Reviews — September 7

Review: The Whale by Yoram Symons

By Rhys Nixon

How can you truly review a piece of art that comes from a close, spiritual place? Specifically, how do you critique a work of art that was created as a medium to critique itself? It has been challenging to put words to how I feel, but only because this long poem truly is something great.

A large part of this is Symons’ understanding of the use of space, and the positioning of the poems on the page. This is helped further through the illustration of Lital Weizman. The impact this juxtaposition has on the pieces at large quite staggering. The stanzas flow from line to line, breathing, and pace back and forth, fall down and crumble, and then are brought up again. This – combined with the images of scriptures, young students, teenagers pairing off at camp, create a wonderful piece of art in itself.

The piece hints at the ekphrastic; a dramatic description of a work of art, the medium in this case being poetry. I say ‘hints’ as the poems aren’t exactly describing the works of art that accompany them. They feel more like a collaboration of ideas and images, worked out via words and ink.

The whole poem itself stands out alongside the art; I loved its natural flow, its even tempo, and satisfying feel to read:

physical contact           can make me                      awkward.

It centres itself on the questioning of a shared faith. Throughout the poem, the poet eventually turns away from an old, conservative religion, to a more open and free spiritual society. The whale is a powerful symbol, and has obviously been used in many famous pieces of fiction, and this is because the whale is an awe-inspiring creature. The whale in this instance is an existential metaphor, one that is gesturing towards something we as a people can have:

out there in the ocean the whale evolved who sings subtle songs that are so much sweeter than even the sublimest human poetry

The personal nature of the poem is another

Reviews — August 8

Review: If The World Were Upside Down by John Englezos

By Gem Mahadeo

I like to think that every poem or collection has a ‘hook’, or a ‘way in’ that reveals itself gradually to its reader or listener. When reading John Englezos’ collection If The World Were Upside Down, it seemed important to honour that John is a poet whose words need to be heard as he performs them, rather than to be read off the page.

Thankfully, there’s lots of clips online of John performing many of the poems in this collection. I wanted to start with the one that personally ‘hooked’ me in – ‘The Proper Way to Make a Cup of Tea (YouTube)’:

I admittedly giggled cheekily at the beginning words, because I am a tea-lover, and also may still fall in love with not-just-men:

Young man

If you wish to learn the proper way to make a cup of tea

meet a girl

fall in love

and get married

John preempts the feelings this might bring up in the reader/listener – perhaps ridicule, amusement, excitement, inward groaning as the poem continues:

Hear me out

In an age where gas was lit and fire burned

a kettle would whistle to you the constant reminder of its boiling brew

Now he’s captured our full attention, and we feel like we need to know what has to follow – he’s mentioned things that are common to many of our everyday lives, and we want to know: what does making tea well have to do with love, with care, with intentional acts shared?

This collection is full of poems that celebrate the wonder in the ordinary, in those things we might take for granted in our lives. I especially like that ‘The Proper Way to Make a Cup of Tea’ can also be taken as an exercise in mindfulness. From a mental health perspective, the act of listening to or of reading a poem that talks to you the way John does is incredibly comforting, or downright amusingly raucous.

An example of his playful, more surrealist take on life is in the title poem ‘If The Worl