Jour­ney into the mun­dane


The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Robert Gray

THERE was a briefly no­ticed group in Bri­tish po­etry in the late 1970s called the Mar­tians, in whose work ev­ery­day ob­jects were de­scribed as if by a vis­i­tor from an­other planet. This style could slip eas­ily from a de­lib­er­ate into an un­in­tended naivety.

Th­ese po­ets wrote lines such as ‘‘ Mist is when the sky is tired of flight / and rests its soft ma­chine on ground’’ (From Craig Raine’s A Mar­tian Sends a Post­card Home, the poem for which the group was named.)

Christo­pher Reid pro­duced per­haps the best of what was a light­weight ap­proach, par­tic­u­larly with Bal­dan­ders, a poem, iron­i­cally enough, about a weightlifter, which ends: ‘‘ Glazed, like a man­tel­piece frog, / he strains to be­come / the World Cham­pion (some­body, an­swer it!) / Hu­man Tele­phone.’’

In this new book, Non­sense, Reid’s style is By Christo­pher Reid Faber, 116pp, $29.99 (HB) com­pletely bare of metaphor. The long­est poem, of 64 pages, more than half the book, seems ba­nal in its en­tirely flat-footed, lit­eral­minded pre­sen­ta­tion of ev­ery­day things. Yet if one is aware of the poet’s ear­lier ca­pa­bil­ity, one is pre­pared to al­low there might be a mimetic in­ten­tion here.

Po­etry is lan­guage that im­i­tates what it is speak­ing about. It em­ploys the non-se­man­tic el­e­ments of lan­guage — rhythm, tex­ture, im­pli­ca­tion, en­jamb­ment, spac­ing, tone — to evoca­tive ends. In his lead poem, Pro­fes­sor Win­terthorn’s Jour­ney, it seems Reid might be im­i­tat­ing de­spon­dence through a notably dead­pan, af­fect­less pre­sen­ta­tion. His sub­ject is the life, as re­vealed over sev­eral days, of a re­cent wid­ower — the poet’s own sit­u­a­tion, as we know from his 2009 book, A Scat­ter­ing, about his wife’s early death from can­cer.

The pro­fes­sor (Reid is one, also) de­cides to take him­self to a lit­er­ary con­fer­ence, although he has not been in­vited to speak — how bet­ter to sug­gest his bore­dom — at a univer­sity two days’ fly­ing from Lon­don, prob­a­bly in Aus­tralia: ‘‘ Check-in is slow but goes with­out a hitch; / he presents pass­port photo — tiny, yes, but me! — / joins the abat­toir shuf­fle to­wards bag­gage in­spec­tion / and body frisk; and at last is ad­mit­ted / to the great, lu­mi­nous cav­ern of Duty Free. / The dread realm of wait­ing, / where for al­most two hours / the

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