Ken Bolton, ‘Threefer’ in The Australian
Poets home in on tradition
Fiona Wright reviews Bolton’s Threeferin The Australian, May 17 2014
There's a wonderful playfulness and energy to each of the three collections under review, all published by small Sydney publisher Puncher & Wattmann. Each brings together new work from well-established poets, all firmly rooted within the poetry communities of this country. It’s unsurprising, then, that each book is engaged with these communities, as well as with tradition, albeit in very different ways.
… Idiosyncrasy is also a hallmark of Ken Bolton’s Threefer (93pp, $25), a collection in three parts, largely constructed of fragments, some of which have been collected over almost 40 years. Threefer continually draws on art, film and music, as well as everyday details of houses, streets and weather.
The middle section in particular charts the landscapes of London and suburban Adelaide, drawing them into broader, and always slightly tongue-in-cheek discussions of poetics and the politics of art.
But the strongest poems in the collection pull together conversations between poets and friends, weaving them into beautifully winding, yet energetic poems, often held together by repetitions and variations that cast and recast phrases to create small moments of poignancy and surprise.
The two long poems that bookend the collection, Footprints and Some Days, are cases in point. Footprints is modelled on a Wayne Shorter CD, which reworks some of the musician’s best works alongside new material, a bold and risky conceit for any poet to apply to their own work. Bolton’s fluid combinations of small intimacies, deadpan one-liners and catalogues of startling descriptions are gentle, warm and unindulgent. This is a poem about connection and communication, and about instances that might begin a poem: a cat that purrs ‘‘like a small/ enamoured/ tractor//
a little fridge’’, a feeling ‘‘that says/ you should be in a book’’ or ‘‘things that say/ COKE against the sky’’.
Similarly, Some Days, composed mostly from Bolton’s old notebooks, is animated by snippets of conversation or recounted anecdotes from other poets (“ ‘She’s the only one/ can write about her/ broken radio & not/ be self conscious’/ Kerry said once’’); collected signage and invented epithets (‘‘SUBURBS/ – free of the brave – land of the home’’); as well as lyrical descriptions of landscapes and fragments of love poems. Pulled together like this, Some Days reads like a portrait of an era, or of a generation — and a playful, joyful one at that.
… All three of these collections are underpinned by a keen sense of humour, as well as experimentation with form and linguistic registers. Yet they never lose touch with tenderness, with human relationships, and the relations between people and the world.
Read the full review in The Australian