Glebe Annandale Balmain elegies

David Brooks, Urban Elegies (Island Press 2007)

‘Ars Poetica’, the first poem in this lovely collection, begins

When I woke first I imagined it was starlings
mid-demonstration on the galvanised roof,
a thick forest of chirpings,
claws like the scratching
of a thousand sharp pencils

then, waking again, thought
swallows
perched for a briefing
before launching out over Annandale
like a hundred miniature scimitars

but of course it was the Rainbow Lorries
fresh over from Manly
unable to contain their Springfulness

He had me, as they say, at ‘Annandale’. After that he’d have had to do something terribly wrong for me not to love this book. He didn’t. I did.

Robert Adamson says in his intro that he read the book in one sitting. I almost read it in one dog walk. It’s not difficult poetry, but its appeal goes well beyond the pleasure of recognising places and events from Sydney’s inner west – the apartments built on the site of the old Children’s Hospital, street names, the two local giveaway newspapers, a rat in the compost, headlice in a child’s hair. The pieces that most hit home for me are those that touch on the numinous. ‘Flying Fox on Wire’, for example, begins:

A human poet, trying to remove
a fallen powerline from his roof, accidentally
touching the cable and surviving the
J-U-D-D-E-R-I-N-G shock of it
might think it is as if
he’s grasped a tendril of his Al-
mighty God

and draws a comparison to a flying fox on overhead wires

completing a
circuit it could
never have imagined – what
vast
grids and
networkings of night, what
chittering labyrinths of
tree and
air, what
soundless shrieks of
pain or
joy or
prophecy are
there?

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