Poets write of prisons,
Physick is the latest poetry collection from Tasmanian academic, activist and poet Pete Hay. It is shot through with a fierce intensity and a vernacular that flies off the page. It has been published, somewhat audaciously, and somewhat as a reflection of larger publishers shying away from poetry, by micro publisher Shoestring Press in Britain.
At the recent launch in Hobart, Hay marvelled that a publisher on the other side of the world would pick up the book, one so steeped in Tasmanian-ness. He was concerned that no one outside the island would understand it. This is far from true, speaking more to the humility of the poet. These poems sing of human condition.
The captivating Death Song for Matthew Brady was inspired by an elusive reference the poet found to a death song sung as bushranger Brady was hanged in Hobart in 1826. Sound to the World considers the plight of women alone in the penal colony Van Diemen’s Land: “I will keep a jurnal this is the ferst day. / It will parse the time I hope. / The man Devlin down the Turnip Feldes he gose down the town/ he give me paper and this stubb of pensil. / I dont intirely trust the man.”
The book is rich with throaty convict and contemporary Tasmanian nuance. It captures the lives of Tasmanians past and present. Some of the language, particularly in the first section (of three), is foreign-sounding and of a different time but the poems transcend any need to understand the vernacular or location-specific references.