I had credit to spend at Sappho’s bookshop, and this book leapt to my attention. It cost more than my $8 note, but I recognised Shane McCauley’s name from the ancient days when I was editor of The School Magazine. (Note: I’m not the editor any more. I refer you to the magazine’s helpful tips for manuscript submission.) There’s one beautiful poem in particular, ‘Clouds’, illustrated by Tohby Riddle (in Orbit, November 2003) with a small figure of a child, in the centre of a page filled with dark grass, looking straight up at the viewer, who is positioned as one of the eponymous clouds. I’d never read any of his poems for grown-ups (I hate that word, but adult has been co-opted), and here was a chance. The poems really are for grown-ups: to enjoy them, you need to be either alarmingly well-read or unintimidated by encountering someone who is much better read than you. I’m in the latter category. The range of reference is huge: from an aged Samurai arranging flowers to an Islamic executioner, from Ancient Greece and Rome to Chuang-tzu, from Western Australian landmarks to scientific and mythopoeic cosmology. And I trusted his references: when he attributed thoughts to La Perouse in the long ‘La Perouse to Eleanore’, I believed he had immersed himself in La Perouse’s writing enough to have got it right. I intend reading this again.
During my time at The School Magazine, we published Stephen Whiteside’s poems regularly. And that’s probably the only thing his poetry has in common with Shane McCauley’s. This is his second self-published book, and probably because its back cover includes a quote from this blog, he kindly sent me a copy. Most of the pieces date from the early 1980s when Stephen did a lot of performing (Aha! Another similarity: according to the flap of The Butterfly Man, Shane McCauley was a founding member of a performance poetry group on Perth. However, I doubt if he ever put on a funny hat as Stephen did.) These aren’t poems intended primarily for children, and if I’ve read any of them before it was to reject them (sorry!). They are mostly good rollicking fun with some history, some genial satire, a little bush-philosphising and a touch of melancholy. Many of them latter-day bush ballads, and as an added grace there’s a short, often affectionately deprecatory introduction to each one. You can buy a copy from www.bookstore.bookpod.com.au or, I assume, at Stephen’s readings. (One last note: I suppose I should be glad of it, but I find myself lamenting that in the featured poem about the horribly cold town Omeo, he did not stoop to ‘Omeo, Omeo, wherefore art thou, Omeo?’)