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Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Exhibits of the Sun - Stephen Edgar - Prime Minister's Literary Award 2015 (Poetry)

Whilst I am revisiting my reading of translated fiction for the last year, I am taking a “sabbatical” of types, away from the translated works I normally read and review. For the last two years I have rarely read a work originally written in English and the exploration of other nation’s cultures has left me some little ways behind in reading books from my home country, Australia.

With the recent announcement (on 23 November 2015) of the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards Shortlists, I am taking time away from the translated works to visit the shortlist of poetry works.


  • Devadatta's Poems, Judith Beveridge (Giramondo Publishing)
  • Exhibits of the Sun, Stephen Edgar (Black Pepper Publishing)
  • Poems 1957‐2013, Geoffrey Lehmann (UWA Publishing)
  • Earth Hour, David Malouf (University of Queensland Press)
  • Towards the Equator: New & Selected Poems, Alex Skovron (Puncher & Wattmann)

First up is “Exhibits of the Sun” by Stephen Edgar, only reason being the first cab off the rank is the fact that it was the first to be delivered into my mailbox.

Stephen Edgar is a poet who has received a number of awards, including the Australian Book Review Poetry Prize, the Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal for excellence in literature and two William Baylebridge Memorial Prizes, and was shortlisted for the Queensland Literary Award in 2013 for his collection “Eldershaw”.

This collection contains thirty-nine poems and opens with “All Eyes”, a poem with numerous circular references, a Ferris wheel, Saturn, its rings, the moon, a lens, a sunflower. The poem touching on creation, decay, destruction with an underlying message of observe, “look” at all around you, you can see what you cannot know.

In “Moonlight Sculptures”, our poet is observing the naked female form of his partner falling asleep on a humid night with the bed sheets kicked low, the observation happens by moonlight waiting the dawn. Each verse contains six lines and with rhyme on lines 1 and 4, 2 and 6, and 3 and 5, the structure is not your usual alternate line rhyme. This is a theme throughout, with “The Haunted Pane” with quasi or full rhyme on lines 1 & 4, 5 & 8, 2 & 6 and 3 & 7.

Very Australian in subject matter with Sydney’s well known seaside sculptures captured in “The Sculptures By The Sea”, the Hills Hoist (a backyard clothes drying device) in “Off The Chart” and a homage to the purple Jacaranda:


It happens every year,
Each year you’re taken by surprise:
Those faint and random hints of mauve that smear
The suburbs, and your eyes,

Without alerting you,
All on one day, it seems, conspire
To snatch ignition from the sunburnt blue
And burst in purple fire.

Too garish to ignore,
The city is a painting by
A child, in thrall to purple, who wants more
Than more can satisfy.

(Or was this royal flush
Of colour, lavished to enrich
The trees, paid on in darkness, by the brush
Of some stray Glumdalclitch?)

Whichever way you turn –
Down this dull street, from Gladesville Bridge,
Along the foreshore, to the west – they burn
Their yearly heritage

And flourish in the flames:
A standing metamorphosis
You almost might believe in, which proclaims:
There’ll be no end to this.

Only an Australian poet would find rhymes for “credit card” (uses “unmarred), as done in the poem “Let Me Forget”, a poem that explores vouchers to redeem, Mercedes Benz and the consumer society. Certainly not your conventional poetry expectation and with the odd rhyming structure you at times feel jarred into paying closer our opening poem tells us "look", observe, pay attention!!

The book is split into three sections with sections I and II more a celebration of the natural world, observations of the surrounding beauty, then we are led towards a land of decay and death and the reality that beauty is just made of matter, as we are too, “What process could endow/Mere matter with the power to wake and feel.” The movement through the day as we move through the collection, beginning with night, moving through dawn, the day and then finally to sunset.

There are also references to modern culture with Wim Wender’s angel in “Wings Of Desire” making an appearance presiding and observing the goings on in Sydney.

This is a very Australian collection, and one that brought me straight back to my homeland and the culture, the unique flora, even the suburbs and our backyards featuring. Whether it is strong enough, through that unique approach, to take out the Prime Minster’s Award only time will tell as I work my way through the other five nominees.

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