Review: Rats Live On No Evil Star by Paul South

Review by Amanda Anastasi

Rats Live picI was born for the journey.
Want me to tell you who I am?
Am I
Who I am?

I have read Rats Live On No Evil Star three times now: the first time as a draft, the second after the Passionate Tongues book launch and now again as I attempt to review it. Each time I digested it cover to cover in one sitting! This has much to do with Paul South’s accessible, conversational style. This and the easeful honesty that is evident from the unassuming opening lines of AM radio. The words enter quietly and humbly in lower case letters:

i’ve had my day out
walked a bit
seen some things…

This book is divided in three sections: Short Trips, Bridge and Rats Live On No Evil Star. In Short Trips, Paul gives us anecdotes about putting a dead crow in someone’s front garden, eating a chocolate sundae, a guy chroming on the train and a bargain store misunderstanding – among other things – on suburban walks and train journeys. These acts of simple observance are full of small moments of epiphany that surprise, delight and occasionally take you off guard! The purity and simplicity of the voice has a way of injecting a kind of magic in the ordinary, and this really is the mark of a good poet. The most memorable moments in the first section for me are Hurtsbridge Train, Bat, Amber and I Am Laughing With You. I particularly enjoyed the lines:

Until you are deaf

Ask why
Until you fall asleep

And in Get Used It:

This is our life and this is how we share it; eyes that meet only in sly passing, none of us where we want to be.

Some of the poems, in their unveiled honesty can catch the reader off guard in confronting ways, like Toilet Phobia and In My Cage. Then there are those poems that are genuinely light and funny like Things To Do In Moreland, I See The Light and (in the last section) Right To The Personals and The Things I Live With.

In Dirge Of Myself there is a hint of self-deprecation, as he takes a dig at his (and hence our) illusions about himself. In Garbage Ideology, he also sends up our smallness in the scheme of things and that the things we do are very much a mere drop in the ocean! For the most part, South is pointing the finger at himself. This collection is very much a direct look in the mirror – on a personal level and, through South’s gentle search for truth, all of us collectively.

The second section Bridge contains one poem called – you guessed it- Bridge! This is an introspective, intimate poem in three parts detailing South’s domestic daily routine. There is a sense of putting one foot in front of the other, of building a bridge to a place of wellness and stability. Above all, it is vulnerable and unpretentious.

In the final section Rats Live On No Evil Star, there moments of both defiance (I Prefer The Rats) and humility. Striking humility: the kind that makes the reader, in turn, humbled before it.

Paul covers the heavy subjects of the thought of suicide and death, and with refreshing ease and acceptance. In addition, there are some truly beautiful ruminations in Utopia, The Rain and Graveside, where the reader gets a glimpse of the poet dreaming. Being a Kafka enthusiast, I particularly enjoyed Metamorphosis. Paul’s Metamorphosis is very much a statement about our human conditioned behaviours and need to assimilate.

In What’s In A Name, South underlines not human twice in a poem which is a clear rejection of the human compulsion to label things. There is also this idea of animals being on “a higher level” than human pettiness, which I rather like. In Fixed, there is the implication that everything that exists is in an experiment, narrowing the distinction between humans and rats. This narrowing continues in the title poem Rats Live On No Evil Star, where rats are likened to “visitations” and “angels”. Drums is another unique poetic experience, where the ‘miraculous’ beating heart of a rat is juxtaposed with the “distant steel sounds” of Coode Island – natural versus man-made machinery.

So now I can’t think of anything more to do than to share some of my favourite lines:

Industry cries out like beached whales

At sunset the crickets would ring like so many unanswered phones

Oh and this one hit home for me…not due to being clever metaphorically as the previous lines, but by just having struck me in its plain, painful truth (in reference to finding three rats sleeping on a lost twenty dollar bill!)

It is the fading of this magic
That is hard to accept.

Before I continue to go on and quote the entire book, just go to your local bookshop and buy Rats Live On No Evil Star! It is gentle yet confronting. It is refreshing. It is something quite special.

Paul South’s poetry collection Rats Live On No Evil Star is available at Brunswick Bound on Sydney Rd, Collected Works, Polyester Books, Sticky Institute and or from Paul in person if you see him at any events around Melbourne.

Amanda Anastasi is a poet whose work ranges from the introspective to the socio-political. Her work has been published in magazines and anthologies both locally and overseas, including Cordite, FourW, Page Seventeen and Short & Twisted. She was the 2010 and 2011 winner of the Williamstown Literary Festival’s Ada Cambridge Poetry Prize, a prize which she judged in 2012 and 2013. She also won the C.J. Dennis Poetry Award as part of the Laura Literary Awards in SA in 2011. Amanda’s first poetry collection 2012 and other poems, was named in Ali Alizadeh’s Top Ten Poetic Works of 2012 in Overland Literary Journal. This year she performs at the Melbourne Fringe Festival in the Kollaborayshun show, the Newport Folk Festival and is back at the Williamstown Literary Festival. Amanda has also co-written Loop City with Steve Smart and composer Yvette Audain, produced by MSO violinist Sarah Curro and premiering this July.

Annie Solah