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 /
AN ATHLETE FROM LONG AGO QUEUES FOR THE POET’S AUTOGRAPH