Archive for the ‘book reviews’ Category

Underground RoadUnderground Road by Sharon Kernot
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an impressive first novel. The characters are well drawn. There is a mood of impending doom from early on, and Kernot builds tension right through the book. It is a gripping read, but also takes time to incorporate significant social commentary, without being ‘preachy’. The lives of the inhabitants of one street are intertwined, each facing different challenges: bullying, domestic violence, gambling, mental illness, adjustment to retirement. The characters are engaging and the reader is drawn into their world from page one.

Whilst it is set in contemporary Australia and has specific Australian references (Centrelink, Commodores, ‘pokies’ etc.), it might almost be any western country where people face similar challenges.

Highly recommended.

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The ClearingThe Clearing by Tim Gautreaux

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Quite a gripping read. A mix of almost ‘wild west’ (though set in the deep south), environmental and anti-war novel. An original take on early 20th century America, seeing it from the point of view of two brothers whose business it is to despoil the cypress forests of Louisiana – awareness of the destruction they are inflicting is only on the edge of their consciousness. The setting is a lawless isolated logging town. One brother is crippled by what we now know as PTSD, from his war experiences. The other is trying to come out from the shadow of his older brother, and from the control of his father.

There a few clichés here – the younger brother being saved from drowning under ice by his older brother; the violent climax which could be from almost any western film.

But Gautreux writes well, and the story is absorbing.

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BAP 2011

Poems are Dreams – Or Not?

He says that poems are dreams

manifest on paper

that poems are from

your deep subconscious

they float up to the surface

of your brain then flit down

the neural pathways

into your fingertips and onto

the tip of your pen.

But what if he’s wrong?

what if they are an expression

of frustration with everyday life?

what if they are anger

at the foolishness of politicians?

what if they are observations

of simple events?

what if they are cracks in the edifice

through which we shine a torch?

what if they are a reaction

to life’s tragedies and triumphs?

what if they are rampant emotions?

what if they are jokes

played on or with the reader?

what if they are all of these

and only some are dreams ?

 © Mike Hopkins 2011

I was given a copy of The Best Australian Poems 2011 (editor John Tranter), as a departing gift from some very nice work colleagues on finishing my contract with Country Health SA last week.  Today, I cycled up to Brownhill Creek, sat under a river redgum with a thermos of rooibos, and started to read it.

I read about a quarter of it, and then dipped into other parts of the book at random.  I was almost immediately hit by the impenetrability of many of the poems (not all of them e.g Jude Aquilina and Melinda Smith are two exceptions  in what I’ve read so far). So then I did what I don’t usually do.  I read the editor’s introduction.  In it, John Tranter proposes that poems can be read as dreams.  He says of his selection of Australian poems:

“I suspect that these baroque and potent imaginings can only have come into existence as fragments of dreams or nightmares”


“enjoy this fragment of dream-work”


“of course if you don’t agree with my line of thinking, you can always ask for a second opinion”.

Well, my opinion, partly expressed above, is that if he has used this filter (i.e. looking for poems which resemble the result of dreams), then he has excluded all sorts of equally valid types of poems. I’ve always found dreams (mine and anyone else’s) difficult to interprete (other than the obvious Freudian interpretations).   Maybe this is why I don’t understand many of the poems in The Best Australian Poems 2011.

Am I the only one who has this difficulty? I’ve had it with previous editions of the book, but I don’t have it, for instance, with Best of American Poetry anthologies. Nor do I have it with most of the poetry I hear around Adelaide.  Are these “dream poets” writing for the general populace, or just for each other?  Am I being harsh, or is it just that I don’t “get it”?  Have Australian poetry anthologies been ‘captured’ by a sub-set of Australian poets who all write in the same style, for the same small audience?

Perhaps Darryl Kerrigan should edit Best Australian Poems 2012?: