Paths of Flight : Luke Fischer

Luke Fischer Paths of Flight poetry photograph of the author

Book Description

Book Sample

Book Reviews
Sydney Launch Speech

Book Description

Lifting my head I see two black birds with wings outstretched
       arcing more smoothly than figure skaters
                    away from then towards each other
       Their fingers almost touch as they pass
                                                     and arc out again
          I follow the fluent sequences...

In Paths of Flight we find an assured new poet sprung fully formed in his first collection.

Luke Fischer’s poems startle me to wake again, to wake not only to the thriving details of the worlds surrounding us but to the power of language to reveal the music simmering and alive in every moment. I don’t know which I admire more—the intensity of the reality in Paths of Flight or the surprises of language that come in so many of the poems throughout. These two elements, when bound together in Fischer’s poetry, are enthralling and enduring.
Pattiann Rogers

Fischer has a seemingly effortless ability to blend visual detail and imaginative vision. His poems relish in the natural world. He has an impressive lightness of touch. His lines fall as calmly and elegantly as snow, layer upon layer, and are just as transformative in their beauty. These often wistful, always subtle and intimate poems fuse thought and feeling with great poise.
Judith Beveridge

Luke Fischer writes with a rare combination of delicacy and strength. At the heart of this poetry is a gaze that renders things present to us in new ways and that leads us to look in unfamiliar directions.
Kevin Hart

ISBN 9781876044855
Published 2013
96 pgs
Cover painting: detail from Buborékélet (Bubble-life), 2005 by Miklós Hegedűs


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Book Sample

Portrait of a Thinker

His eyebrows are falcon wings
gliding on a constant current.

His metallic eyes take in the scene
dart to distant prey.

His nose is beak-like—
not the small busy beak of a sparrow
nor the ibis probing a garbage bin

not the slender beak of a honeyeater
extracting secrets from nectaries,
nor the filter-beak of a flamingo—

a raptorial beak that admits no maybes
no sorting through silt, it seizes what it wills

knows only yes and no.

His mouth is ascetic—
lips of stone
in a garden’s shade.

His ears are small and undistractedly
listen for the inaudible.

His face is wind-sculpted,
facetted like a crystal.

And his brow is steep and hard
not sandstone but granite, tall
but not the Tower of poets and painters
that rises through clouds and crumbles near the stars,
catching their passing glimmer.

I think—inscribed in every feature.

In Late Winter

For months I’ve been a neo-Platonist
inhabiting the crystal palace of my mind,
a palace not unlike an Escher lithograph.
Each morning I rise early and climb the spiral staircase

while descending in reflection through the glassy floor
until I reach my study in the loft. I spend the day
seated at my desk beside a pentagonal window
and under the quiet glow of a lamp

etch patterns in silver plates.
From time to time I look over my shoulder
and see a man seated at his desk
beside a pentagonal window;

he looks over his shoulder until we both
turn away. I work until I’ve finished etching
a dodecahedron inside a snowflake
then climb the spiral staircase through the glassy floor

and nap on my printed bed. On rising
I descend back into my study
take snow-white sheets from a drawer
and fold them into origami storks

which I release into the crystal night. Departing
they return through the opposite window
and glide into my hands which unfold them—
my hands etched in a pentagonal plate of silver.

This morning I rise at dawn
and descending the spiral staircase
notice my image is blurred, the floor melting:
A falling snowflake about to dissolve in a stream.

Snowdrops in West Philadelphia

The Winter too wants to flower
before the buttercups declare it’s Spring
children swarm the play equipment

like bees returning to their hives
men and women shed clothes
like petals. Winter too wants to flower

and while the last snow melts
she erects her memorials.
Surprised we stop by them:

distillations of despair
sadness lifted in song
quiet catharsis

in three identical notes
touched by Chopin’s fingers.
Two weeks later we stop again

and lowering our heads
discover the difficult memory
tended since we turned away.

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A Life Viewed through Verse
Megan Blake
Plumwood Mountain, Vol. 1, No. 2, August 2014

Paths of Flight felt undecided as I first encountered it—at turns caught and contradictory, bent sometimes one way and sometimes the other, strung between and among competing ideas—but, in the end, seemed to achieve a certain balance and reconciliation, that was perhaps its destination all along.

There is a dynamic of tension and reconciliation in the poetry that can feel at some points like the poet is sending contradictory messages, unsure of what he wants to value with his words or the way in which he wants to use tropes to do it. Individual poems can certainly be read and enjoyed on their own, but for me the best way to appreciate the balance of contradiction and unity was to read it as a collection: from start to finish, allowing the progression to lead me on its own terms to an overarching interpretation or impression, rather than me looking for a coherent and single-note one from each piece. And, from the beginning, in retrospect, the title gives me a hint that this will be the way it is.

The “flight” of the collection’s name evokes sweeping movement, unrestrained and liberated, arcing like the black birds of Fischer’s Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize-winning poem “Augury?” in swoops and gusts that lift away from the ground, the page. As Fischer comments in the poem “Pedestrian”—his ode to the liberated movement of air—flight is the meandering, flowing and tumbling, lifting and eddying with the gathered leaves: flight is the dancing. Paths, therefore, are where flight is not; on the ground, paths are where, in “Pedestrian”, the park is not. And so, in the collection’s title, the paths both ground the flight and are somehow given lift-off by it. Because a path is a directional space, it has a destination, and prescribes a way in which to achieve it. It does not swoop in unselfconscious eddies like the air above it does, but rather traces on the tangible the way to walk—controlled, yes, but also comforting and giving purpose. The paths in a way give this purpose and tangibility to the flight, but by being traced in air are made light, like a liberating breath, and are seamlessly, invisibly connected to the surrounding air. One cannot, after all, see the edge of a path through air; one can only see it as it is made.

The name of the collection thus, for me, enacts the kind of tension that I find weaving through the book: one of seemingly opposing forces looping around and even occasionally appearing to undermine each other, yet somehow finding moments of temporary harmony. I would hesitate to say that the collection “resolves” in any kind of absolute or permanent way, because it is a journey rather than a state, and the movement that seems such an integral part of the collection—the movement of music, the movement of people across landscapes, the movement of birds through air, the movement of one line seamlessly to the next (one poem, “Walking Instructions”, eschews punctuation almost entirely)—would resist that. But a balancing emerges.

This is a tension that manifests in various ways—almost testing out possible resolutions before moving on to another and then discarding that, too. On the one hand the poems honour the “small” of existence: the birds, small and relatively frail members of the non-human community; within this, individual birds such as one owl, one hawk, two black birds, each given their own materiality and vitality; the radiant atoms of the sky, not as any great “dome of the infinite”, but as a simple primary colour with which one pair of eyes connects like a gentle hand touches a child’s back; the delicate structures of a twig, “touching the smooth current/of a mountain stream” (72); the steps that are imprinted, one by one, into the quilt of new snow. On the other, however, the poems are redolent of high culture and the intellectual theorising of the world: Rilke hovers over the words and appears explicitly as epigraph; European cultural sensibilities are evoked through references to Renaissance painting, sculptural snapshots such as Rodin’s “Thinker” and Brancusi’s “Bird in Space”, mythology and ancient Greek philosophy; and the mass spread of humans across the planet is mapped through poems referencing travels to Damascus, Provence, Germany and Australia. Similar tensions emerge in the contrasts of human and non-human; losing versus finding; the metaphorical against the literal—and even through form, with enjambment and flow against pause, stanza break and punctuation lacunae.

Some pieces seem more focused on the world of humans and culture than on that of the non-human or nature. The opening poem, “Portrait of a Thinker” (1), commences with an avian conceit:

    His eyebrows are falcon wings
    gliding on a constant current.
    His metallic eyes take in the scene
    dart to distant prey.
    His nose is beak-like –
    not the small busy beak of a sparrow
    nor the ibis probing a garbage bin

afterwards, moving to a more geological metaphor with:

    His face is wind-sculpted,
    facetted like a crystal.
    And his brow is steep and hard
    not sandstone but granite, tall

But the referent object of all this bird-life and land is a sculpture of human art and high culture. The language therefore seems bent towards the reflection and intellectual processing of humans beings, diminishing the value of the natural world being used to illustrate it. Nature is the manifest content, but culture is the latent.

The direction of thought away from the apparent natural object also occurs in “Appassionata”, for instance—where a pianist going over and over his progressions has “movements/like an alpine stream continually smoothing/the stone”; and “We thank the clouds” acknowledges the elements, but in terms of the gifts that weather gives us, thanking the lightning that “splits the dead stumps/our hearts had become”, the mists for “hiding moments of our past”, and the “endless drizzling days” in the way they “incite us/to read a recommended book/forgotten on a dusty shelf” (60-61). In the final poem, “Diptych”, the sky is described as “the blue of a renaissance sky”, somehow subordinating the natural blue to that of the paint it aims to emulate (80).

This directionality is complicated at other points, however, where the natural is privileged and the human is the illustration of lesser weight. In “Corellas”, the birds are described as “ladies at a tea party”, “dressed/in white tennis outfits, strolling to the courts”: “A daintier sort of parrot – cockatoos/who read their Emily Post” (35). The marriage here of human cliques and class hierarchies is transported hilariously onto the smooth feathers and high-pitched “squeaks” of the Aussie bush. In “Augury?”, the title of which means a kind of presentiment of the future, the black birds observed by the speaker arc “more smoothly than figure skaters” and flip “far swifter than stunt planes”, bending thus our focus towards the singularity of their flight and away from the planes and olympians (74-75).

In the end it almost seems interchangeable, whether nature illustrates culture or culture illustrates nature, and the language bends both towards the natural and away from it. In “Early Autumn Morning” (64),

    you see a eucalypt in the park
    with torn clothes
    dangling from its limbs,


    a grey lamppost standing
    at a corner like a lost giraffe.

while in “Dealing with Early Spring” (5),

    A beggar cups his hands and pleads for change
    while the sun gilds his palms and fingers
    like a bowl possessed by Charlemagne,
    standing now in a museum’s vitrine.

The tension between high culture and low culture is also exploited, in a way I feel I would recognise in the future as an emblem of Fischer’s style. One striking and, for me, enjoyable example is the progression of “Band of Cockatoos” through “Thoughts on a Walk by the River Sorgue” to the beginning of “Swift”. “Band of Cockatoos” (22) plays on the collective noun pun of the title to paint the group of birds as a punk rock band, starting off with plumage “a bit too white like/the polished teeth of salesmen,” but then breaking into havoc as they “open their gravel beaks” and

                            the lead
    alights and hops along
    a broken branch, flares
    his pineapple Mohawk
    while banging his head,
    rends his jacket and insists
    the members scatter
    to the surrounding tiers
    where they join
    in a punk-rock cacophony.

The page then turns and moves to a reflective walk along the River Sorgue, and we are transported from an Australian backyard to countryside France, picturing high school graduates with heads full of knowledge and philosophising on the fate of ducklings who might, in the patchy fuzz of their feathers, have in their destinies “a form/other than that of duckness” (24). The third poem, “Swift”, then commences with a quotation in French—with no offered English version—from a piece by twentieth-century poet, René Char: “Such is the heart”, it proclaims upon translation, “if he touches ground, it tears him apart” (25).

My favourite parts of the collection, however, are split somewhat likewise: one, an overarching matter of style; the other, one specific line and its prosaic literality.

The overarching matter of style is Fischer’s use of metaphor. Yes, there are some moments for me that are perhaps too much—I do not, for instance, enjoy “Your Eyes” (66),

    Your eyes are macadamia
    that quickly sprout
    under the pour of my gaze

as much as I might perhaps enjoy something either more subtle or more absurd. But I do, however, adore the “humming” of the sun’s radiance in “I can almost hear a humming”, which is so warm and luxurious that, “If it didn’t yet exist/this radiance would find a way/to create honey” (58). And I cannot quite picture the face of the man in “Syrian Desert” (44) from the features attributed to it through metaphor, described as:

                dry and cracked
    yet tilled by the work
    of renunciation – from
    its furrows rise vast trees
    abundant with flowers
    and gliding the blazing gusts
    firebirds alight in their branches.

But nor do I want to. Or need to.

The specific line that I will take from this book as I close it comes at the end of “Swift”, and this favourite moment is almost the opposite of the figurative turn of phrase that claims the other spot. “Swift” is a poem more narrative in style than many of the others, and it tells the story of an injured swift being cared for by the poet and his family. After finding the creature lame on the ground they nurse it back to health and, in the process, develop an intimacy that gives the bird something of the human and the human something of the bird. When finally released, the swift like a new baby stammers and trips its way into the air with the speaker racing after it, “obliviously/trampling seedlings” (29), but then—disappears.

    Until nightfall we searched,
    and still do not know whether you reached the sky,
    or landed helpless in the next field.

Not only is this poem a privileging of the material self of one small, vulnerable bird—I read in it no grand allegory of the human condition—but it ends with the notes of trust, hope and fear that love is. Because that really is the heart of devoting ourselves to something: yes, to something as small in the great scheme of things as sitting down and reading a book of poetry from beginning to end, but also to those greater tasks of birth and the preservation of species, lands and cultures. We do not always know what will come of the time and care we have invested, whether the object of that love will reach the sky or fall helpless in the next field, but investing in something is in the end an act of love.

I find that Paths of Flight returns that love.

A Life Viewed through Verse
Geoff Page
Canberra Times, 8 February 2014

.......Most poets' work tends to disappear into a 20-year wilderness after their death, before being rescued by an enterprising scholar. Or they are taken up by a wholly new generation of readers who have heard distant echoes of the poet's original reputation and go back to check what the "fuss" was about......[..]

Luke Fischer, on the other hand, at 35, has little need to worry about such things. Paths of Flight, his first collection, is another example of the outstanding debuts being made in Australian poetry these days. Like most first books, it heads in several different directions at once and it is not yet apparent which will prove to be the next, or the ultimate, one. His influences at this point plainly include Rilke, modern European poetry more generally and the Imagists. Quite a number of poems are ekphrastic (that is to say, poems written about works of art).

In many of these Fischer seems interested in just how far descriptiveness as a technique can be pushed, before it becomes problematic or counter-productive. He's clearly interested in aesthetics too (as surely all true poets are).

Diptych, the book's final poem, is an excellent example of Fischer's "poet-as-painter" stance. He starts by asserting that "The blue of this morning / is the blue of a renaissance sky". He "squint(s) to see this morning sky / in the diptych / framed by my apartment window" and then goes on to note incidental detail, which is less than painterly ("the TV antennae / perched like featherless birds", "the coarse brown building / in Brutalist style" and so on) before defiantly closing with the assertion he made at the outset.

Some of Paths of Flight's most engaging poems, however, happen when Fischer drops his ekphrastic approach in favour of a moving character sketch (Holocaust Survivor), an ironic or comic set piece (Paddington Morning, Elegy to the Mop) or playful descriptions of birds (Band of Cockatoos, Corellas).

There are longer, more obviously ambitious poems here too (The Return of the Prodigal Son, Augury) but it is in these distinctly accessible "one-offs" that readers will most probably rejoice. It should be noted, however, that not a single poem in Paths of Flight is fashionably "opaque" - a commendation perhaps in itself.

Paths of Flight
Lucy Van

Cordite, 9 January 2014

In Shakespeare’s last great poem, ‘The Phoenix and the Turtle’, the owl is banished from the allegorical proceedings of the bird funeral:

But thou, shrieking harbinger,
Foul pre-currer of the fiend,
Augur of the fever’s end,
To this troop come thou not near

Whether you read this poem as dense figural allegory, enigmatic elegy or refined coterie poem, you should mark this ironic moment of exclusion. The tradition of augury in poetry is richly prefigured here, not only in the careful inclusion and exclusion of birds, but in the deceptive formal simplicity of the stanzas. Devolving into triplets in the threnody coda, the rhythm of the poem is incantatory, reminiscent of the magic of prophetic language. Why, then, the prohibition on the augur owl?

Luke Fischer’s first collection, Paths of Flight, is deeply alert to the signs made by birds. Fischer displays an affinity with a certain notion of the ‘natural’ world, as well as a temperament for classical poetic tropes. Birds, depicted in both mythical and parochial attitudes, populate the collection. And while not every poem depicts the physical manifestations of a bird, many actually do. The owl keeps ‘vigil in a cell / of twisted boughs’; the swift’s brow is ‘planed by supernal winds’; the punk cockatoo ‘flares his pineapple Mohawk.’ Conversely, more enigmatic figures are infused with bird-like qualities. The first line of the collection, from the poem ‘Portrait of a Thinker’, is unequivocal: ‘His eyebrows are falcon wings/ gliding on a constant current.’ There is a certain satisfaction to be taken from such thematic consistency. Like Shakespeare’s poem, Fischer’s book takes up an allegorical mode, calling forth the presences of ‘Owl’, ‘Swift’, ‘Corellas’, ‘Raven’ and a ‘Band of Cockatoos’ through the direct titles of the poems. The collection’s undertaking as a work of augury is emphasised by its omnibus title. How do we read a bird’s flight, which once foretold the will of the gods? What is the relation between poetry and prophesy?

I’m making this sound unnecessarily lofty - Fischer’s address is nothing if not graceful and intimate, posing these questions about language, time and causality through a personal turn. For ‘paths of flight’ also implies a travelling itinerary; the collection maps a topography of a young cosmopolitan speaker, tracing snowdrops in West Philadelphia to early spring in Hamburg. The matter-of-factness of a Paddington morning, ‘a freckle blemishing her even tan,’ is set against the expanse of ‘Syrian Desert’, where the totemic speaker and observed man appear ‘cloaked in the winds.’ I couldn’t say that the collection is Eurocentric, but there is a longing for Europe across this collection that is likely linked with Fischer’s Eastern European heritage, as well as his recent academic postings in Germany. Australia is rendered in contrasting tones of bare familiarity. There is a sort of blankness that the speaker alludes to in ‘Twilight’: ‘Like children / we hold no beliefs.’ Consistent with the book’s theme, the birds deliver a sign:

Through the emptiness
a flock of birds surely follows its invisible compass,
and reminds us of another home

Such a sentiment not only speaks of longing for elsewhere, but also speaks of the ambivalence of the cosmopolitan wanderer, who finds home precisely in mobility and rootlessness. Non-fixity reaches its joyful apex in ‘Lexcial Synthesis 101’, where trees walk and travel on planes. The privileging of the path, or the space ‘in-between’ is showcased in ‘Swift’, which, in a turn reminiscent of Derek Walcott, celebrates flight as a liberation from earthly history:

Up there
almost forever,
journeying from Europe to Africa […]
At equal elevation you pass eagles,
they scan the earth,
you never look down.

The speaker ironically finds this emblem of mobility, ‘awkward on land as a seal.’ The swift is nursed, restored and released to the winds. The poem closes on an apposite note of ambivalence, with the speaker left wondering ‘whether you reached the sky, / or landed helpless in the next field.’

In Paths of Flight the uncertainty of earthly peregrinations is married to anxiety about how words take flight. How do they reach their destination? Is memory the destination? How do we remember what we see, and what we say? Fischer alludes to that fear of the ancients, the winged word, numerous times in the collection. But winged words, and ‘air-writing’ do not signify horrific disappearance or erasure, but rather reveal a world charged with story and signification, an excess of ways to read signs. The reflexive ‘Poem’ shows the poet in a derangement of meaning as he surveys the infinite answers to the question, ‘what is a poem?’ The only relief is tautology: ‘A poem is a poem.’ If not quite a blessing, erasure is surely a kind of concession, as it is in ‘Transcription from the first page of a hermit’s diary (c. 1500): ‘So I speak / and do not speak / Even as I write / my pen / erases.’

Paths of Flight is a strong first collection, drawn equally from a scholarly depth of influence as from a calm, intuitive knack for scene and story. And Fischer is a strong poet, watching the delicate details of the natural world, gracefully gleaning their abstractions. ‘Augury?’ won the Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize and appears near the end of the collection, drawing the subtly interrelated themes together. The speaker observes two black birds in flight and simultaneously feels the stir of ‘recurrent doubts about the art / of poetry, its prospects in our time.’ Fischer’s owl is the key inclusion in this collection of ambivalent augury - the bird that watches the watchers: ‘It’s frontal eyes / (new moons) / kept us under watch / long before we noticed.’ Doubt about the art’s prospects seems ever increasing, yet it remains the task of the poet to read for signs.

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2012 Overland Judith Wright Poetry Prize for New and Emerging Poets
Awarded to Luke Fischer for "Augury"
Peter Minter - Judge, Poetry Editor, Overland
(Augury - on page 74 : Paths of Flight)

This year’s fine winning poem, ‘Augury?’, by Luke Fischer, begins ‘I’m not sure if I’m following a trail / left by goats or on the human path’. A walk in the hills is put into perspective by a wonderfully overt sense of uncertainty. ‘I’m not sure’ gives a contemporary (and ethically acute) spin to the ‘ramble’ poem, a genre central to environmental literature, in which observations and impressions collected on outdoorsy treks are traditionally enumerated. ‘Augury?’ balances epistemological certitude on a hinge of doubt, first announced by the question mark in the title and then followed through in a finely composed event where the complexities of human ambivalences are made ineluctably central to the experience of nature. At first the poem grabbed me because it is fundamentally ‘honest and well-crafted’, making no bones about wanting to be easily read and demonstrating an excellent grasp of romantic, modern and post-modern environmental poetry and poetics, all the way from Goethe to Gary Snyder. Is it a goat or human path, back there in Greece? ‘Augury?’ is a marvellous example of a radical poetry that draws its energy more from progressive intention and scope than, for instance, displays of formal experimentation. It’s a big bad world out there, and we need all the good poetry we can get.

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Launch Speech

Judith Beveridge
Old Darlington School University of Sydney
23rd November 2013

Book Launch at Sydney University

Judith and Luke speak

I am very honoured to be launching Luke Fischer’s first book of poems Paths of Flight. As you can see, this is a beautiful-looking book and I can assure you the poems inside the book are just as attractive and enticing as is the cover.

What is striking about Luke’s work is his ability to be deeply grounded in the physical details of the world (the natural world in particular) - but also to gain movement, lift off, flight. Reading one of Luke’s poems is like feeling the earth solid beneath your feet, while at the same time sky-riding, gliding, ascending. So the title Paths of Flight is a wonderfully apt expression of the book’s pervading sensibility. So many of the poems, in their imagery, move from the earth to the sky, or conversely they touch down - moving from sky to earth. So it is not surprising to find many mentions of birds, of wings, wind, clouds, snow and snowflakes, butterflies, bees; and verbs such as levitate, ascend, lift, flow, dance, take flight. So many phrases enact either the sense of descending or alighting, or the sense of ascension, of taking to the air.

In the poem ‘In Mind of Snow’ Luke asks:

Will the snow keep making amends,
covering up constructions
to return us memory
of beginnings,
of our first steps
down from the untarnished sky
into the valley...

‘In Danse Macabre’ we have the wonderful movement upwards when the jackdaws who after ‘snatch[ing] with their beaks at the soil like diggers long acquainted with death...’ then ‘like letters of an obituary [they] scatter on the wind.’

At the end of ‘Pedestrian’ the speaker says:

I want to meander, flow
and tumble, to lift and eddy
with the gathered leaves

I want to dance

This is a book that celebrates movement. There are poems about walking, arriving, travelling, about rivers flowing, ice and snow melting, about the diurnal and seasonal flow of time. But Luke also celebrates the movement of the mind. In the poem ‘Symbiosis’, though the speaker is tired and jet-lagged, they say: ‘today I’ve been reading poems/ the way a bee moves from flower to flower’. Luke celebrates artistic insight, poetic thought. He contrasts this with dogmatic, inflexible thinking very memorably in the first poem in the book called ‘The Thinker’:

His face is wind-sculpted,
facetted like a crystal.

And his brow is steep and hard
not sandstone but granite, tall

but not the Tower of poets and painters
that rises through clouds and crumbles near the stars,
catching their passing glimmer.

I think - inscribed in every feature.

Luke achieves in his poems a fine level of clarity without sacrificing complexity. In many of Luke’s poems there is the observed detail and the transcended observation - he moves from looking through to vision. This is no easy task, but in Luke’s work it is seamlessly achieved. In his rhythms, pitch, tone, and in the tender intimate shape of his speech, there is composure and calm. Luke’s ability not to straitjacket the emotions in his poems, but to let the feelings find their way in movement and revelation is to be much admired. These poems impart genuine tenderness and responsiveness, and it is this finely tuned, deeply connected sensibility to the world’s beauty and impermanence, that gives so many of these poems their appeal. His work rises to an eloquence that is both poignant and moving.

I surrender
to the dark water

Friends scattered over the world
recently and long dead
gather around the shore

Their looking
adds salt to the water
lets me float

At the same time
a star arrives above my head

and though the earth moves
the star is still


With Luke’s poems you feel the power of a mind coming upon the world - but not a mythical or idealised world - it’s ‘this world’ in all its concrete particularity. That ability to chart appearances accurately is what makes possible that other transaction, to penetrate with practised insight into the mystery. In so many poems, Luke combines the domestic and mundane with the sacramental, he is able to find calm and solace in unlikely places, as in these lines from ‘Burial Ground’:

This afternoon a cloth of white gold
spreads over the grass and broken tombstones
and a scent of rose oil comes and goes.

Though cars incessantly
rush by the rail
it is good to stroll here
and sit a while - like holding
your grandmother’s hand
as it slackened and finding
reassurance in a dream.

Luke’s book is concerned about talking with clarity, depth and common ground. It’s about the true communicative value of beautiful and finely observed images, though his work is not about stasis, it’s about flow and the flow of perception, the ability of the mind to move with flair and grace and to come into vision. His poems are not only about outward journeys, but more importantly about the leap inwards. Luke’s poems do seem to be expounded wholly from both body and spirit, and he stitches both ideas and emotions together in memorable ways. His book is a treasure of finely nuanced, delicately sensed moments of perception and cognition. I love his ability to progress through sensation into perception.

A circumference of blue-metal cloud
suffused with strange light,
the tense brow of a storm, not far.
boy-blue, air-brushed with cirrus-feathers:
a bay, margined by hazardous rocks.
In the shrubs on either side of the path
piccolo voices bubbling like the river
recall how we trod, light-footed.
As a glassblower’s breath hollows a lump of glass,
as a monk attains stillness,
space clears.
Through the emptiness
a flock of birds surely follows its invisible compass,
and reminds us of another home.
The river’s white tongues
clean the pores of our flesh,
erase ink-words.
Like children
we hold no beliefs.


There are many poems in this book that are impressive for their variety, for the subtlety and sinuosity of their music and for the immaculate attention to craft. Luke has obviously weighed each line and word with care and precision and he has produced a most impressive, pleasurable and memorable collection of poems.

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