Martin Harrison’s Wild Bees

Martin Harrison, Wild Bees (UWAP 2008)

1wild_beesWhen 11 year old Luke Shambrook had been missing for four days over the Easter weekend, Acting Sergeant Brad Pascoe spotted him from his helicopter. ‘Out of the corner of my eye,’ he said, ‘I just caught a little flash of something. It wasn’t much but it was enough to make me get the guys to turn the aircraft around and go back and have a look.’

It’s not so obviously a matter of life and death, but compare that to the silvereye in Martin Harrison’s ‘A Word’:

caught on the edge of vision,
forgotten in a glance
where nothing is anchored

The pages of this book are full of attention to tiny things and brief moments that are nevertheless enough to make the poet get us to turn around and go back and have a look. Something happens ‘out there, in dwindling light, / upon the edge, half-seen, a mere detail’ (from ‘Red Marine’). Something ‘catches my eye, half catches it, (tricking it, blinding it)’ (from ‘Winter Solstice’). In ‘Lizards’:

_____________ This
moment, they’re not here,
or are merely playing
at being silhouettes, quite still.

In ‘Tasmanian Tiger’:

ungraspable fineness of dark she-oak needles, ungraspable, I think, because so fine,
a thing merely visual, only meant in passing
to an observer perplexed by see-through shadowiness

Examples multiply.

The poetry does many different things with these ephemera and minutiae, usually at some length. Sometimes it’s like reading a gloriously fleshed-out haiku: ‘Watching Pelicans, Mallacoota’ spends the first 24 lines on a she-oak needle, and the remaining 19 on the pelicans of the title. More often, the poems are like essays, not always easy to follow, as the poet articulates thoughts or feelings that are as easy to miss as the objects or living things that give rise to them. One thing you don’t get is easy generalisations.

I saw Martin Harrison read a number of times. He was a witty, warm, impressive figure. He died in September 2014.  The November issue of Cordite Poetry Review published a piece by Adam Aitken, which included an interview, in which Harrison says, among many other interesting things:

I am trying to write poetry that lives in the same world as watching TV, listening to radio and watching movies. … I’m interested in the kind of detail that the camera can provide that the writer can be intimate with. If you take a room or a scene or a person there is something about the way those images cover the object, and something about the lingering attention you can give to what’s produced there. It defines a contemporary sensibility. I like that kind of attentiveness.

Wild Bees was published by the University of Western Australia Press.  I received a review copy from Giramondo Press.

2 responses to “Martin Harrison’s Wild Bees

  1. Jonathan, Last week-end’s Weekend Australian had two colour supplements – the regular magazine and another: The Great War. pages 38-40 detail an unbelievably moving story – of one retired Doctor aged 61 from Melbourne Charles Snodgrass RYAN (kinsman to Penny?) who took THAT photo of Aussies and Turks on the May 24, 1915 Gallipoli brief truce to allow the removal from no-man’s land of the dead and dying. There were mutterings from Turkish officers when he was seen to be wearing Ottoman campaign (including Plevna) medals. No I haven’t taken them from anyone – he said to them in Turkish. He had been a young medico serving nearly 40 years earlier with Ottoman forces. Much kissing of his hand/embraces. (Original Plevna etc story told in his book: Under the Red Crescent, 1897 London.) Full chapter in the 2007 book by Turkish historian Haluk ORAL: Gallipoli 1915 Through Turkish Eyes). I read it last night – it caught my eye. Friends on a cruise tracing the voyage of the first ANZAC convoy – will be anchored off Anzak Koyu April 24/25 – a great uncle of one killed in Shrapnel Gully – they visited it 15 years ago – and three or four days ago, again. The medals on the uniform of Dr RYAN were spied without difficulty – hard to believe, withal – by the Turkish officers. It’s that catching of the eye of something on the edge of things which almost escapes attention – but thank goodness does not – that you have highlighted so well in your review to-day.


  2. Hi Jim. Thanks for that – as always you make unexpected connections. The Dr Ryan story is at least as relevant to Martin Harrison’s poetry as the Brad Pascoe story. But no, no relation to Penny as far as we know.


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