Dennis Greene, ‘Here Be Dragons’ in the Australian Book Review

Poetic landscapes: A quartet of new releases

Cassandra Atherton reviews 'The Hazards' by Sarah Holland-Batt, 'Conversations I've Never Had' by Caitlin Maling, 'Here Be Dragons' by Dennis Greene, and 'The Guardians' by Lucy Dougan

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Contemporary Australian poetry has a complex and ever-evolving relationship with the land, both at home and abroad. Almost twentyfive years post-Mabo  and entrenched in ongoing ecological crises, Australian poets explore new ways of experiencing and defining place. Where misguided nationalism sought to limit Australian poets to their local landscapes, peripatetic poets have embraced transnational and intimate responses to questions of home. Space in Australian poetry prioritises both dwelling and travelling as intimate psychological activities, a concept that these four poets embrace in their recent publications.

Dennis Greene’s Here Be Dragons juxtaposes the imposing Western Australian landscape in poems such as ‘Stirlings’ and ‘One Tree Bridge’ with the tantalising ineffability of the undiscovered country. The collection’s title refers to the way in which English mapmakers used to indicate the edges of their known world. In this way, Greene charts untraversed landscapes of the mind and what lies beyond understanding. In unique poems he explores life as performance and mortality as a Shakespearean adventure:

It starts with one – one life, one seat,
one stage,
one man alone on stage in darkest
Elsinore. He has
his face, a way to be, his name, his
place in history
assured simply by being there; his ups
and down, his
family tree, he has his own fair share
of family squabbles;
a common man, he plays his Hamlet
on the streets
against the backdrop of the playwright’s
he knows his place and for a moment
there before
the others come he is the sum and total
of humanity.

Greene’s poetry suggests that immortality can only be achieved in theintimate landscapes of family trees andin the memories of those left behind.

In many of the poems in the sequence,‘The Map Is Not the Territory’ and the poem ‘Uncertainty Principle’, the end line rhyme is distracting and a little predictable. However, Greene’s use of intertexts as wide-ranging as van Gogh, Yeats, Winston Churchill, Che Guevara, and Ophelia provides a powerful commentary on the enormous comfort that can be found in familiar sources during the darkest moments.

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