Andy Kissane, ‘Radiance’ in The Australian Book Review

Andy Kissane, Radiance

Reviewed by Geoff Page in the Australian Book Review

Andy Kissane’s fourth collection, Radiance, is a heartening answer to those who, like publisher Stephen Matthews, lament that ‘many modern poets choose to shroud their work in point-scoring obscurity at a time when clarity and accessibility might encourage more people to read poetry’. Kissane doesn’t address this issue directly, but his book is an important negative instance.

The first virtue of Kissane’s poetry here is its empathy, which leads on to an important (though sometimes unfashionable) political dimension; the sonnet ‘Match Girls, 1888’ is a telling example. Two young sisters in a Dickensian match factory begin to notice what is happening to the other girls: the damaged jawbones and bleeding gums. The ending is disturbingly poignant: ‘One / mustn’t complain. Instead, she poked her sister / under the quilt and they laughed at their teeth – / glowing green and ghostly in the warm cave of the bed.’Similar compassion and outrage can be found in a number of neighbouring poems, particularly ‘The Street Vendor’s Lament’, ‘The Child is Father of the Man’, and ‘The Smell of the Sea’. All deal with dangerous working conditions, and all make their point with technical subtlety and an absence of rhetoric.

What helps to make these poems even more memorable is the way the book’s remaining sections display, by contrast, a complementary and characteristically playful imagination. Part II , for instance, features dreamlike encounters with John Keats and Percy Shelley. Dylan Thomas and Virginia Woolf are given similar treatment. All the poems suggest much about each writer’s work and personality.

In Part III , politics returns – with sometimes heartbreaking strength – as in ‘My Husband’s Grave’ and ‘Against Forgetting’, both of which deal with extreme political courage. Again, these poems are surrounded with lighter, more personal, even nostalgic ones. 

Similarly, in the book’s final section, ‘The Sea of Tranquillity’, Kissane adopts the ancient technique of personifying the moon to ludic and lyrical extremes – yet stops well short of the sentimental.

Read the review in The Australian Book Review

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