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Jonathan Shaw, None of us alone (#BookReview)

July 18, 2021

Some of you will know of Jonathan Shaw as the blogger at Me fail? I fly! If you read his blog, you will also know that he loves poetry: he writes it, he reviews it. None of us alone is his first commercially published collection, though he has self-published five collections and has had a number of poems published in journals like Quadrant, Going Down Swinging, and, would you believe, the European Journal of International Law. None of us alone, styled a chapbook, contains 24 poems, selected from his previous collections and published works.

I enjoy reading Jonathan’s* poetry reviews, because he takes us through the poems, sharing his thoughts as he goes. I also like the fact that though he sounds confident, he admits to not always being sure that he’s picked up the nuance or, say, understood all the “metaphorical dimensions” of a poem, so I know he’ll forgive my errors and misses here. Then again, I don’t plan to discuss particular poems in detail, the way he often does, so I may avoid big errors!

However, I will say that Jonathan plays with various forms including sonnets (which seem to be a favourite), free verse and traditional ABAB quatrains. His rhyming is confident and comfortable rather than forced, which is a great start. His allusions are accessible, and his resolutions are usually clear, with the sonnets mostly ending in a rhyming couplet, which make their point. Overall, the tone tends to be neutral or lightly melancholic, with touches of humour, even where the subject is serious. This sort of writing appeals to me.

The poems in None of us alone draw from Shaw’s life, his domestic, artistic and political interests, and so are easily relatable to Australians of a certain age and persuasions. There are gorgeous poems about dogs (“The dogs outside Orange Grove Markets”) and (“She looks out”), for example, that will speak to dog lovers. There are poems inspired by art exhibitions (“Sculpture by the sea”) or attending a play (“This is just to say”). And, most particularly, there are poems responding to the politics of the day (asylum-seekers, same-sex marriage, domestic violence, and climate change.) The first poem, in fact, is a climate change themed sonnet, “Demo”

… We
rallied, one link in a chain
of rallies all around Australia
crying out against the failure
of governments who play the role
of sycophants to Old King Coal.

I like the cheekiness of another sonnet “Unprecedented again”, which he wrote just last year. You can find it on his blog. However, while looking for it on his blog, I learnt something, which is that his favourite form is not, in fact, a sonnet, as I felt I had ascertained from this collection, but an Onegin Stanza. You’d have to be a poetry purist to know though! Anyhow, the poem plays on the idea that the “unprecedented” just keeps on coming, in one form or another, creating a fine line between the unprecedented and the precedented.

“A pronunciation lesson” – a free verse poem – is one of the poems that has been published before. It has also been read on ABC’s Poetica. I’m not surprised by its success because it lures us into a sense of calm before hitting us in the guts with a stand-alone last line. Its subject is Hiroshima, and it is followed by another free verse poem on Hiroshima, “Correspondence”, this one expressing the cynicism of one who knows how it goes. You can live too long! And indeed, there are poems here that recognise our mortality.

Before I finish, I must mention the beautiful design of this little series, with its classy front-papers, and the cover of this particular work. It features a photograph of a ceramic heart from the “Connecting Hearts Project” by potter (and Jonathan’s partner) Penny Ryan. The collection includes a poem inspired by these hearts, “2 July 2016”. The artwork and the poem address the pain experienced by asylum-seeker detainees, and the “malice” of governments refusing to open their hearts to them:

Unwrapped, this heart confronts that malice:
our beating hearts can face our fear –
Close down those camps, bring those hearts here.

And here I’ll leave it, because it’s a little book – a chapbook – and you can buy it, as I did, for $5 plus postage and handling. Check Jonathan’s post for details.

* I haven’t met Jonathan in person but have “known” him long enough in the blogosphere that I felt silly using my usual last name style, Shaw, to discuss this book of his.

Jonathan Shaw
None of us alone
Port Adelaide: Picaro Press (Ginninderra Press), 2021
28pp.
ISBN: 9781761091247

15 Comments leave one →
  1. July 18, 2021 19:39

    Lovely, relatable review: you’re beginning to get the hang ! [grin]
    Seriously, ST, Jonathan will be tickled pink – and it seems he deserves it. 😀

    • July 18, 2021 20:13

      Thanks very much M-R. I’m glad you could relate to it, so that’s a start! I’m nowhere near up to his quality, but I hope he’s pleased to have a review out there. I enjoyed his poems.

  2. July 18, 2021 20:14

    You are right about this little book, WG: I love it, too. His poetic touch has confidence and topicality, too.

    • July 18, 2021 20:17

      Thanks Jim … I knew you’d ordered it too, so I’m glad you’ve commented. I did like the topicality, the addressing of issues relevant to us!

  3. July 19, 2021 09:22

    I’ve ordered this too, it’s probably waiting for me at PO box.
    I love what you say about feeling strangely shy about using first names in a review. I know what you mean!

    • July 19, 2021 09:30

      I’m sure you’ll enjoy it too Lisa. And yes the last name /first name thing can feel weird at times, can’t it, particularly for someone you’ve “known” before their work.

  4. July 19, 2021 11:36

    Ahhh! Jonathon is our main poetry reviewer for AWW!

  5. July 19, 2021 11:37

    Tickled pink doesn’t begin to describe my response to this, Sue. Thank you so much.Being published is one thing but actually being reviewed is quite another. Not to get too weird about it, it’s as if you’ve waved a magic wand and conjured me into existence in the real world.

    • July 19, 2021 13:06

      I’m glad Jonathan that you are happy with what I’ve done. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your poems in this format ie not on the blog and am pleased to have you in my collection.

    • July 21, 2021 16:27

      Only a poet could describe ST’s effect so delightfully ! 🙂

  6. kathyprokhovnik permalink
    July 21, 2021 12:03

    Loved your book Jonathan! Compiling them was a great idea. I enjoyed reading them / rereading them in this form. They’re always witty, moving, casting an eye across society that is slightly bleak but more often encouraging. If I had to choose a favourite it would be ‘Intimations’. Thank you. Kx

    • July 21, 2021 17:17

      Thanks Kathy for your comment. I like how you characterise these poems. “lntimations” is one of those mortality poems I referred to.

  7. buriedinprint permalink
    July 29, 2021 08:23

    Chapbooks are so wonderful, just a sidestep away from zines and feeling like a whisper direct from the writer.

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