Benjamin Dodds, ‘Regulator’ in What the Bird Said

Mortality and Menace  

Libby Hart reviews Regulator by Benjamin Dodds in 'What the Bird Said: Contemporary and International Poetry' 7 October 2014


Many poems within Benjamin Dodds' debut collection take their cue from childhood memories. At the fore of Regulator is the company of family—of parents, brother, nephew, friends and partner—so too are studies in domesticity and of life behind closed doors. In fact, such pieces feel like “close knit poems”.

 Even so, the work within Regulator often evokes a perilous and uneasy Australian landscape, one that art critic, Robert Nelson, has described as a ‘special discomfort wherever white people tread … [because European Australians] nurture a deep-seated dread of a landscape that is somehow beyond us, an ancient land that is not altogether ours’ [from Haunted Country: The Lost History of the Australian Bush]. As such, the collection frequently turns to posited threat of violence or unease. It therefore seems fitting for Regulator to begin with the dramatic poem, ‘Thinning Our Little Herd’, which balances imagination with the starkest reality. Dodds begins the piece with:

For weeks
we had Baskerville
hounds in our heads
sweeping bold arcs
through feathered darkness
at the porch light’s circle edge.

 Then life extends to fairy-tale as the reader is informed of how the poet’s father has been away too long and of how the family farm in south-western New South Wales is under siege by unseen and monstrous animals. Baskerville hounds take on the guise of wolf at the door. Then comes proof of carnage the next morning.

The death toll is numerous in Regulator—carcases of cattle, galah, pig, crayfish and rat are scattered throughout. Often too there is a stick to poke at and examine such poor and unfortunate creatures. And there are other threats, such as a gang of razorblade wielding bus vandals, a calamitous feral cat and the blight of Patterson’s Curse on a farming community.

Unease ripples through to poems about awe…

Libby Hart 

Read the full review in What the Bird Said: Contemporary and International Poetry

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