Peter Lach-Newinsky, ‘Cut a Long Story Short’ in The Australian
Upton, Lawson, Pattinson and Lach-Newinsky display diversity in verse: Aidan Coleman reviews Cut a Long Story Shory in The Australian July 04, 2015
Since its inception a decade ago, Sydney-based Puncher & Wattmann has become a major publisher of Australian poetry. The four poets from its stable reviewed here, John Upton, Elizabeth Lawson, Jillian Pattinson and Peter Lach-Newinsky, are writing at their peak and their collections are a testament to the publisher’s nonpartisan commitment to diversity.
Peter Lach-Newinsky’s Cut a Long Story Short (161pp, $25) is an ambitious project, encompassing the experience of parents and grandparents, before an idiosyncratic verse autobiography. The title of an early prose poem, The Slap of History, is a neat summary of the opening section, which captures the drama of wartime bombing in Germany and the early lives of the author’s White Russian grandparents. Considering the often bleak subject matter the tone is unexpectedly jaunty: ‘‘Lydia according to the genteel breast-droop wont farms out my infant dad to peasants’ wives for breast milk & a bit of bond, suck on that dad…’’ Terms such as flashback, cut, zoom, fast forward, next stop underline the fragmentary and unreliable nature of the material the poet-as-director is working with.
Grounded in the senses, The Ceiling is an unsentimental portrait of the poet’s grandmother, beginning with a game of I spy: ‘‘What does she spy now … that she is dead? … the TV set like a suspended altar, // the smell of old piss and disinfectant? / The brain flickering on / behind the parchment skin.’’
The later childhood poems often have a crisp exactness, as here, when the adult preoccupation with time begins to intrude: ‘‘I go to school. / There is a clock and a bell. / I learn about sitting still. / I begin to look forward / to endings: Friday, / this term, this year, primary school.’’
Many of the poems could be described as minimalist; what Lach-Newinsky can do in just a few words is demonstrated by the ending of the superb North Head: ‘‘in her cramped Austin / full of fumbling desire … the first magic hand now / deftly demolishing / the door / to the cage / of / childhood’’.
The personal is never far from the political — from the world of war, inequality and ecological disaster — and the poet’s awareness of a wider (often ironic) context is reinforced by brief notes at the foot of poems, from chart-topping hits and inventions to grim body counts. These I think justified but I couldn’t always say the same for the epigraphs.
It is bordering on comic to begin a collection with two quotations, followed by a short (albeit excellent) poem — preceded by another quotation — then, four further quotations on the next page. The opening section then begins with two more quotations, with yet another quotation to introduce the book’s second poem. Let the poems speak!