Michael Tolkien

Amphitheatre            (Rockingham Press)

(Publ in Ambit 147: 1997)


     An exuberant first collection. I warmed to its concern for the losers and ignored among people and creatures. Subjects include the phantasmagorical (a haunting by Heathcliff and a divine rape), speculation over art ( a sequence about a South Australian exhibition), 'scientised' values, and affectionate observations. Form is inventively diverse, but the more ambitious poems indulge in leaps of focus, a contrived impressionism that confuses rather than challenges, as if the poet attempts too many angles on her theme. And in case we're missing the point, there are lashings of rhetorical questions and exclamations. 'Weeds' purports to be about a Triffid-like suffocation, but fragments into memories, abstractions ('they are rejuvenated by tragedy') and queries that don't add up to a convincing whole. The ending typifies a need to summarise, and risky or unproductive lapses into the 'poetic':

           I cannot fight their pale etherial might.

'Words for a Sick Child', too, is a misnomer; it's more about avoiding the spectacle in favour of cloying 'special effects'.

This impression of experience being played with rather than engaged in, or poems falling short of the conflicts and perspectives they explore, may derive from uncertainty of 'voice'. When this is resolved, we can look forward to work like the evocative description of Rose, the aborigine, and the controlled detail, wit and anxious silences of 'Perforated Ulcer' about the hospitalising of a hypochondriac who tabulates his own deterioration.




Wendy Bardsley