Here, There and Elsewhere by Vivian Smith: 366 Days of Writing

In Here, There and Elsewhere award-winning Australian poet Vivian Smith presents a collection of works that touch on a diverse range of subjects – from the Ern Malley affair to travelling in South America – in beautifully crafted, deceptively simple, and easily readable forms.

The Ern Malley sequence opens the collection with eight poems written from the perspective of the fictional character at the centre of what remains perhaps the greatest hoax in Australian literary history.  Smith imagines that Ern actually existed and, out of frustration with having his work repeatedly rejected by the literary establishment, was complicit in the infamous hoax.  By staging his own death, Smith’s Ern freed himself to live in anonymity while continuing to create poetry for his own pleasure:

But I wrote poems even in my sleep,

knowing that I needed no one’s praise.

 

Time out, on the sidelines: that was fine.

I was never part of any scene,

The notion even seemed a bit obscene,

                                                                      (‘The grand cham’, ll. 7-11).

These poems are the highlight of this collection, offering fascinating possibilities into the kind of man Ern might have been, and the life he may have lived – had he existed.

Smith infuses much of his work in Here, There and Elsewhere with a sombre, reflective tone, gently exploring themes of loss, death and decay.  Concern with the passage of time, and its effect on the mind and body (‘Trying to keep ourselves in working order/hoping to escape complete attrition’), and the physical environment (‘My old school is now a funeral parlour:/I stand and stare in disbelief and wonder’) is ever-present, yet never overpowering.

The poetry often draws from Smith’s personal experiences while encouraging the reader to reflect on how we remember and interpret the events of our own lives.  ‘Train to Leura,’ for example, inspired this long-time commuter to reassess my attitude to the overheard conversations of my fellow passengers!

It should be noted, however, that several pieces strongly reference the work of Australian and international painters and writers such as Sidney Nolan and Pablo Neruda, so readers who are familiar with these artists have a slight advantage.  Others may struggle to clearly decipher the meaning and relevance of these pieces in the collection.

This criticism aside, Here, There and Elsewhere is a pleasure to read and, like all good poetry, amply rewards re-reading to fully appreciate Smith’s word choices, imagery and rhyming patterns.

Review by Heather Lunney.

Heather is an avid reader, writer and reviewer who is currently working towards a Master of Arts degree in Media & Communications.

 

Taking our cue from the National Year of Reading 2012, we’re having our very own National Year of Writing 2012, aka 366 Days of Writing.

Send your reviews in to us! We want to hear about great Australian books, be they new or old, fiction, poetry, plays, short stories, memoir – we want the lot! This year is all about promoting Australian books and Australian readers. Reviews should be between 200 and 400 words.

Send reviews to sbarnes(write at)nswwc.org.au

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