Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 1, 2012

Water Mirrors (2012), by Nicholas Powell

It’s true, I know, that Australian poetry is neglected on this blog, but I often feel my limitations as a reader when I come across it in the pages of the newspaper.

It’s not as if I dislike poetry: I liked the war poetry we did at school,  the popular ballads we used to learn off by heart and the ones my mother and her friends used to recite on convivial evenings, such as The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God.  I liked the poetry I read at university, especially T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets and Milton’s Paradise Lost, and I’m also fond of John Donne’s more salacious poems and Ovid’s Amores.  Somehow, I don’t feel the same pressure to make sense of these works, as I do when reading contemporary poetry.

But when UQP sent me Nicholas Powell’s new collection, I felt a bit out of my comfort zone.  Reading a collection is one thing, but to write a review is something else again.  Powell is the winner of the 2011 Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize, so it goes without saying that these poems are something special, but I don’t have the expertise to analyse why that might be.   All I can do is offer my personal response…

The blurb tells me that the poems are drawn from Powell’s ‘enchanting and disorientating’ experience of moving to Helsinki in Finland, and his struggles with ‘fluctuating perceptions and the relationship of language to meaning and aesthetics’.

I liked this one best:

Missing Wing

Dawn. Ordinariness.
We are granted another chance.
Woken by birds and a stripe of light on the legs.
The layered earth enspheres us.  Here we are, the traveller says,
words rarely heard when still. Still, the routine circling
of moon, planets, infatuations.  The arc of two
ducks before skidding to rest on glassy water, the day of the
first lemon-coloured butterfly. They say it is the first true
spring day, and that all images will one day be unsalvageable.
Blue monotone sky, dark lace shadows of hazel coppice.
Another chance at what? To hoard portals to beauty,
own nought, witness the universe renew its nuptials:
light and dark, life and death, to turn
to a fellow guest and say
here we are.

I like the tentative references to what might be love, and I like the way he has developed that strange feeling we Aussies have when we wake and find ourselves on the other side of the world where even the sky is unfamiliar.  Where the first signs of Spring are not bursts of  wattle but ducks and butterflies. I like the repetition of the word ‘still’, and the playfulness of the poet inventing a word like ‘enspheres’.

I also really liked The True Map: ‘mislaid / folded in haste / so the towns are rubble in the creases / and roads erased’ and I  enjoyed the humour of The Morning After the Protest and its image of Adam Lindsay Gordon nipping into the Windsor for a tipple afterwards.

Well, I don’t have much experience with modern poetry, but  I enjoyed dipping into this slim volume of poems.  If you think you might too, click the links below and buy a copy!

Author: Nicholas Powell
Title: Water Mirrors (UQP Poetry Series)
Publisher: UQP, (University of Queensland Press), 2012
ISBN: 9780702249358
Source: Review copy courtesy of UQP

Fishpond: Water Mirrors (UQP Poetry Series) or direct from UQP.

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