of travel, is there a “marriage between heaven and hell” in this cultural movement progress, as the poem and full chapter entitled “Black Rainbow”, beginning with quote from Blake’s book dizzily says ‘yes’. Mortimer ends this poem with mention of a “furtive tear/ sung by Jussi Bjorling”, referring, I think, to the Swedish tenor’s rendition of Sibelius’ song “Black Roses”. Short-listed for the Blake prize in 2009 it tries to dismantle the traditional symbology of the raven and explores the possibility of it possessing instead, ‘the most beautiful voice in the world’, a fact we miss for ecological reasons. The raven doesn’t blend in with the ‘shape of air’ but when one dies ‘spreadwinged and huge’ in Mortimer’s street, he buries it in his driveway sensing something great about them that is like the human “mind in the suburbs/fiercely ignoble and loyal’. The raven might be nature’s enemy but it is our mortalities kin. All the colours of the rainbow have vanished in the bird’s wrongdoings (stealing eggs from ‘a pigeon’s nest or two ravens together “trying to out-manoeuvre/ a hawk from a nesting tree”) but perhaps there is beauty in this blackness, like ‘a kind of sigh toward quietness’.

Divided into 5 chapters, or four and a Postscript of extra poems, this basic knowledge, that we live and die forms the basis of the whole investigation into established cultural ideas. That Public Transport is generally less ideal than private means of getting somewhere, that Nietzsche’s treatise’s on man-made society as unnatural to humans is difficult to challenge, thirdly that logic is systematic and universally sensible, not ‘magic’ and lastly that there is no beauty in a ‘Black Rainbow”. Mortimer tells us in a beginning ‘Note’ to the collection that the poems were ‘begun between 2003 and 2009’ and some were not completed until ‘2012’. And that the five parts or ‘first four’ were ‘previous working, or possible titles’ for the whole collection. That he landed with Magic Logic makes sense as it is has the capacity to be over-arching and protective of the un-statements raised by the poems musings. There are no conclusions to the endless enquiries but there is great faith in their worthiness as pressing questions on a history of established ideas about humankind, nature, ‘the picture’ and cultural progress.

Part 1: Public Transport begins with a poem in which the poet has observed a fellow passenger ‘at the end of the carriage/ Eyes shut and a smile’ and likens her to ‘an angel…/sometimes hurled/ left or right…/in the eternal/ Present world…/Eyes shut and seeing the eternal/ Living suburbs passing in a true city/ Open in another world.’ The reader is immediately transported from a sense of the ordinary to a sense of the classical, the sense of the woman passenger as something more like a spiritual being than concretely present; but also, in her sensory occupations she reveals in her facial expression, in her riding about the carriage in an endless pattern of ‘bounce and recovery’ a sense of the romanticism of her distance from the banality of the journey, her eyes shut facilitating a more dreamy experience. I am reminded here of the Imagist poet T.E. Hulme and borrow a quote from Patrick McGuiness in the Introduction to his essay “Romanticism and Classicism (1911)”:

‘Hulme compares the Romantic and classical tendencies, writing that humankind’s nature (classicism) is seen in one as a bucket, in the other as a well. Classical verse presents “a holding back, a reservation,” while Romantic verse is marked by its metaphors of flight. ‘

Mortimer’s opening poem begins a consistent attention through Part 1 of Magic Logic to both these concerns, human nature and human capacity as thinkers. The poems and their subjects are both in the ‘real’ and outside it as reflective, self-conscious and sensory observers interested in the aesthetic of things, in the feeling of touch, in the sound of ‘musical noise’ , in the scent of a rose ‘the heat has peeled… open’, in the taste of a kissing ‘your intimate architecture’. Until we are convinced by the final poem to this section, “stationary”, the train leaving the station Mortimer hears in his sleep is leaving a ‘fairytale station’.

Part 2: Nature and Nietzsche starts by shocking the reader out of their sleep or dream-state. And consistent with this alarming sense of the real and the natural, wild and unfettered forces of our human existential state are the sixteen poems that complete this chapter. Here, Nietzsche is supposed correct in his premise humans should be with their nature and not constrain or chastise their innate sensualities. In “confession (with recurring puzzlement)” Mortimer tells us it is quite true, that he cannot explain the reason his eyes ‘follow the flight of birds” or why, in “reflection”, ‘the sun bother(s)/ getting into every puddle?/ But is does’. But the classical and romantic observations from the previous chapter are not completely abandoned as Mortimer decides, in trying Nietzsche on, he is not able to see ‘the whole story on display/ the full deal completely in each quick bright light’ of instances in time. It seems in the end we are more than just our natures, that we are, like ‘a shag and its shadow/ On the mid-day decking…/… slowly turning/ To face some small Beowulf/ Or tiny Wiglaf/…/ Transfigured by light’.

Part 3: Magic Logic brings these two expositions on the real and unreal together in a chapter that sighs with the poignancy of knowing and feeling, of desire as the restless companion to logic, as the heart and the head. Here, there is sorrow, beauty, love and deflated egos, pain, silence and music. There are moments in “paraphrase” of ‘not finding words/ not finding words/not finding words’ and then moments of lightness in “salt”, ‘dreaming of being a seagull…/…/ Turning my beak to inspect the feathers under my left wing/ Dreaming, breathing, awake and in flight’. Of falling back asleep in “valentine’s day headache” to ‘find you some flowers’. This chapter, borrowing the same title to complete the collection in book form left me wanting to quote Yeats from his poem “The song of Wandering Aengus”: ‘I went out to the hazel wood/ Because a fire was in my head/ And cut and peeled a hazel wand/ And hooked a berry to a thread;/…’

Part 4: Rainbow in Black brings me back to my introduction, to the poem short-listed for the William Blake Prize in 2009 and the quote accompanying the poem: ‘How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way/ Is an immense world of delight, clos’d by your senses five’ (William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, A Memorable Fancy). Mortimer’s discussion of the raven here, his attempts to make some sense of its abrasive call and trickery prove difficult: ‘But when one died by some mischance/…/ in the middle of our thin street/ like a broken umbrella/ I dug a wide hole for burial in the driveway/ its partner swung above for weeks/ and hung around our front yard’. There is a power beyond all of us, suggest Mortimer that is both fearsome and beautiful in its capacity to test our spirit. In ‘little birds’ Mortimer is sensitive, protective and in awe of the correspondence between the fragile and the strong, the immature and mature: ‘Little birds motoring in the thick air/ After rain and before more rain/ Being blown at heights and speeds/ Over and above and beyond, beneath and below, / Ahead of, and beside themselves, / Over and under the power of their own wings’. The poem like others in this chapter suggests nature and human society is only growing up, not necessarily opponents in the struggle for reason, sense or having it all; and in this maturation we are not so much evolving as de-evolving which is not quite as murderous.

Part 5: Postscript begins with ‘comedy and tragedy holding hands’ and ends with the poem “holiday” describing ‘the west coast of Irish light’ as the summation of all things domestic and gentle, quiet and reassuringly well established in the tradition of romance and sweet sorrows, a landscape with ‘the quality of illumination…/ quiet, like the moon lit from within, rock, bone, candle, a teardrop, enamelled and sprung, / sheer/ and supersaturated deep bright’. Good news everyone, I think, from Mortimer, things are not all bad. “Magic Logic” is a poetry collection rich with music, frustration, apology and human decency. It matters to me that it exists.

– 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.She was short-listed for the Judith Wright Prize in 2012 and holds a Masters Degree in Poetry from Melbourne University.

Judith Beveridge’s launch speech for Magic Logic was pushed in Rochford Street Review Issue 9: https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2013/11/07/beautifully-composed-poetry-judith-beveridge-launches-magic-logic-by-david-mortimer/

Magic Logic is available from http://puncherandwattmann.com/books/book/magic-logic


Rochford Street Review relies on the support of its readers to continue. If you like what we are doing please consider making a donation.

The Picturesque, The Haze and Other Thoughts: Rebecca Kylie Law reviews ‘The Collected Blue Hills’ by Laurie Duggan

Laurie Duggan’s The Collected Blue Hills Puncher & Wattmann 2012. Reviewed by Rebecca Kylie Law

the_collected_blue_hills_310_438_sWhen I first read Laurie Duggan’s The Collected Blue Hills, I thought what a marvellous marketing campaign, every poem a blue hill, sequentially numbered. It’s the panoramic view sales agents in Real Estate exploit in attracting interest, the painting that sells at a higher price for its scale, the maquette and the blown up sculpture. And indeed, this is the pattern Duggan followed in initiating the collection, the individual poems published singularly in various anthologies and in small clusters as separate books. What a joy it is, I thought, to view the whole mountain range at once, as you might in your travels, drive or walk that little further to see more, to live and breathe the view. Someone might just as well have handed me a small pocket book of Rembrandt’s paintings in the original for the luck at owning a view of the hills I could return to any time I liked. And the Renaissance was on my mind in my reading of the collection as it might be to each blue hill if a poem could possess such a capacity. I started reading Spenser, Sidney, Marlowe, Johnson, Donne because the ‘blue’ of hills is actually a haze of oil from the leaves of trees meeting the atmosphere, the hotter the day the more pronounced the blue. Which is quite the opposite to oil paintings of the Renaissance but in hue and depth heads in this direction as knowledge of a past as a dark background to the present.

Duggan had a stroke as a child and subsequently his memory was impaired. So the past in all respects, for practical purposes, is a dark background to the blue hills individual presences which is irrefutable. Occupying each poem as the principal observer and narrator of all the poet sees and thinks by way of thought association, Duggan authenticates the reality of the experience. Reading Blue Hills 1 to 75 it is easy to lose a sense of time and place for the action and visuals of each ‘captured’ moment. Nature, culture, art appreciation and human interaction all vie for the singular attention no one wins out. Except the dwindling of the collection into vagaries of rain, hot skies, the scent of wet leaves and morning light suggest Duggan’s reverence for his subject matter. Even earlier, leaning back to see a ‘bright orange nasturtium flower in a milk bottle’ in Blue Hills 11, we see Duggan is serious in his rescue efforts with respect the ongoing difficulties between nature and culture.

In his introduction, Duggan presents the poems as poems which don’t ‘make promises’ and they don’t in the way a traditional narrative poem might in the expectations inherent in its sequential patterning. The poems are assemblages of the found objects experienced by the mind and body and are random in this respect, Duggan moving about in the poems at his whim both in the bulk of his form and in his thoughts, his gaze settling on something that reminds him of something else (again, memory and never great clarity here, the ‘..grey haired art historian type/ who looks like a suave version of Bertrand Russell/ – maybe it’s Bernard Smith?’). He tells us the material for the poems is entirely Australian apart from commentaries on art and music viewed or listened to elsewhere. So that, as a collection, the poems have some sense of a ‘locale’; and they do, for example in Blue Hills 35, dairy farms, canals and McDonald’s all occupy the one space of the poem finishing in the ‘home paddock’.

In “Blue Hills 18”, the ‘shape of a mountain becomes a mountain’ and things are true to their form. Language is not complicated or convoluted but Duggan’s artistic tool used for the purposes of communicating a visual observation, thought or moment in time appealing for its correlation or conversation with other notations. Reading a single poem in The Collected Blue Hills is an intimate experience as Duggan single-handedly paints his world in his part of the universe in one particular moment in time so exactly you are in the space with him, in the room looking out a window or walking beside him in the street. And at the same time, it is the exact opposite of this as Duggan can amuse himself so well your presence as a reader is unimportant, though I sense, welcome , in the sometimes underspoken tones of his speech.

There are moments in reading this collection when I can’t help wondering how Duggan gets around, the distance he can travel in one poem and the slowness of this travel to facilitate such accurate observations seeming to suggest he is in a vehicle of some sorts…a car, driving slowly? In Blue Hills 19 I don’t know if he is ‘the man in a hire car’ the ‘hippy couple’ are “reluctant to wave/ to..” or the motorcyclist on the bike that groans ‘across the dip behind tin huts’. I know in Blue Hills 17 he is on a train and at other times he is walking, that there are roads, streets, ‘lanes I will never trace/ of sheoak and flowering gum’, ‘paths…crackling with twigs’ and the notion of vehicles in poetry is interesting in terms of writing about contemporary culture. In a car, on a train or motorbike, Duggan hasn’t lost poetry, he simply found he can see more and put more seemingly incongruent information into a single poem.

The poems I like most, however, are the quieter, meditative hills: Blue Hills 59 and 60 for instance, where Duggan absents himself and we see a picture of a city, a room or even a world subservient to nature. Then in Blue Hills 53 the two together in one harmonious picture, technology and nature almost the beautiful and picturesque.

In The Collected Blue Hills a poem is a view, a sound, a feeling, a perspective, a commentary or a meditation. Or all these things at once. The seven previous productions that lead to this compilation of hills lend the work a vigour that any sustained piece of writing in the one panoramic space would find a challenge. The mountain range rises and falls, meets the mist, thunder and lightning with the strength you would expect nature to possess. And coupled with the world of art, culture, music and poetry of Laurie Duggan, the blue hills are pronounced vast and definitive.

– 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.She was short-listed for the Judith Wright Prize in 2012 and holds a Masters Degree in Poetry from Melbourne University.

The Collected Blue Hills is available from http://puncherandwattmann.com/books/book/the-collected-blue-hills/


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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/


Rochford Street Review relies on the support of its readers to continue. If you like what we are doing please consider making a donation.