The Poet by Melbourne poet Alex Skovron is a novella of only 125 pages but it is quite unforgettable. I was not surprised to discover that it was joint winner of the FAW Christina Stead Award for Fiction, alongside Kate Grenville’s The Secret River (which is on the ANZ LitLover’s List of Best Australian Books so that is indeed august company for a debut novel). This is a book which deserves a wider audience.
It is the story of Manfred, a man unremarkable in his apparent ordinariness, but remarkable for his poetry. Solitary, he spends all his spare time writing poems, but keeps them to himself because his habit of punctilious honesty makes him ambivalent about their worth.
But one day he discovers that an acquaintance has published a book of poems – and they’re not very good. He decides to test the merit of his poetry by offering them to a publisher. He can’t decide which of his vast oeuvre to select, so he sets off on the bus with the lot, in a bag. And a self-inflicted disaster strikes, leading to the complete disintegration of his life.
My heart ached for Manfred as he struggled with losses that keep compounding. The novella is so beautifully written in an understated way that it is impossible not to feel moved by his profound loneliness and the reticence which inhibits all his actions. Surrounded by the din of the anonymous city (which isn’t Melbourne) Manfred has no relationships to sustain him and no inner resources to rebuild a raison d’être. He is so self-absorbed by his compulsion to write that he neglects his health and hygiene, fails to notice important events and is oblivious to the alarming effect he has on others. This book will make you think differently about those shabby men you see in the park…
The cover artwork is by Alex Skovron too, so he is a man of many talents. It is called The Chamber and it so perfectly captures the bleakness and distortions of Manfred’s life, it made me wonder what kind of covers we might see if all authors were similarly blessed and could capture the essence of their novels with their own cover art.
Author: Alex Skovron
Title: The Poet
Publisher: Hybrid Press, 2005
Source: Review copy courtesy of the author.
Availability: Fishpond The Poet