Anthony Lawrence, ‘TheWelfare of My Enemy’ in Sydney Morning Herald

Unnamed are gone but not forgotten

Kate Middleton reviews Anthony Lawrence's TheWelfare of My Enemy in The Sydney Morning Herald Sep 1 2012


Described by the publisher as a ''verse novella'' or ''book-length poem'', Anthony Lawrence's The Welfare of My Enemy collection is a many-voiced mosaic that relentlessly examines the phenomenon of missing persons. Among the voices that emerge are those of the missing, those who miss them, the perpetrators of abduction and murder, and those who work to retrieve the lost. The narrative that emerges doesn't tell a single story but demonstrates repeatedly the ways unexplained absences haunt us. The volume is unsettling in its cumulative effect. Lawrence adopts the rhyming couplet throughout; his rhymes are often slant and his lines frequently enjambed, so rhyme and metre propel the poems forward. When he uses end-stopped lines, the poet takes advantage of the aphoristic quality of the closed couplet.

This is particularly true in shorter poems, such as the only two-liner: ''Airforce, navy, army, pilot, marine, soldier, engineer -/defending your position's one way to disappear.'' The only reference to those missing in action, this understated poem draws its power from compression. Elsewhere, Lawrence truncates the sentence, creates broken lines that reflect the fragmented voices of speakers who are broken by their losses, as when a mother reports: ''The radio was. Breaking news. Then.'' The brokenness has purpose. Contributing to the volume's sense of anonymity and pervasive suffering, individual poems lack titles: new voices are introduced by an asterisk. Nonetheless, Lawrence tries to address human particularity, as when he describes one of the missing: ''He was into austere architecture/Krautrock, graphic novels, Elizabeth Taylor/swoffing for bone fish and baked beans from the can.''

This characterisation gives the reader a sense of the victim's individuality, but these titbits get lost among the avalanche of other such narratives. The reader is overwhelmed by the phenomenon more than by any sense of individual loss. Clearly, Lawrence is aware of this because he draws attention to our own familiarity with the subject matter as he makes it strange once more. …

Kate Middleton

Read the full review  in The Sydney Morning Herald 

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