Review: From Dawn to Dusk, New Sun Poems where Beveridge Rises5 December 2018
Judith Beveridge: Sun Music: New and Selected Poems
Giramondo Publishing, 2018.
ISBN: 9781925336887, pp. 256, $26.95
“and at the day’s soft centre
the bees find the smell of burning leaves
to turn their honey cinnamon” (49).
Judith Beveridge’s Sun Music captures her growth in poetry over thirty years and offers new words to readers that she hopes a richness melts into. After reading this collection, I personally felt that she deserved an even more glorious cover – feeling that I would not have picked this up otherwise. It opens with a dedication to people who have passed, and an author’s note where Beveridge aspires to be unique and shape poetry with sound and form. I found myself drawn to her identification with shyness, and poetry as a form of communication immediately and was driven to read this as quickly as I could. Beveridge admits that her poems take a long time to bring to fruition, but she aims to learn, and to continue writing in a way that should be reassuring for all young poets.
The collection is broken down into each of her previous publications and then new poems. For a first-time reader of Beveridge, I appreciated this as it enabled me to explore her writing through time and establish which collections would be of the most interest to me. For any first-time readers of Beveridge, this is where I would begin. As it is broken down into these parts, I feel it is only right to review it in this way also.
“Above the quiet marigolds
of that quick year: the hour-long day,
she taught me to love the smallest transit,
that the coldest star has a planetesimal beauty.
I watched her above the flow flowers
tracing her world, making it one perfect drawing” (12).
We first open with poems from The Domesticity of Giraffes, Beveride’s first collection. Initially I found difficulty in connecting the poems to one another as part of a cohesive group. Many of them were named after animals, however, the connections felt forced and uncomfortable.
The poems were lilting and odd, not as imagistic as I had imagined from the description. However, I did find that some favourites were in there, such as ‘The Beekeeper’ (22). The yellowing descriptions that existed within of my favourites also helped to remind me of the collection’s cover.
We moved forward however, into Accidental Grace, the title beautiful and pleasant. Beveridge furthers her imagery within this section and you can feel her talent blossoming. Her rhythm and structural resonance begin to take a stand. In particular “Occasions of Snails” (45) and “Incense” stood out. The latter becoming strong and evoking emotion as this section explored the dedications. I at times did feel that the poems were too long, however that may be a thing of age as I note some younger poetry readers preferring bite sized poetry. Nonetheless an interesting exploration and a development in her writing.
As Beveridge moves into Wolf Notes, I feel the rawness of her writing. Darkness and repetition seek their position here. I unfortunately was not as drawn to this collection but enjoyed “Whisky Grass” (107) and “An Artist Speaks to His Model” (116).
When readers reach Storm and Honey, they may note a change in description. The collection opening with oceanic poems. I felt a sense of political urgency here. Whilst they were consistent within the section however, for Sun Music as a whole, they felt divided, even just in their colour associations of blues and greys. Long form poems jarred my reading at times and I established it was my least favourite section. This however, should not be seen as a criticism of her writing, but an understanding of the collection as a whole, to have not included these pieces may well have been more detrimental in creating a piece that demonstrates the change in writing over time.
“They say its perfume will make you swoon,
but only if you don’t desire it, and only if you wear
the silk during a difficult inward journey from which
you’ll remember either as a poet or a hermit, renouncing
wine and clothes, as you look up into a thankless
sky, and then cloak yourself in self-control and grief” (189).
Poetry, I find is most connected to our hearts and I think that Beveridge would perhaps agree with that statement. As a reader not familiar with the poet, I can sense that a darkness occurred for her. To see her transition through her writing however, is something moving in itself and was a reminder to readers to persist like sun and keep rising.
In her last section New Poems, I sensed a return to the earthy poems that she begins with. I was proud to sense the confidence in her poems towards the end and how they are utilized to grow. Beveridge’s new poems include a conciseness of language, each word hangs in its place. I do wonder if she does the same as I do when writing, fixating upon one particular creature or concept, questioned throughout as it happened consistently in the collection.
I found that some of my favourite poems were in this section as well, “Hymnal/Wild Bees” (87), “Banaras Silk” (189) “Sugarcane Juice” (196) stood out in particular. I even wondered if the poem that Beveridge concluded on was the right one, “Warmth” (216) demonstrated to me a beautiful conclusion and I would have loved to have seen a further exploration of that piece in particular. Nonetheless, the concluding section was powerful and presented the drama and feeling that Beveridge prides herself on.
Beveridge begins with a sunrise of colours that melt across the page, however the middle half of her collection felt gloomy and the divide between Wolf Notes and Storm and Honey was strong and jarring. But to watch her poems adapt and to feel a sense of accomplishment, that’s something I want to learn from.
I think that Beveridge is less lyrical in her poems than she hopes to be. She should pride herself on her free verse, lists and prose poems where they were, that strengthened her writing. I found myself faced with repetition and length and story consistently through the collection. This is what Beveridge offers to her readers, strength across thirty years and hopefully, to thirty more. I’m excited to read more Australian poetry that takes the time to glow and grant young readers and poets insight into the transitional powers of life and language.