Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 10, 2013

Limited Cities (2012), by Lachlan Brown, Guest review by Amber Beilharz

Limited Cities

(Introduction edited  LH 21/1/23)

Amber Beilharz is a poet and critic from Melbourne, who has very kindly reviewed a new collection from Giramondo.  This is Amber’s review of Limited Cities, by Lachlan Brown.  Please enjoy!

What’s neat about Lachlan Brown’s 2012 release of Limited Cities from Giramondo, is how the poetry is chapterised into settings and ideals: Onramp, Kerbside, Replacement, Here Say and Recessional head up these poem sequences. Brown is absolutely direct and leads us, as reader through imagery. The opening poem, Urban Sprawl summons up busy streets and markets and beyond, through rain, to the contented ducks and quiet. Within this is the immersive nature of nostalgia and the stark and smart that is city work and lifescape. Brown invites us to navigate this poem, the same way that ‘the train slides in smooth archaeology’ and shows us in this big sprawl, you can become someone, as long as you have your feet. The accuracy of train travel is aptly captured, specifically in a ‘commuter’s double yawn’ and ‘each station’s concrete sparkle’. I like how the poem becomes filmic after the line, ‘there should be a soundtrack to all this’ and in this way, the traveling has a kind of musicality to it, always conscious of its movement, its calming rhythm.

I was drawn to the poem, Burn because of the way it played with the idea of inevitability. Regarding flames, the subjects in this poem leave an impression: ‘A bird draws its line’ and ‘shadow over driveways’. I like how the poem is so apathetic about lifespan of the universe but minimises it into ‘days when civilisation will end’ and agreeing ‘that there will be flames’. It’s tragic and reminiscent of bygone poets. The last line really makes me feel electric with the expression of ‘quiet mouths begin to devour edges’. Already the city by definition is undefined and borderless. I want to also mention, Coming Home for its sheer wit and brain. This poem clicks the right image on Sydney’s landscape and having been born into that cityspace, I relate to images of ‘chessboard suburb’ and the idea that ‘every lung expands and contracts /with its own economy’. I love that idea that each breath is a certain currency.

What follows this is Kerbside, this chapter has a more relaxed layout, which is funny as Sydney curb-side is quite the opposite. In this, we are given Petrol Stations, or Nine Vouchers Without the Optimism which begins with a quote from Borges and presents the tone and inclination of the piece. Set in nine parts, these act as a kind of ticket and what Brown gives us is a viewing rich in expression and a measurement of these vignettes.

‘No one knows
the entrance
or exit. So cars
end up
nose to nose
like awkward

Suddenly something so mechanical can become immediate and intimate and I love that about the poetry. This is how Brown manipulates space, showing us innovative ways of understanding what space is within the limitations of city. I don’t feel as though space can be defined, it’s too elusive and shifting, but Brown’s space is definitive by the clutter of people.

‘I am thinking
of the attendant’s
dreams, but it’s
not dreams
that offers a
space inside
where margins
are higher.

Even the way Brown uses structure echoes the way a city is precise and blunt. These lines mimic not only the way cities have wheeled upwards but the way that we think about space on an intellectual spectrum. Space really is limitless and this ideal stretches our brain muscle into spasms. It’s far-reaching in its possible representations. Representing the hood-rats is the phrasing ‘the servo / becomes / a temple’ and the boredom of these kids turns to destruction with a ‘snap & click / of a car’s badge’. One line that really stood out and kind of defined this collection was ‘the drifting / fumes / that ghost / through / the automatic…’ But in saying this, there’s still a contagious rhythm to this place. It pulls back into itself and repeats the constancy of ‘edges and escaping again?’ In the sixth part, I adore the lines: ‘Is this / anything / more than / a hymn…’ which lends well to the image of what is daily. I also really admire the way the lines break, as though each word is puffed and pumped out, echoing the bowser’s throb. Some other great lines were ‘a car will lean / into the day’ and ‘…a hubcap / left on a / roadside, / spinning like a coin’ as well as ‘the world cowering / into grey submission’.

In Afternoon, I am again struck by the excellent approach to travel and the lines:

the train gets enthusiastic about small
corners. There might not be a fingerprint
of this day…’

As well as the clever details of the outside world: ‘Glenfield dentist has / a trembling hand-painted sign’. Moving on from the train station, we’re given ‘Replacement’ and further in, the poem ‘Lullaby’ which I picked out for its absolute imagery. The train ‘becomes a string of lit / beads, drawn across tracks by an unseen / hand’ and ‘reunited lovers / are discovering an uneasy silence’, everything else in the poem seems to talk, even ‘the window speaks its warning’ and the night stretches across ‘every space that exists outside whispered words’.

Some Things That Occurred Today has some really beautiful, tender glimpses of 7 things in a day. Some of the lines I loved were ‘the holes / carved by the ammunition of a remembered war’ and ‘breathed deeply like a smoker in the doorway’ and ‘I discovered streets that turned back on / themselves’. Also of note in this section of the collection, is Five Stories which gives us 5 prose poems that are snapshots of things seen.

One of my favourite pieces is where each landscape element has standing and within that traits like each is its own being. I particularly like ‘a fountain announces / the weekend to itself’ and ‘in reality / of actual life, underground carparks / snarl and loop’ and the pub revellers in this piece ‘spill the guts of the world’. These lines give us ‘endless vistas and the glory of their sonic lies’. This poem is the essence of the city, scenes of life, the city walkers who are sights themselves and the way the city becomes a prominent figure in our own lives. It inhabits us.

Prosperity Gospel is volatile and ‘begins to question / why [the] city is /so assured’. A favourite stanza:

a truck burst into flames
 on the F3, self-immolating like
 a zealot or a garbage bin on a bored
summer night.’

This shows us how Brown navigates the everyday in a way that’s both accessible and in a way that turns suburbia and its echoes into a thing that ‘speaks to the world / of the human heart. And yet…’ It questions how art has become clean-cut, with graffiti artists ‘tagging each / colorbond panel with meticulous / precision, like cells in / a spreadsheet’. The line I’ll leave you with from this poem are, ‘Yet in / the rain we miss things: large thumb-drops / pressing each flower into soft earth.’ Lachlan Brown’s collection is stunning, true to its Sydney streets and allows us into a language that unravels space and city, people and the city as an individual. In doing so it gives the metropolis a kind of status and standing. It’s more than just one kind of existence. Read Lachlan Brown’s Limited Cities to know the exact likeness of a city so consumed with itself, but also read it to know how to look around and outside yourself.

© Amber Beilharz

Amber BeilharzAmber is a poetry editor at Voiceworks Magazine,  she blogs at Metre Maids  and tweets @velvetbrownfox.  Her own poetry has been published in Verge, Voiceworks, dotdotdash, Verandah and antiTHESIS.  (There are links to some of her work on the About Page at Metre Maids, and to her reading of The Moving Theatre, which I really like.)

Author: Lachlan Brown
Title: Limited Cities
Publisher: Giramondo, 2012
ISBN: 9781920882938
Source: review copy courtesy of Giramondo


Fishpond: Limited Cities

Or direct from Giramondo.


  1. I wanted to inform you that I have nominated you for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award! You can read about the nomination here.


    • That’s very kind of you, Jeremiah, but really, all the credit goes to Amber who has written the poetry reviews:)


  2. […] blog VIRGULE. You can view some of her newer review work at ANZLITLOVERS (run by Lisa Hill)  here […]


  3. Nice review … I particularly like Amber’s closing comment that the collection should be read “to know how to look around and outside yourself”. That’s exactly what good poetry does I think – and by good I mean poetry that appeals to you.


    • I’m really impressed by Amber’s poetry reviews: The OZ should snap her up for their Review!


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