The Bicycle Theif : Andrew Sant

Book Description

Book Sample

Book Reviews
The Sydney Morning Herald
Australian Book Review
Critical Survey (UK)
The Weekend Australian

Book Description

Energy, natural and man-made, is at the heart of Andrew Sant’s The Bicycle Thief & Other Poems - energy released at the speed of an escaping cyclist or through the planet’s eruptions and metamorphoses in geologic time. Either way, here is the second law of thermodynamics writ large, creation and destruction in a binary tussle. The mischievous title poem, a fast-moving narrative, is a robust celebration of ‘good-for-the-planet transport’, while elsewhere motor vehicles depicted in a ‘personal history’ are drolly seen as harbingers of an apocalypse. Many poems are monologues that give voice to characters whose identities are fluid and circumstantial. These are poems that get about - lively, unfettered and expansive.

Praise for his previous collection Fuel:

This poetry wants to situate us: what one might call biological positioning. But there are many others. And one of the most attractive throughout the poems of Fuel is the drive towards fitting us into geological frameworks. The first, very fine, poem ‘Revisiting Cliffs’ specifically contrasts our sense of the elapsing of time with geological time.
Martin Duwell, Australian Poetry Review

Sant’s linguistic exuberance, a delight in handling words makes Fuel a bravura performance... It is certainly the work of someone in love with what poetry can do... I had to read Fuel twice before grasping how subtly Sant handles this serious matter, how the collection in fact makes a distinguished contribution to what is now often called ecocentric poetry.
John Lucas, Critical Survey

ISBN 9781876044763
Published 2013
84 pages

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Book Sample

In the Villa Gorilla

Midday, he’s eaten his greens
and fruit, shoots, to get himself focussed,
a game of pool, and wins. He’s not
a lonely ape. For reading,
this intellectual swinger needs his glasses.

He’s working on a thesis about
why non-human creatures feature strongly
in kids’ literature, and in adult,
weakly. At his desk
he sure looks powerful;

knuckles down around the house,
is a bit of a kid himself. Getting about
is how he gets his inspiration,
not being a believer in hanging around
and waiting.
What exercises him
is the notion that human adults
grow away from a relationship
with great things around them - superior brains,
up near their ceilings, dismiss
an interest in, say, ants or snakes. Serious

thesis which shows how they look down on kids,
nostalgic, and humour them
with a lot of colourful, talking animals.

This is what keeps him busy, up
till what for him is late, while tired humans
are busy reading their kids to sleep.
It makes him snort to think about it.
He takes a break. He sings
his favourite song, which begins,
“Big gorilla in the L.A. Zoo
snatched the glasses right off my face”
by Warren Zevon, thinks
he inspired it. Yep. Look what he’s wearing.

Now, he’s occupied by exceptions -
spread before him, books by Bishop,
Hughes and Lawrence; among fifty poems
he knows by heart, the long one about the moose.
There are birds galore, bats, mosquitoes,
but what grates on him is the lack
of apes, especially when
his sympathetic take on the preoccupations
of the poets, judged on how they
lived, shows each was really a grown-up kid.

He loves them, nevertheless, relates.
Soon he’s going to create a chapter
about how animals were not lost
on God and, especially, not on Noah
and his family - a great Bible story,
including apes, made when
civilisation was still in shorts,
and now foreseeably may expire,
which he thinks is telling.
But for today,
after drinks and dinner, some light
musical relief, he’s read enough
about the human species to get him some sleep.

Antipodean Stone Variations

I lived for years in the company of sandstone—
long enough to see exposure as a wall
or building further erode it, stone
flakes on the pavements; blocks quarried
as replacements. Nineteenth-century
church or office giving brisk form
to the slowly compacted sediments
of the Triassic, chisel marks
evident—the weather working a mellow age
into early buildings of white settlement.
foundations of the home I lived in
sinking, no doubt, imperceptibly; house
like a vessel run aground. Upstairs, sight of the sea.

I have swapped that soft latitude for one
in which rock was quarried where lava flows stopped.
Basalt, roving in the Devonian, dark, hard to carve
(sandstone easy as cheese); stern stuff
for the turreted prison, early churches.
Outpourings there, also. Evidence
of extinguished volcanoes in bridges and kerbs—
chip marks of hard labour in the rigid
constructions which justified the spirited ringing
that came from hitting daily resistance.
laneways, civic buildings, evidence here in some future
of the tame Anthropocene. There being no looking
back now lava is the foundations of town.

Homage to Warren Zevon

Today I’m going to be a tough guy
in a leather hat and shades, surprise myself
without a flick-knife, go white,

increase my heart-rate, threaten
further inner retribution; hang out later
with Warren, my newest and now best mate.

This is not to admit I’m pissed off with Leonard,
Bob, Ray or Richard - or Beth, Marianne,
Aimeé or, lately, Martha who’s rebranded

Wainwright, via her old man Loudon, mate
of Richard’s, and a companion of mine over decades
and, hey, none of them, wronged, has let me down.

All, and many others, have stayed up late.
None would entertain an early exit, drinks
flowing, except when there’s a power failure.

No doubt they’ll be back, aren’t really gone,
though now, toughing things out, I welcome the droll,
sardonic songs of my new mate, Warren Zevon.

A man who with a piano squared up to damage
in permanent, bright lack of surprise at how it thrives
in any neighbourhood, in many guises.

Tried them on in song. Warren, I wish
I’d seen you play live or even, somewhere, ripped.
You liked vodka, I like whisky

and we, mutually, crime fiction. I missed
- but how? - your records as they came out.
Now, suddenly, I’m introduced, you’re gone

and I can’t stop listening to the lot.
Say things like, he’s as good as Bob
or Leonard, wonder what Beth or Martha

might say, over drinks, about the violence -
knock back a scotch, and think I should
welcome in the others but find, again,

I’m so impressed by the musical high jinks,
the noirish lyrics, a nifty phrase, the wit, I can’t
show the door to company so movingly distinctive.

Goodness, the man took lessons from Stravinsky.
Technique and abundant talent, he had, to brilliantly
transfigure strife into so many musical highlights.

Even Bob, on tour, couldn’t resist covering two
and so, Warren, please take it as a compliment, belated,
that I’ve caught myself singing along

with more gusto than I might do with Marianne, say,
or Ray. But not Mick, who I forgot to mention.
No wonder your songs imply women

towards men are somewhat impatient,
if you’ll excuse, on this occasion
of complete sobriety, my understatement.

In keeping with why today I’ll be wearing low-key shades,
having yesterday parted an expensive bottle
or two from their contents with a mate

who’s unafraid to say he can’t relate
to my tastes in music, Warren, a great guy, sometimes
unreliable, and therefore not a singer-songwriter.

Though he does like Bob and sometimes Leonard
but hadn’t heard of Beth or Aimeé, I recalled
(Orton and Mann, I politely added) when surfacing

earlier with a mind to deal with a headache,
don the shades, desire in fact to trick
the pain and be another kind of person altogether

for a bit - strong, not mid-morning cranium brittle,
or completely vanquished. Whistle up,
as in a Zevon song, some fresh persona to suit

the impending outlook. A ski instructor,
perhaps, who has no snow or skis, and any longer
the one he loves. A boxer bruised but not defeated.

Because you died early, Warren, all the other mates
are still in the wings, waiting to amplify
their best or latest - early being relative

to the Age. In Montaigne’s day, fifty-six
was getting on a bit. Did you, a man
with compulsive interests in everything
from sten guns to the Romantic poets, read him?
If not, be assured his views on dying well
would have agreed with - the cancer moving -

the way you kept on active duty to your music.
At the last, your invention didn’t flag. Then the funeral.
I now can see, among the mourners, the necessity

for formal introductions, if the mates
had flown into L.A. Richard Thompson sans
his beret, Ray Davies yet to collect

a bullet in New Orleans, Marianne Faithfull
needing no formal introduction to Mick
though, earlier, did I mean not Jagger

but rather the gifted and like you, Warren,
underrated Mick Thomas, jet-lagged
from Australia? I forget. A man might cry

to find them all there, and the rest,
though Bob and Leonard, the most ubiquitous
of mates, would get by well enough without

the encumbrance of their surnames in the crush -
I guarantee, I can see they all flew in,
in a splendid folk/rock fantasy.

Warren, I’m flying out soon to London,
and there without delay will go to Soho,
look for a place called Lee Ho Fook’s

- to echo your solitary hit - where
a wolf can eat alone, prowl the extensive menu
for beef chow mein and then, in character, howl.


The Bicycle Thief & Other Poems

Lucy Van
Cordite, 9 January 2014

It’s no current reference, but reading Andrew Sant’s recent collection, The Bicycle Thief, Andrew McGahan’s Praise springs to mind. When I studied McGahan’s novel, a more astute student than I pointed out that Gordon’s only romantic relationship was with his car, and that, accordingly, his only romantic response was towards the sad demise of that Holden. His relationship with Cynthia (who he develops a relationship with) was conversely defined by emotional inertia and moral detachment. This observation struck me as highly sophisticated. It did not endorse a clichéd view of Australian men and their cars, rather it subtly suggested a masculine romance for an idyll of mobility.

I think that for all the mischief and conversational flare of The Bicycle Thief, Sant is a romantic. Sant constructs a romantic idiom around various modes of transport that is not simply commodity fetishism, but as with McGahan, a desire for transcendence through acceleration and movement. There is no strict narrative progression yet the collection does riff around the twinned themes of movement and stasis. Somewhere in the middle of the book the speaker presents an Ur-scene in ‘Jack and Yves and Their Many Transports’, where children are observed locking language to movement:

Train! Jack calls out once
and once again. He lives
near a railway station.

He stops. His index finger
is a little wand. Transport
attracts his first vocabulary.

One of Sant’s great gifts is this ability to wed naturalness with thematic abstraction. The allusion to a kernel of the poetic form - metaphor, language in movement – is light and unburdened, and always keening to the particular rather than the general truth.

Sant’s poetry also insists on nearness - ‘I,’ ‘you’ and ‘we’ surround the reader as she is increasingly embedded in the personal address. This address reaches an early climax in the eight-page ‘The Motor Car: A Personal History’, which delivers on the promise of its title through a catalogue of cars that have come into the speaker’s life. It’s part David Copperfield, part confessional poem:

I was three, if I’m correct,
when I saw parked in the street
what we now owned -

a Morris Minor, green
as leaves...

There’s a lovely unreliable charm here that is consistent with the collection’s allergy to seriousness, even as the task of personal reconstruction invites unflinching rigour. The playfulness applied to these undertakings is underscored by Sant’s subtle half rhyme, which appears throughout the poem: ‘Number plate / 177 EMG. It was code // to enter the quick, slow / everlasting story of British roads.’ Yet the poem is no folly. The tone is often self-deprecating but the method is attentive and thoughtful: ‘Skip some years - the panic attacks / in traffic jams. This / is an accelerated, partial history.’ Charting a life through this conceit is fruitful and constructive, illuminating the speaker’s impatience with stasis as the verse careens from one vehicle to the next.

Appearing at the end of the collection, the title poem literalises the crisis of Sant’s mobility narrative. The theft of the speaker’s bicycle brings about a moment of truth, or at least a confrontation with what stasis might signify. The drama of ‘The Bicycle Thief’ unfolds in casual class-phobic speculation (‘You know the type. He needs a bike’), but as the poem develops, it locates the problem of mobility precisely at the intersection of class and race in suburban Australia. Although the speaker is initially helpless before ‘[t]he absence, next to the wall, / […] exactly the size / of my bike,’ it is the young man who is profoundly stuck, caught by the web of class and race expectation: ‘You’re a bad lot, you Muldoon’s, corrosive.’ The bicycle thief becomes the speaker’s fantastic other, upon which accelerant desires may be projected but perhaps poignantly left unfulfilled:

So is getting in various measures,
quickly, fame, the girl,
and the money - with my best wishes.

The gesture of good will here is earnestly made, signifying a transmission of romance - a young man’s wild dreams - across generations.

Perhaps this exuberant paternalism is a major feature of the collection, Sant’s twelfth. But it is no easy task to decide upon one defining aspect of what is a pleasingly loose gathering of works, which along with mobility pursues themes around loss, ecology, temporality and personhood. This last is richly explored through recurring figures of anthropomorphised animals and animalised humans, mixed in poems such as ‘Animalia’, ‘Loose at the Zoo’ and ‘In the Villa Gorilla’. Sant’s framing of women is at times unsettling, where, rather than the bicycle thief, it is an abstract ‘woman’ so often poised to doom the dream of mobility. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the tongue-in-cheek ‘The First and Last Ballad’:

I lived with a woman
in a luxury flat
where she criticised this
and she criticised that

In strict abcb form, the poem is the only piece in the collection that adheres to full rhyme, and the cyclic effect is claustrophobic and deadening. Is this playful sour grapes, or a more pessimistic broad view of the feminine? Overall, the collection is a wide-ranging account of a rich life, awake to the possibilities of unfettered energy, but ironical, self-deprecating. But for all the doubts aired Sant writes with confidence and charm. The first line of the collection, in ‘Lost Things’, cannily predicts the fate of The Bicycle Thief in a moment of reflexivity:

A book, often lent
to whom? Some friend!

This is characteristic Sant - warmly welcoming his reader to the mischief. The Bicycle Thief presents Sant’s delight with the possibilities of language in transit, language as vehicle. This is poetry for lending, sharing, travelling – this collection wants to move.

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Aspects of Australian Poetry in 2012

Michelle Cahill
Westerly, Issue 58:1, June 2013

Andrew Sant’s twelfth collection The Bicycle Thief is a witty, lyrical exploration of travel, transit and writing as forms of exile from existential gloom as well as from the inescapably mundane. From its opening verse ‘Postcard to Hamburg’, with its intrigue of names, nouns and addresses, somewhat redolent of Derrida’s La Carte Postale, human meanings and connections occur accidentally and are postponed by writing. Childhood, in a fabled tableau of poems like ‘The Motor Car’, is satirised, ‘Tame as a cliché, made/for postwar, predictable British / Sundays.’ Collusions between travel and writing are acknowledged in many poems juxtaposing remote tundras or geological terrains with the digressions and exaggerations of words. In ‘Speed and Other Liberties’ the speaker seeks ‘liberty to finish the new book quickly’ while ‘Addicted to Islands’ interplays a multiplicity of destinations, dalliance and parenthetical departures. Poems like ‘Animalia’ and ‘The First and Last Ballad’ are humorously misanthropic in tone, yet overall The Bicycle Thief is a refined and most enjoyable collection to read.

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Classy vehicle for entertaining verse

Geoff Page
Sydney Morning Herald, 8 June 2013

Andrew Sant moved with his parents from London to Melbourne, aged 12, in 1962 and has since lived in both countries for long periods. His work has been published more widely in Australia than in Britain but it retains a distinctly English flavour. This is felt mainly in its low-key, rather formal wit and its alertness to class.

A good example is seen in ‘The Motor Car’, an eight-page sequence detailing his (mixed) experiences with nine successive cars, starting with his parents’ Morris Minor in the 1950s and culminating in ‘A Datsun. Sunflower yellow. Automatic / gears. Tragic.’ Most of the sequence is light-hearted but there are deeper moments, too.

The same seriousness-amid-jokiness can also be felt in poems such as ‘Animalia’ (where at the London Zoo there are ‘once swift giraffes, / above it all, with a prime view of Regent’s Park’) or ‘In the Villa Gorilla’ (where an unusually intellectual gorilla is ‘working on a thesis about / why non-human creatures feature strongly / in kids’ literature, and in adult,/ weakly’).

Technically, Sant is something of a formalist, though it is only in ‘The First and Last Ballad’, written in anapaestic dimeter with an abcb rhyme scheme, where this is explicit. (‘I lived with a woman / in a luxury flat / where she criticised this /and she criticised that’.) More typically, Sant prefers to scatter rhymes and half rhymes through roughly iambic lines of unequal length. Again, this playing with formality has a slightly self-deprecating ‘Englishness’ to it.

Something of the same tone is heard in Sant’s impressive 10-page poem, ‘The Bicycle Thief’. Though the poem is set in Melbourne, there is a considerable ‘Englishness’ to it, best shown in the narrator’s playful awareness of class. We note particularly the difference between the somewhat diffident, self-ironising middle-class narrator who owns the bike and the criminal ‘underclass’ boy who light-heartedly steals it.

The vehicle in question, ‘a ten-speed Wanderer, blue’ had been ‘Passed / on to me, free, to see / if I’d again take to riding - the likely / final owner. Wrong. It was gone. / The sun shone on the spot / where I saw it not / in actuality but in the shape / of my dismay.’

The narrator then visualises, in extensive and persuasive detail, just what the thief is doing, moment by moment - along with his various ambitions, his family situation, his ingrained (perhaps congenital) criminal habits and so on. Without saying so, Sant’s narrator implies that the thief has, in effect, done him a favour, forcing him (the narrator) to think more deeply, even empathetically, about a class of people he normally has little contact with.

In the process, the young thief has generously, if unconsciously, provided the inspiration for a well-sustained poem with which to finish an already entertaining and effectively idiosyncratic book of verse.

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Mystery Agent

Martin Duwell
Australian Book Review, No. 352, June 2013

There are some poets whose works only seem to come alive when seen in the light of their other poems. Andrew Sant may well be one of these. A Sant poem, read on its own, can often seem thoughtful but rather lightweight; embedded in one of his books, given a context by the surrounding poems, it becomes animated by a set of consistent themes and obsessions.

Take, for example, the first poem of this new book, The Bicycle Thief. ‘Lost Things’ seems initially no more than a genial look at the way everyday possessions go missing. The most that could be said for it, on a first reading, is that it works by engaging one of Western literature’s greatest themes - loss (the way heroes, loved ones, and objects all eventually pass into the dark) - and, by providing homely, domestic examples avoids the temptation of being overblown. But ‘Lost Things’ turns out to be concerned not so much with loss as with perspective. As Sant’s poem points out, nothing really gets ‘lost’; the keys, socks, umbrellas, watches of the world simply inhabit a different space. It might be true that we cannot find them, but that is our problem: ‘All those / nose down searches only concern / fresh products of perspective.’ And perspective is one of the themes that runs through this book. Another is energy, (expressed even in the titles of his two previous books, Speed & Other Liberties [2008] and Fuel [2009]) and a third is metamorphosis, another classic theme of Western poetry.

This book’s title poem appears last and, together with ‘Lost Things’, nicely brackets the rest of the poems. It is a whimsical 300-line narrative about a particular lost thing, the author’s bicycle. As with the other poems, you have to read it in the light of the whole book for it to make much sense or, at least, sustain its length.

The poem follows the stolen bicycle’s existence after the act of stealing; after, that is, the moment at which the author’s own perspective becomes irrelevant. We see how the bicycle lives on in the possession of its thief, taking him through the obsessions of his life: the girl at the chemist; the aunt and uncle who can provide some cash; the brush with the police, and so on. We feel that the energy of the bicycle’s existence somehow carries it beyond the author’s life into its own poem, where it is ready to keep a different person moving. It is all a matter of perspective, and Sant makes sure that we don’t miss these implications:

The absence, next to the wall,
was exactly the size
of my bike. So let me fill you in.
It is me, not him, the monkey,
who is missing from the scene...

‘Deserter in the Counselling Room’ deals with a husband who disappears. From the perspective of the abandoned wife he is lost, but the counsellor tries to see things from the man’s perspective, whereby there is both guilt and a certain rightness in his actions. ‘Arrangements in Transit’is a summary of all the attractions of travel to an inveterate traveller, a reminder that travelling is a controlled kind of becoming lost, involving the jettisoning of all possessions apart from the essential - the ‘nomad’s weight’.

The other poems of the book usually embody one or more of these interests: energy, change, perspective. In ‘Postcard to Hamburg’, a ‘lost’ stamped postcard is popped into a letterbox so that it will arrive to the amazement of the sender. It is suggested that this will seem an example of those quantum-physics paradoxes whereby an object will be in two places at once, but the author’s real interest is in the way in which he, the finder and poster, becomes an absent ‘mystery agent’.

‘Beating the Chinese’ describes, on the surface, how the author, harnessing his energy, does well at table tennis against Chinese who are waiting for the announcement of the site of the 2008 Olympics. But it finishes by dwelling not on insubstantial table-tennis balls but on the wrecking balls that will soon, harnessing the same energy, demolish suburbs to prepare for the infrastructure.

It is no surprise that when autobiographical material emerges it appears in the form of transformed energy and speed. ‘The Motor Car’ is subtitled ‘A Personal History’ and follows the author’s numerous cars (before they are abandoned for a bicycle). ‘Speed & Other Liberties’ describes being pulled over for speeding in Iceland while needing both speed and liberty to finish the book of poems that gives its name to this poem.

Stone is another locus for Sant’s interests, and a number of poems look at it as geological process focusing on the inhuman perspectives of geological time - ‘How fleeting // and small our comprehension seems.’ ‘Mudlark’ revisits ‘Lost Things’ dealing with somebody who is ‘nose down among detritus. The motive is the search for objects of contemplation, granted that status because they provide tangible clues ‘to the past doings of his gene pool’. We find these solidified icons in the fossil of ‘Marine Desire’ as well as in the pebble picked up in ‘Thirroul’.

Almost all these poems can be read as homely and genial visits to the wells of conventional themes, but that doesn’t do them justice. They blossom in the context of the surrounding poems, making Andrew Sant one of those poets of whom it is better to speak of their collective poetry rather than their poems.

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Poets at home in the natural and manufactured worlds

Ali Jane Smith
The Weekend Australian, 27 April 2013

As one of the founders of Tasmania’s Island magazine, a survivor in the uncertain world of Australian literary journals, Andrew Sant’s place in Australian literary history would be assured had he never written a line of his own. In fact, his published collections of poetry run to double figures.

The Bicycle Thief & Other Poems opens with ‘Lost Things,’ a poem, at first reading, intended to amuse. As we will learn later in the book, Sant is an admirer of the American poet Elizabeth Bishop, so ‘Lost Things’ must stand against the background of her villanelle ‘One Art,’ and its refrain, ‘the art of losing isn’t hard to master.’ Bishop’s poem begins with trivial things but closes with the loss of a loved person. While Sant does not refer directly to death, his poem is haunted by ‘One Art,’ and as the collection unfolds we do learn of a profound loss experienced by the figure at the centre of the poems. How to read, then, the closing lines of ‘Lost Things’?

Nothing’s lost, intrinsically.
All those
nose down searches only concern
fresh products of perspective.

Is the poet referring to some abiding presence after death, or is he thinking only of material losses: keys, books, wallets? I lean towards a metaphysical interpretation, given his treatment of the material world in his long poem, ‘The Motor Car.’

The enthusiasms and difficulties of car ownership, the love and frustration played out between fathers and sons over the family car, the car as courtship display and as a repository of secrets, are among the byways travelled here.

Subtitled ‘A Personal History,’ this piece will perhaps be most enjoyable for readers of a certain age who share Sant’s memories of makes and models: the poem does not resist nostalgia, though eventually the owner of a string of Morris Minors and Volkswagens becomes disillusioned with cars, which have become:

- pests
wrecking a planet made, where it’s flat
to accommodate easy perambulation.

A highlight of The Bicycle Thief is ‘The Other Life,’ a poem in which the road not taken is spelled out in detail that is humorous and sad. Central to the poem is a migration that, in the imaginary world of ‘The Other Life,’ never happens. Sant gets this one just right, shifting between everyday habits - ‘My father read the New Statesman’ - and momentous events - ‘My mother lived’. Eventually, the imagined other life washes away.

Sant clearly values the formal qualities of poetry. He uses conventional, though often convoluted, syntax. There are places where it feels as though a poem might have been tightened, the sentence structure simplified, but leanness and brevity are clearly not Sant’s style. He writes as though for a circle of listeners sinking into their whisky around a fire that has settled into glowing coals, with a chuckle at times, and a solemn nod at others.

The Bicycle Thief

John Lucas
Critical Survey (UK), May 2013

Andrew Sant’s new collection is seriously good. It combines the fleetness of intellectual movement which is habitual to his work with a perceptiveness - of the human and natural worlds - that has about it such grace you feel that, different in many ways as her work is, Elizabeth Bishop would not only approve of The Bicycle Thief, she’d delight in it. She might even envy Sant’s ability to master the art of losing - though admittedly her sense of loss (or losses) comes with an emotional freight he doesn’t tote. Which is as much as to say that he’s more connoisseur than participant in the various scenes and circumstances about which he writes. But this isn’t intended to imply that he’s in any sense the heartless onlooker. If anything, he’s a celebrant of the quotidian, of whatever happens to happen. It’s this that tells him to stick with his instinct for keeping on the move, physically, emotionally, mentally. As he says in ‘Addicted to Islands,’ ‘each destination/[was] a welcome escape and, sadly, // a possible trap. The tricky / as an adult he admitted, was not to OD...’ The elan of these lines, their nimble pace, is inseparable from an acknowledgement that the ‘trick’ of knowing when to choose is a kind of games-playing, and that the wrong move can mean depletion. A rolling stone may gather no moss but stoniness isn’t especially desirable.
The really important trick, therefore, is to stay open to experience. In registering this, Sant shows himself to be the heartening opposite of those who, swallowing the post-modernist aridities of self-referentiality, see in the world only the nothing that is not there and the nothing that is. The opening poem of The Bicycle Thief, ‘Lost Things,’ sets the template for what is to follow. A wry, defiantly dandiacal take on what falls away from us, the detritus of our lives - ‘So many phones, bags, umbrellas’ - becomes a kind of synecdoche for human consciousness ‘All those/nose down searches only concern/fresh products of perspective.’ And the poem that follows, ‘Postcard to Hamburg,’ which seems at first blush an inconsequential anecdote about how the narrator picks up and posts a card someone had inadvertently dropped, neatly avoids the opportunity for a heavy-breathing meditation on Chance - ‘me, a mystery agent (call me Fate)’ - while delighting (that word again) in fortuitousness.
It’s this which leads him in ‘Performance’ to celebrate a man who is ‘singing / under an ugly bridge’ and who must be doing so for the sheer joy of it. ‘He ignores / the walkers, and none / wants to be caught standing in front / of his storming performance.’ ‘Only the wasteful virtues earn the sun,’ Yeats proclaimed. There is no Yeatsian grandiosity in Sant’s quizzical take on this street performer, but there is an uncensorious pleasure in the registering of his singing which is cherishable because, to use a word I don’t often want to be found indulging, it is so humane.
In a book crammed with excellent poems it’s difficult to point to any without feeling that others deserve equal attention. Still, here goes. There is, for example, the funny, laconic and not quite tongue-in-cheek ‘The Motor Car A Personal History’,  with its confession of how, having been given the ignition keys, ‘Repeat, eight times... I’d had it // with old Volkswagens... // another smoking engine, then a bang, / Hitler’s vehicle, globally / at home, fit for scrap.’ There’s the Kees-like ‘Deserter in the Counselling Room,’ in which the observer notes a man ‘slipping out of the uniform / - the way he saw it - of marriage,’ and in whom, letting his imagination run free in a manner novelists might envy, he sees ‘in his genes, restlessness, a line / of bolters dating back to a medieval village / long since flattened... // a forebear itching to settle / on whether to fight for King / or Cromwell, and then escaping / into the privations of a dense forest.’
Escaping into privation - the characteristic twist of wit. Equally characteristic, equally poised, ‘Mr Habitat’s Birthday Candle,’ ends with the protagonist reflecting on ‘the time and place where / in effect, I crash landed in the dark //  blow out an annual candle, imagine / weirder planets on which to get stranded.’
But perhaps first among equals in The Bicycle Thief & Other Poems are ‘Homage to Warren Zevon,’ and the title poem. Between them, these two poems not only encapsulate the book’s virtues, they encapsulate the virtues which Sant so dextrously celebrates and, by his sheer skill as a maker of verse, endorses.
Today I’m going to be a tough guy
in a leather hat and shades, surprise myself
without a flick-knife, go white,
increase my heart-rate, threaten
further inner retribution; hang out later,
with Warren, my newest and now best mate.
‘Even in bed I pose.’ Thom Gunn’s famous opener is here echoed by a poet whose instinctively assured handling of assonance (guy, surprise, knife, white) has the virtues associated with the best song writers, among whom apparently the soon-vanished Zevon was to be numbered. I wouldn’t know, any more than I can follow the blizzard of names of those ‘who get by well enough without // the encumbrance of their surnames,’ but whom I assume to be part of the music world fingered in the poem; I do know, though, that this is a model of how to write an elegy appropriate for our times: slangily vivid, witty, evocative, and attentive to the subject without plonky rhetoric. The poem ends with the narrator saying he intends to seek out the Soho Chinese restaurant whose name, Lee Ho Fook’s echoes ‘your solitary hit - where / a wolf can eat alone, prowl the extensive menu / for beef chow mien and then, in character, howl.’ Prowl/howl. Being in character means keeping your wits about you.
As for ‘The Bicycle Thief’ itself, it’s so unmistakably the goods that to say much about it feels superfluous. A long narrative poem, it begins,
The absence, next to the wall,
was exactly the size
of my bike. So let me fill you in.
There now, isn’t that the cat’s pyjamas, isn’t that a perfect way to reel any reader in. And does anyone need to have the adroitness of those line-breaks pointed out? What follows is a wondrous ruminant tale of how the narrator imagines the thief pedalling off on his own affairs, with his own concerns. Anger, irritation, speculation are gradually replaced by a feeling of almost enthralled involvement with the thief’s progress, through the day, through the city, through various meetings, the poem an utterly compelling story in verse which ends with the narrator imagining the thief as he comes to a bike shop and sees outside the ‘super model he longs for.’ But, having checked the price, he ‘looks recklessly / down on old reliable between his legs, / and thinks, honestly why bother? / He’s right. She’s most impressive. / So is getting in various measures, / quickly, fame, the girl, / and the money - with my best wishes.’
An urban pastoral, is this what this marvellous poem is? Perhaps, although I don’t want to trap it in terms that make it a herd animal. It’s out on its own. Simply the thing it is will make it live.

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The Bicycle Thief

Travis Englefield
ArtsHub, 5 April 2013

A gorilla imagined as an anthropologist, a lost postcard serendipitously arriving where it was always supposed to go, a rumination on the symbolic and practical usage of islands, and a shopping list as a manifesto for middle-age. These are just some of the subjects of Andrew Sant’s eclectic new collection, in which he uses a lot of words to construct a kind of prose poetry which perfectly enunciates the quirks of being a curious boy in the body of an aging poet.
If the objective of The Bicycle Thief is unclear, it’s certainly not for an evasion of meaning or a dearth of ideas. Sant insistently (and sometimes literally) leaves no stone unturned in creating lyrical portraits of his Wes Anderson-like worlds. It’s just that between the autobiographical tales, the ruminations on history big and small, the memoriams, the experiments, and the dalliances with the offbeat and fantastic, it’s hard to get a grasp on the tone, the subtleties, of where the work is coming from.
A place to start might be the poems bookending the collection - ‘Lost Things’ and the titular poem. ‘Lost Things’ ponders the lives activated by spaces all the lost, forgotten and missing things open up, while ‘The Bicycle Thief’ begins with the narrator’s factual bicycle and ends several suburbs, generations and social classes away at the hands of its fictional thief.
These poems, like much of the collection, to an extent examine the secret lives of the world passed by and the secret worlds of lives passed by. This can mean telling a speculative yarn about how life might have been had Sant never emigrated to Australia, an unreliable recounting of a relationship, or a reverential yet irreverent vignette about time spent at a residence of D.H. Lawrence - ‘a shrine / that isn’t , private behind a high fence’.
All of which makes for an engaged reader/listener, though often an unmoved one.
The problem with the collection is twofold. Firstly, Sant is prone to over-telling, to the extent that there is no imaginative space in the poems and the poetry is rendered entirely cerebral. That this has no aesthetic function – the phrasing is clunky and rarely memorable - makes it doubly difficult to digest.
Secondly, there is a conviction that small details denote emotional/intellectual heft, which ultimately comes across as a bizarre fixation on banal moments that too often fail to make the intended leap to the sublime. This, combined with the juvenile navel-gazing, can make the otherwise riveting subject matter a little trite, Sant often showing himself up as the person asking a question just after it’s been answered.
Which isn’t to say that the poems don’t have purpose - they are well-conceived, playful explorations of the distance from the quirky to the eternal, and resonate with an intellectual clarity which keeps them alive once the excesses of the explanations are forgotten. Sant has plenty of wonderful, clever and durable ideas, but they just might be better served by an economy of language which gives some credit to his audience’s own intellects and imaginations.