Cameron Lowe, ‘Circle Work’ in ABR

Cameron Lowe's third collection of poetry


Just over fifty years since the death of the great American poet William Carlos Williams, it is pleasing to see so much of his spirit still alive in Cameron Lowe’s third collection, Circle Work. Williams was often short-changed by poets who, mistakenly, thought his short, ‘photographic’ poems easy to imitate. Lowe, by contrast, fully understands the importance of close observation and imagination. He understands, too, the necessity for skilled syntax and how a poem may consist wholly of details which are not in the least ‘poetic’.

Williams prided himself on being American, but Lowe demonstrates that the techniques work just as well in Geelong or Fitzroy as they did in New Jersey. Lowe, too, is interested in how the quotidian, if considered attentively, has the transcendent within. The end of Lowe’s long, six-part poem, ‘The skin of it’ is a compelling example: ‘a tiny bird emerges //  upon the ruined fence, a finch perhaps, eyes intent / on the pane of glass, / its lemon breast //  so vivid, / for just a moment, in dull light –.’

The episode recalled is small and short-lived but, nevertheless, of great significance. Lowe’s verbal music reinforces this (e.g. the assonance in ‘bird emerges’ and ‘lemon breast’). The syntax, part of a much longer sentence, follows the mind’s movements. We see a bird; note that it is ‘tiny’; then surmise that it is ‘a finch perhaps’. The ‘perhaps’ is important too: it is all too fleeting to be sure. 

Not all the book has this purity of lyricism. There are also sardonic moments, as in ‘North Shore pastoral’ and ‘Rise and Shine’, but it is in the sharp-eyed, minimal, lyric mode that Lowe’s work is most characteristic.

Geoff Page

Read the full review in The Australian Book Review

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