Collaboration on dark, vivid verse impressive

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Tom Prime and Gary Barwin’s A Cemetery for Holes (Gordon Hill, 88 pages, $20) offers a mixture of poems where the authors respond to one another’s work and also collaborate to co-write a host of softly surreal poems.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/11/2019 (1047 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Tom Prime and Gary Barwin’s A Cemetery for Holes (Gordon Hill, 88 pages, $20) offers a mixture of poems where the authors respond to one another’s work and also collaborate to co-write a host of softly surreal poems.

Prime, in his work, often explores sexual trauma but avoids conventional approaches in order to delve into strange, often disturbingly comic imagery before dovetailing back into brutal and upsetting statements. He has a hypnotist’s facility for leading the reader into weird, upsetting realms.

Barwin’s poems, meanwhile, flow more quickly and snap from image to image with greater force, but have less at stake. However, a darkness lurks under them as well: “depression is a God of gods,” offers one poem, while another compares the night sky to the blackness beneath a foot crushing out life. An impressive, startling collaboration from two shape-shifting poets.

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Rob McLennan’s A halt, which is empty (Mansfield, 132 pages, $17) presents a series of short sequences revolving around a variety of issues, somewhat connected by an investigation of place.

But what truly unites them is McLennan’s interest in the comma. “Strength of the adhesive, doctor blade. A corridor of slipping, cellular. / Geometry, the paper gulp (…) Kiss, pendulum lips. Like I was, never.” Throughout the collection, McLennan uses commas to bend sentences out of shape, or graft two disconnected ideas. The result is some of the prolific poet’s best recent work.

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Stewart Cole’s Soft Power (Icehouse, 88 pages, $20) blends confessional and unconventional traditions in poetry for a host of disconcerting meditations on the political, social, personal and nightmarish.

The poems work best in their strangest moments, offering truly disturbed and engaging imagery: “What if all the uncaught murderers are children / … / Or what if that kid behind me / Is aging and growing the closer he gets / Oh yes he has bridged the distance by half already / Become a teenager and suddenly / I am old enough to be rebelled against / … / Even now his lengthening arms / Could loop a garrotte around my throat if he chose.”

Cole’s odd poems embrace their oddity, and you should embrace them, too, and pull them down into the dark.

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Victor Enns’s Love & Surgery (Radiant, 68 pages, $20) recounts, in poetry, a love affair, the end of a relationship and the loss of a limb.

In sparse, personal poems Enns shines, especially in the early third, writing versions of love poems: “it’s time for new stories and perennials, / the live fuse the live flower driving love.”

In another poem, Enns offers another intriguing image: “I see a homeless man step down / the street holding his hands before him as if they held // the Holy Grail. Later this evening, close / and humid, you are what I have to hold.” The echo of “to have and to hold” works well here, and sets up a sad counterpoint to the later, more painful poems.

Jonathan Ball’s first book, Ex Machina, is celebrating its 10-year anniversary and to celebrate it is free at jonathanball.com/freebook.

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