Making bloom while the sun shinesBook cover

Poetry review by Angela Gardner

Undercover of Lightness, New & Selected Poems

Andrew Burke
Walleah Press 2012
IBSN 9780980712070


Andrew Burke’s substantial new collection, Undercover of Lightness, New & Selected Poems, comes in at just under 150 pages. The majority of the book is taken up by new poems prefaced by an epigraph from Kenneth Koch “If one writes every day, one’s poems may talk to each other.” The practice of writing everyday is crucial to the work because it produces an unselfconscious observation that allows the reader access to the personal.

A poem early in the collection shows how personal and constant the quest to understand is, but also how this is resolved into poetry.

                                                      Once again
I’ve been wondering what poetry is,
what it’s made of, and who called
it that in the first place. Bottle brush bush
is happy now, head above the parapet,
making bloom while the sun shines.
                                                      Making Bloom while the Sun Shines, p3

The two sentences together in the poem create a connection between our taking up of the poet’s question about the nature of poetry, and its resolution in the description of the everyday becoming itself the stuff of poetry. It is seemingly effortless and yet so elegant in the words’ balance and their modest poise.

I am particularly grateful to the poem ‘Diary: Royal Perth Hospital 2010’ for its first-hand account of a heart operation: the days in hospital prior to the operation, what is remembered of the day itself, and the aftermath and recovery. I am grateful because my father had just had an operation and he had also undergone the traumatic nightmares that the procedure and the anaesthetic create. The poet’s description, a “nightmare montage”, brings his heart and intelligence to all aspects of existence and illuminates my father’s experience.

I am reduced to tears
as machines measure
ebb and flow of
days, nights worse
as choppers drop
squads of para-
noia troops — terrorists
                                    Diary: Royal Perth Hospital 2010’, p51-55


Life in hospitals does have its ebb and flow measured by events at once intimately connected to the body but also detached from it into the needs of shifts, dosages, ward rounds; a completely different measurement of time exists. Burke manages to give us that parallel in just a few words. This is followed by a precise line break that lets the reader’s mind flow on to para-troopers only to discover the word has in the following line become paranoia. It is these little touches that show how the practice of daily writing hones and refines word choice and placement. Consider the conclusion to the poem ‘Gibb River yacht Club’: “I shake my head,/unpeg the washing—/my wife’s black knickers/ start another line” for its language both accessible and playful, its simplicity yet multiple readings.

Burke’s subject is often familial as well as familiar, his wife, his son, his parents all appear in his poems adding to our engagement with the poet himself as we learn to trust the quiet simplicity of his narrative and how it lead us to meaning. I’d like to quote the poet himself quoting in his poem ‘Natural SFX’ Charles Tomlinson:

it rings true: for
silence / is an imagined

This is an excellent and valuable collection, relevant and precise in its subject and delivery. It is good news for Australian publishing to see Walleah Press, who formerly published the journal Famous Reporter, now publishing a list of poetry collections. I wish Andrew Burke many more years of writing.