Peter Ken­neally

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

The Sub­ject of Feel­ing By Peter Rose UWA Pub­lish­ing, 78pp, $24.99

Peter Rose’s writ­ing has over the years de­scribed an ir­reg­u­lar or­bit around loss: some­times trav­el­ling close to it, un­able to look away, and some­times swing­ing out­wards, view­ing it more by anal­ogy and re­frac­tion, as in his pre­vi­ous book of po­etry, Crim­son Crop.

In his new col­lec­tion, Rose has gone back to the source, to the specifics of loss, and in par­tic­u­lar the ac­ci­dent that left his brother Robert, a promis­ing ath­lete, a quad­ri­plegic and changed the fam­ily for­ever.

The cover shows an evoca­tively tinted pho­to­graph of the young broth­ers Rose and their smil­ing mother un­der the ti­tle, The Sub­ject of Feel­ing. It con­veys with a rare com­plete­ness the essence of the book, es­pe­cially be­cause al­most the same photo, but with their fa­ther, ap­peared on the orig­i­nal cover of Rose Boys, Rose’s 2001 memoir and en­comium for Robert.

The quizzi­cal way the very young Peter seems to be look­ing at the world, through some­what nar­rowed eyes, is a pretty fair clue to the way his verse of­ten views life. And all this be­fore you even open the book.

The grav­i­ta­tional cen­tre of The Sub­ject of Feel­ing is a short sec­tion con­tain­ing the ti­tle poem and just four oth­ers: a kind of reprise of mem­ory and grief, like a visit home.

It is the pre­ci­sion that makes it so mag­netic and in­for­ma­tive.

As emer­gency crews work to slowly free Robert from his wrecked car: “Es­cha­tol­ogy is a slow / re­morse­less science” and, a lit­tle later, “Then the sub­ject of feel­ing — / why you had none in your feet. / Men ground the car with steel / and flung it open / like a sack of wheat.” The sub­ject mat­ter, and the un­ex­pected rhyme, com­bine to sand­bag the reader.

In the longer poem Tiles the im­age of Robert, paral­ysed in his hos­pi­tal bed, count­ing the ceil­ing tiles to stay sane, is a trib­ute to his sto­icism and de­ter­mi­na­tion, and also tragic, be­cause: “The statis­ti­cian in the fam­ily, / the boy who only lived to score, / could never get it right /


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