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”
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.
None of us alone
Port Adelaide: Picaro Press (Ginninderra Press), 2021