REVIEW

Canberra poet Suzanne Edgar's latest collection has the same eye for the lovely that she's known for

Readers familiar with Suzanne Edgar's previous poetry collections will find familiar ground being traversed in her latest collection, Catching the Light, though perhaps the ground is here trodden with a more circumspect, less headlong and joyous step.

The themes which concerned her in The Painted Lady (2006), The Love Procession (2012) and Still Life (2012), still occupy Edgar in these latest poems-nature, birds, music, art, friendship, but above all, love.

For it is as a poet of love - physical love and desire, companionship, love in the face of projected loss - that Edgar is perhaps best known and appreciated.

Common Canberra birds are a constant theme in Suzanne Edgar's work. Picture: Katherine Griffiths

Common Canberra birds are a constant theme in Suzanne Edgar's work. Picture: Katherine Griffiths

While her explorations of love and desire have lost nothing of their exuberance, there is, in these latest poems, a new cadence, an awareness, perhaps, that the period remaining for love might be briefer than the period of having already loved.

She writes about the way that love, by inhabiting a space-a house-almost comes to define that space, so that when the love object is not present, the space itself is changed, diminished.

The poem 'Signs of Life' begins with a statement of the lover filling the space:

With you alive, so utterly here,

not close at hand but somewhere near

I sense you're in the house with me;

I don't need to touch your hand or see

you pause and spin your office chair,

hear a swish as you brush your hair

or pad barefoot across the floor

to a noiseless sliding door.

But in its second stanza, the poem depicts the narrator alone in the same house, at night, the phone stubbornly mute.

Then:

My sleep is haunted, morbid, queer,

for in the silence I've come to fear

an unhealthy breath is drawing near.

The nervy tension of the collection is heightened by other poems dealing with difficult topics, in particular parental suicide.

The mood is not relentlessly fraught, however.

There are poems with a light touch and whimsicality interleaved throughout.

Music - and its voluptuous physicality - make a frequent appearance, including a memorable duet between piano and magpie in 'Piano ensemble'.

Birds flutter into focus often.

Not exotic birds, flashy, cinematic birds, but common birds, Canberra birds - a blue heron, stalking; a thornbill with a sunlight-buttered rump.

Edgar's ekphrastic poems are a pleasure, driving the reader back to artworks for reacquaintance.

Picasso and Millais are among the artists interrogated in this collection.

While not a strict formalist, Edgar tends more towards form than free verse, and even in her free verse, rhyme is a constant.

There is perhaps a slightly less deft touch with rhyme here, overall, than in her previous collections, where form often slipped beneath the reader's radar. Here, at times, it claims too much of the stage.

But those who have enjoyed Edgar in the past will encounter in Catching the Light the same eye for the lovely, the same enraptured gaze of love, that has imbued and illuminated her previous work.

  • Penelope Layland is a Canberra poet. Her most recent book is Things I've Thought To Tell You Since I Saw You Last.
This story A poet with an eye for the lovely first appeared on The Canberra Times.