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DAVID Musgrave caused something of a stir recently when he published a six-word poem in The New Yorker titled On The Inevitable Decline Into Mediocrity of the Popular Musician Who Attains a Comfortable Middle Age. It’s a wonderful title, witty, mock-pompous and playful with expectations, with language and its possibilities. And these are characteristics of Musgrave’s work that make his new collection, Concrete Tuesday, so enjoyable.
Some of the most effective short poems in this volume are those that show Musgrave’s linguistic playfulness to its full advantage. At times, this manifests as a formal brashness and risk: in poems such as Nostalgia Addict, a sestina structured around challenging endwords including cradle, needle, reverses and cupboard. Elsewhere, Musgrave takes a more simple delight in odd juxtapositions and collections of found words. This is especially funny in The Water in Japan, which quotes slogans from ‘‘ a river of T-shirts’’ seen on a train, phrases such as ‘‘... see porridge?’’ These odd and strangely mangled snatches of found language are brought into some kind of poignancy and resonance within the poem.
But Musgrave’s humour is more often sharply satirical, and especially biting when focused on poetry itself, as well as its place within Australia. The largest sequence in the book, The Poet’s House, is an imagined account