William Heinemann Australia (Port Melbourne), 1993
Back cover blurb
“Lansdown uses words with masterly precision to paint things as we have not previously seen them, but as we may be tempted to see them henceforth.”
Rod Moran, Fremantle Arts Review
“At his best Lansdown is able to suggest very deftly and concisely the so-called ‘thisness’ of things …”
Geoff Page, Canberra Times
“No Australian poet is so often moved to celebrate as Andrew Lansdown is. His work brims with tenderness, wonder and joy, all qualities which are in short supply in the modern world of which he is an acute observer. Beneath his gaze common objects and every-day encounters glow with spiritual significance. Lansdown has few superiors as a technician: his use of sound in these poems is as striking as is their variety of form. This, his sixth and strongest collection, will enhance his growing reputation.”
Four poems from Between Glances
It is a liquidambar, the tree
I planted two months ago
beside my study. Green and
leafy then, it is almost bare
now. A little twiggy thing.
One red leaf flutters from it
like a child’s hand. For a week
it has been waving to me,
wanting my attention, trying
to tell me something unknown
to eucalypts and evergreens.
Something European or Japanese.
Something sad and deciduous.
That brave beautiful leaf,
beckoning the eyes as a flame
beckons the palms. All day
it has warmed me. Exquisite,
that small wind-chafed hand,
its familiar flutter. I glance
down at my work then out
again, only to find it gone.
Gone between glances. If only
I had known that last wave
was a goodbye, a farewell,
I would not have looked away.
© Andrew Lansdown
The sun is shining yet rain
is falling. Light rain,
like splinters of light,
floating down. Straight down,
no wind to waft it about.
Looking at the trees is like
looking through a faintly
scratched sheet of perspex.
Two children, not mine,
are running through the forest.
© Andrew Lansdown
I sing a rhyme for my daughter
of a teapot short and stout.
She mimes a clumsy kettle,
crooks a handle, points a spout.
The world is wide with danger,
my life is dark with doubt,
but a child commands me sweetly,
Come on Daddy, dance and shout!
Sometimes I sense my children
have turned my life about.
They top me up with gladness,
tip me over, pour me out.
© Andrew Lansdown
The Muff Bees
My daughter called them “muff bees”,
mistaking them for moths that sting.
But apart from the beauty of her name,
I had thought they were merely ugly,
the March flies, with their blowfly
bodies and cicada wings, their
bulging eyes and long proboscises.
They look like homunculi in gas masks
or bug-eyed children with straws
in their mouths. With those inflexible
trunks, they are tiny winged elephants,
the Dumbos of the insect world.
In the shade of a karri one autumn
I swatted dozens of the suckers
as they came for the blood
that happened to be in my legs. It was
a slaughter. It was a satisfaction.
Inspecting their bodies, I found the pests
guilty of ugliness, their iridescent-
green eyes compounding their crime.
But this afternoon I saw one
hovering in a shaft of sunlight,
its body buoyant, its wings burring,
its proboscis protruding in exact
proportion to its other parts
and angled exquisitely
according to the tilt of the head.
It was like a humming bird.
It was, without a murmur, a muff bee.
© Andrew Lansdown
Adelaide Festival Awards – John Bray National Poetry Award
Between Glances won the John Bray National Poetry Award in 1994. Below read the judges’/presenter’s comments at the award ceremony.
Speech Notes for Festival Awards Presentation Ceremony
held on Sunday, 27 February 1994 at 5.30 pm
And now to the John Bray National Poetry Award.
The judging panel of:
Dr Graham Rowlands – poet and poetry editor
Ms Carol Treloar – critic
Mr Jeff Guess – poet
chose the following titles for their short-list of 6 from 92 collections of poems.
Mayflies in Amber by Diane Fahey, published by Angus & Robertson
Certain Things by Robert Gray published by William Heinemann Australia
Between Glances by Andrew Lansdown, published by William Heinemann Australia
On My Empty Feet by Rhyll McMaster, published by William Heinemann Australia
Spring Forest by Geoffrey Lehmann, published by Angus & Robertson
Up on All Fours by Philip Hodgins, published by Angus & Robertson …
Of Andrew Lansdown’s Between Glances, the judges comment that this collection is both radical and conservative. It reveals how traditional values can be put to new purposes. It hopes for the best only after some awareness of the worst. …
I would ask the Minister if she would announce the winner in the poetry category of the Festival Awards.
The winner of the John Bray National Award for Poetry is Andrew Lansdown for his collection of poems entitled Between Glances. …
Again, I would like to share with you a couple of the judges’ comments about this collection of Andrew Lansdown’s,
The judges note in particular, the poet’s vivid visual imagery throughout the collection but comment that his most striking imagery is a response to farming, forest and wilderness areas.
Some poems simply evoke flora and fauna; others interpret the natural world in terms of Biblical belief. Between these groups is probably the most extraordinary category of Between Glances – well made pieces that work as clear, sharp similes and metaphors but also ignite with light, colour and fire that Christian readers will see as epiphanies and other readers will acknowledge as memorable insights.
Incidentally you may recall that Andrew Lansdown’s book With My Knife was also short-listed for the Children’s Award. This commitment to children, and by extension family life is given expression in many of the poems centred around his young daughter.
Review of Between Glances
by David Kelly
Between Glances, Andrew Lansdown (William Heinemann Australia)
The back cover blurb proclaims that ‘no Australian poet is so often moved to celebrate as Andrew Lansdown is. His work brims with tenderness, wonder and joy, all qualities which are in short supply in the modern world of which he is an acute observer.’
He sometimes drops in on the modern world—he does mention aeroplanes, money belts (bum bags), cafes and black bitumen—but the things which most move him to poetry (or move him to what seems to be his most intensely felt poetry) are the more eternal things of the natural world like birds, lizards, flowers or weather. I can’t help linking him in my mind to Gerard Manly Hopkins. Some of the more famous lines of Hopkins came into memory as I read through Between Glances—lines like ‘The world is charged with the glory of God./ It will flame out like shining from shook foil’ or ‘There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.’
Andrew is indeed a celebrator yet at times, to be honest, the celebrating wears a little heavy. For if the world is charged with the glory of God it is also dusted with the work of the bloke with the pitchfork. We are constantly confronted with his offerings on the television news, the daily papers, the petty conflicts in every workplace and the sad spectacle of amputees begging in wheelchairs at bus stops and train stations.
Still, many of the directly celebrative poems are very, very good and I did feel good after reading the book. So maybe celebration is addictive. The book is also one of those very rare ones that doesn’t let up. I started at the first poem and kept going, turning page upon page until the last poem and the last celebratory line:
the rainbow enfolds us like a promise.
Even so, tension and frustration and conflict and disappointment are inescapable parts of life and their portrayal and their resolution are the basis of much of the best writing and art. It is as if Lansdown wants to forget the ugly, the sordid, the unhappiness. Even when he sees it, it is not major unhappiness. There is a wonderful poem called ‘Kangaroos’ which tells of three kangas in a paddock bounding towards a fence. The first (and biggest) clears the fence; his two smaller companions can’t. They are separated. The two smaller ones race along the wire fence desperate for a way through. A simple situation but the feeling of frustration that comes out to empathise with the trio creates a richer and more complex response (while still celebrating kangaroos) than would a poem which single-mindedly presented kangaroos as evidence of the grandeur of God.
Incidentally (no, more likely deliberately) there are two delightful lines in the kangaroos poem where the syllable stresses alternate in a lovely sing-song way and you can almost hear the kangaroos bounding and thumping along.
While I don’t share Andrew Lansdown’s religious passions I never found the worship-presence off putting. I’m pretty certain that poetry readers who share his faith would feel it reinforced and validated upon reading these poems.
Perhaps it is the faith and the need to celebrate that keeps him writing so much in the natural world. It may well be a lot harder to find evidence of God’s grandeur in money belts and aeroplanes and bitumen. He finds it from the aeroplane in two poems but doesn’t seem to find it in the aeroplane itself.
In technical terms he is a master of the restrained use of genuinely arresting imagery—a delight in correspondences to use one of his own phrases. Take ‘Waterbird’ for example.
I appreciate that
it’s a waterbird
but it’s going
a bit overboard,
don’t you think?
standing by the lake
with a kayak
strapped to its face!
There are many such image-moments in the book. The flight of fancy that creates such moments is of course the part of poetry that can’t be taught. You’ve either got it or you haven’t. Fortunately for us Andrew Lansdown’s got it. Still more fortunately he knows how to restrain it and how to build a poem of the right size around a few good images. He is also very subtle in the way he uses internal rhymes and half rhymes, alliteration, assonance and the repetition of words in slightly variant meanings or contexts. There are frequently sound echoes adding to the overall music in many of his poems. You’ll find many in a tight little nut of a poem like ‘Those Colours’.
It is hardly beautiful, the bobtail
goanna. Its triangular head
is like a death adder’s. Ticks,
cream-coloured, hang at its ears
like enamelled pendants. I squat
for a closer look and it gapes
at me. Those colours: the pale pink
gums, the deep purple tongue and,
most unexpectedly, a yellow flower
blooming in the back of the throat.
Between Glances won the 1994 John Bray National Poetry Award recently. Valued at $12,000 it is the highest paying award for a poetry book in Australia. There are many fine poems in the book; the title poem is particularly good; the miniscule ‘Praise’ sums up the recurrent theme of the book (and comes close to the ‘Red Wheelbarrow’ in the process); ‘Ducks in the Rain’ is among the liveliest and most enjoyable poems I’ve read in a long time. At a mere $14.95 Between Glances is great value. Let’s close with ‘Sonnet of Thanksgiving’, a mysterious and strangely moving poem which illustrates many of the qualities I’ve mentioned above:
Sonnet of Thanksgiving
I wake, draw the curtains and am suddenly aware
that He is profligate, our God, giving us more
than we need, more than we ever dream to ask for.
Through the window on this winter morning, there
beside my house, the forest is faint with mist.
The white trees are like women standing half-seen
in a sauna. The bushes where the spiders have been
are strewn with ornaments for throat and wrist:
necklaces, bracelets strung with diamonds. A stark
and startling wealth, this jewellery the women
have put off. They stand in silent communion:
unadorned, white, bar the occasional birthmark.
And then in the stillness, the whiteness, the swirl,
a lone bird call. It hangs on the ear like a pearl.
This review by David Kelly was published in Five Bells (‘Australia’s monthly poetry magazine published by Poets’ Union Inc.’) in June 1994.