Drawing God and Other Pastimes, Beverley George. Picaro Press, PO Box 853, Warner’s Bay, NSW 2282, Australia. 23 pp. 2009. ISBN 978-1-920957-90-2. AUS$5. Reviewed by Patricia Prime
Beverley George may be best known as the President of The Australian Haiku Society (Haiku Oz) and editor of Eucalypt: Australia’s first journal for tanka only. However, George has also published several books, including haiku, tanka, a collaborative haibun-renga, a haiku collaboration and a collection for children. Many of the poems in the present collection have been previously published and several have won prestigious awards.
With few exceptions George’s poems are written in a sequence of three to eight varying length stanza clusters which impose tightness and discipline, but are looser than traditional stanzas. Whilst they give the poet freedom to develop her narrative structures, they also allow her to crystallize her thoughts with polish and style, as we see in the first poem “Ballooning at Versailles, 1783:
his name an absurd poem –
sets flame to the burner.
The careful structure of the individual poems is mirrored in the architecture of the collection as a whole, with the poems mostly confined to one page. Although at first glance her language is simple and clear, the reader is confronted with a world where values and meaning are important. In “The Anatomy of Glass” we see a small child drawing:
three winters old,
she draws the bones of petals
the fretwork of dragonflies;
senses the precise scaffolding
The final lines of poem point us to a recognizable reality, where alienation goes hand in hand with the intrusive familiarity of the child drawing.
when she passes through
their closed penthouse window
she does not contemplate the chaotic spread
of bones and flesh on pavement
but sees in her mind’s eye
the inner shattering of glass,
its fissuring and marbling
and the haphazard retention
of shards outlines in red
In some of these poems George is scathing about the debasement of humanity and the neglect of its values. With the opening lines of “Sparrows Beneath Eaves” (Homeless beside the State Library) she casts aside political correctness
His upturned collar lets in drips
from the window glazing
that separates him
from warm-jacketed books
and winking necklaces of computer LED,
sly as bandy-bandy snakes.
and then proceeds to tell us, He stretches night-cramped muscles, / and stoops to roll his blanket. / all that he possesses / becomes the new day’s burden.”
“Presence” is a beautifully poised poem, where the poet, taking photographs of pelicans, comes across a “bandicoot boy” who demands that she take his photo:
‘Take my photo,’ he orders
backing his heels from plank to air,
taking his arms hard behind him
feet carving up the sky,
He shakes himself – no towel.
Salt water spikes his lashes.
George wears her learning lightly and is a disciplined writer whose work is always deeper than it appears on a first reading. Her writing is always validated by real experience. Take for example her title poem, “Drawing God.” One expects a title poem to be an exemplary piece of writing or perhaps the key to a collection’s overall meaning. The poem, focuses on a child’s drawing of God, later relegated to the recycling bin:
a lid snaps back
released part way from earth to sky
a paper spirals free
and God blows down the street
tumbling and turning
into the new day
There are inspired moments in the poem “The artist’s model visits Springwood” where George takes on the persona of the artist’s model facing herself depicted on the canvas:
The canvas on the easel
confers on wider ownership
the curves of my breasts and buttocks,
converts substance to ethereality.
Men with mad white eyes,
and gowned in mashed autumnal leaves,
leer at my defenceless flesh.
One forks his beard towards
the juncture of my thighs.
Though George’s work is consistently well-crafted and true to experience it can also be illuminated by flashes of inspiration that get to the heart of the situations and characters she is describing. Throughout the collection one is presented with a mixed cast of characters, children, parents, grandmother, friend, artist and model, all of whom are portrayed by a poet with an eye for the telling detail. There is her friend Mary in the poem “for Mary”:
Headland winds . . .
too many crested waves
to count each seventh –
by what capricious element
did you become my friend?
In another poem she sees herself in a personal situation, contemplating past and future:
something of substance is flickering
among the willow fronds
and in the quiet deep spaces between pond stones
between our outstretched fingertips
and our hearts’ secret bruising
between the stationary past
and the quivering future
An unpretentious and honest writer, George’s overriding concern is to write about what she has felt and understands. At her best, she achieves an impressive universality.
The book is tenderly illustrated with drawings by George’s three grandchildren.