Abundance: New & Selected Poems
An Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers
(Eugene, Oregon, USA)
Paperback & Hardback, 225 pages
PAPERBACK ISBN: 978-1-7252-8457-9
HARDBACK ISBN: 978-1-7252-8458-6
EBOOK ISBN: 978-1-7252-8459-3
BACK COVER BLURB
Andrew Lansdown’s latest poetry collection, Abundance, contains poems from eleven of his earlier collections and poems that are previously uncollected. These poems gain power from the poet’s mastery of poetic form and technique. They range widely in theme, tone, style, and subject—from an aboriginal man playing the digeridoo in prison to a widow addressing a prophet in Phoenicia; from kangaroos crossing a firebreak to a man asleep in a library; from the emptiness of black bamboo to the fullness of a father’s heart; from a pregnant mother dying for the Faith in shogunal Japan to the poet’s mother joining an American-style sacred-harp choir in heaven. This collection offer readers an abundance.
“Andrew Lansdown is a prolific and highly regarded Australian writer across several writing genres. He has deeply committed himself to the art of poetry for more than four decades and is a master of many of its forms. He is also an acute and inspired observer of nature, as manifest in his exquisite haiku and tanka. His poetry constantly acknowledges the spiritual heart of the natural world.”
—SHANE MCCAULEY, poet and lecturer
“Andrew Lansdown writes poems from his love of life—of the natural world around us and its many fleeting moments and little creatures, of family life and love for his fellow man and his God. What delightful perceptions and lively presentations of reality! What inventiveness—often he uses Japanese ancient forms to present an Aussie perception. All with a delightful flint of inventive language through well-practiced craft!”
—ANDREW BURKE, poet
“Abundance is a very special selection from Andrew Lansdown’s widely published work, including some new and uncollected poems. These poems leave you richer, wiser, and deeply aware of the mysterious power of words. Andrew observes the world of animals, birds, insects, plants, and people with an artist’s eye and accomplished poet’s ear. The internationally acclaimed Australian poet, Les Murray, has declared Andrew Lansdown ‘one of our very best poets’, and this new collection celebrates these words … in abundance.”
—PAUL GROVER, Editor, Studio journal, Australia
“James McAuley, the tough, anti-modernist Australian poet of last generation, was a super hymnodist. Probably the only greater Australian Christian poet is Andrew Lansdown …”
—LES MURRAY, poet
Andrew Lansdown is the author of fifteen poetry collections, two short story collections, and three novels. His poetry has been widely published in journals, newspapers and anthologies in Australia, and has won a number of prestigious awards. He lectures in creative writing at Sheridan Institute of Higher Education.
FOUR POEMS FROM ABUNDANCE: NEW & SELECTED POEMS
The thing that astonishes me is that
life goes on abundantly without me.
Stepping out of my study, I discover
magpies have made a nest not twenty
metres from the house. By the gate
the buds of the Eucalyptus preissiana
are a hatching of chickens: a yellow
fuzz beneath the raised opercula.
A small girl skips along the road,
her hair in a pony tail, flouncing.
A neighbour hails me for a yarn.
‘Yes,’ he says. ‘This old bloke lived
in a thousand gallon tank at Kulikup
and cut sleepers with an adze.’
His memory is almost twice my age.
As we talk, his dog paws at a puddle
in the gravel, then pokes its muzzle
into the muddy water—sticks its face
in right up to its ears! Fancy that!
Fancy a dog doing that—and me there
to see it! Truly, it’s an astonishment,
this abundance independent of me
that touches me seemingly by accident.
. .© Andrew Lansdown
Surely a piece is
missing from the azure robe
of the Madonna
in some ancient mosaic
because of that fairy wren!
. .© Andrew Lansdown
Woman Weeping, Sydney
Because she is sitting side-on to me,
I can see she has been crying, the woman
wearing mirrored glasses in the café.
Pity the animals, that they cannot weep.
Pity us, that we can, must, so often.
Her boyfriend returns with ice coffees.
She glances at him with her hidden eyes.
Her face crumples a little, sucked in
by the vacuum of her grief. He offers
a paper napkin, and she dabs her eyes,
shunting her sunglasses up the bridge
of her nose. Then she clears the mucus.
He looks away as one looks away from
something unpleasant. Shoring her face
with an unsure smile, she sips her coffee,
her larynx almost jamming in her throat.
He takes a tourist map from his backpack,
lays it between them, studies the streets.
She parts her thin lips, making a path
to her lungs for the persistent air.
She says something to him. Foreign words.
What is the meaning? Why is she crying?
Has he hurt her? Is she ill? Homesick?
Surely, she is far from home. Very far.
We all are. Only most of us don’t know it.
. .© Andrew Lansdown
In the Gardens of the Imperial Palace
for Susan, Kyoto
She takes a turn
in the gardens … the maples
redden and burn.
Her greatest fans—
the ginkgoes offer my love
their golden fans.
The sparrows whir—
even they are unsettled
at the sight of her.
. .© Andrew Lansdown
REVIEWS OF ABUNDANCE: NEW & SELECTED POEMS
JUDGES’ COMMENTS, SHORTLIST, 2021 AUSTRALIAN CHRISTIAN BOOK OF THE YEAR
Abundance was shortlisted for the 2021 Australian Christian Book of the Year Award. The Award judges, Greg Clarke, Stu Cameron and Judith Nichols, commented:
“Andrew Lansdown has spent a lifetime observing, recording, honing and perfecting his art. This collection displays a masterful poet of form and image at home among his family, kingfishers, grasshoppers, puddles and his Lord and Saviour. Play and discipline. Joy and melancholy. Abundance is exquisite, delightful and always powerful.”
Review by Francesca Stewart in Westerly
Lansdown, Andrew. Abundance: new & selected poems. Cascade Books, 2020. RRP: $29.95, 225pp, ISBN: 9781725284593.
She has learned at last to strike
the red end on the rough edge.
But they still break mid-stroke
or burn her fingers when they burst
So opens ‘Lighting a Match’ (42); a momentary glimpse of childhood’s natural instinct in Andrew Lansdown’s Abundance—an anthology of the poet’s finest and best loved works, spanning a thirty-year writing career. The author of fifteen poetry collections, two short story collections and three novels, Lansdown is one of Australia’s award-winning writers. His works both celebrate and unflinchingly engage with life’s most moving experiences.
Abundance offers a rich and varied view of the world through Lansdown’s eyes. By noticing the miraculous and the mundane, and with an ever-present awareness of the passing of time, these poems pay attention to ordinary life and bring a captivating intensity of presence and emotion. Lansdown’s experience of fatherhood is thematic throughout: he looks upon his children with compassion, tenderness and wonder. Simultaneously, by turning the poetic gaze upon himself, he also displays acute self-awareness and disarming vulnerability in observing his mind, emotions and reactions to life.
Lansdown’s poems are rooted in Western Australia, and in them is an immersion in natural and social surroundings, experienced through relatable family moments, such as crabbing and prawning. Kangaroos abound, as do snakes, birds and trees, settling the reader in time and place. Bejewelled with these emblems of nature, Lansdown’s poems contain vivid imagery, cast through sensory detail, creating familiar and inviting scenes. The opening poem, ‘Counterpoise’ (2), sets the tone of the collection:
Light refracting on the reach of the river;
gulls and sails embracing the slight wind;
jellyfish clasping the calm water
or bunting the sand in the basking shallows;
posts of wood barnacled and rotten;
small waves lisping upon the shore;
here is an abundance I had forgotten.
Here Lansdown finds abundance in simplicity and reverence in stillness—the ordinariness of a family day out, made spectacular by the noticing of light and movement and a practice of observance and gratitude. Yet, as much as they celebrate the plenitude of the natural world and the warmth and affection of family, these poems do not overlook life’s challenges. ‘Counterpoise’, also the name of the collection’s opening section, features works on memory, impermanence, fear and grief; most poignantly, the passing of loved ones, including Lansdown’s brother Philip. The event is revisited throughout as Lansdown explores both the impact of it on himself, and as viewed through the eyes of his children.
‘The Horseshoe Shooter’ (26), from ‘Waking and Always’, describes Lansdown’s children’s comprehension of death with dual themes of loss and innocence, and articulates the sometimes stunning ability of children to illuminate the realities of life we attempt to escape. In ‘Spring Morning with Baby and Birds’ (41), Lansdown continues to wrestle with opposing emotions as he comes to terms with new life and devastating loss. Remindful of the deeply complex emotional world of new motherhood in post-partum depression, Lansdown beautifully illustrates the crushing weight of grief against the feathery lightness of hope—that is, the innocence of a newborn juxtaposed with the tumultuous world of adults:
Her eyes hurt me—so bright with hope. I look away.
There is a dove in her throat. It becomes my heart
a bird in a wicker basket. What is this wickedness,
this ingratitude? I place a finger in her palm.
These kinds of poems allow a subtle sense of melancholy to pervade through the collection. Another version of melancholy manifests in ‘The Colour of Life’ (138), which describes the surprising darkness of an ordinary day. The influence of depression is fully acknowledged in ‘Black Dog Snarling’ and ‘Black Dog Dozing’ (165). The darkness of these poems seems to arise from a struggle with impermanence, illustrated in the tense awareness of the passing of time, particularly in ‘Birthday’ (66):
It is my birthday
and my daughter, who doesn’t
suspect the sadness
of a spent year, comes prancing
before her mother.
Yet, through the pages, grief gives way to gentle acceptance and, as though with an audible sigh, later poems tend more towards haiku. Placed at Japanese temples and springs, the haiku deliver a sudden presence and calm contemplation through careful attention to subtle details in the natural world, balancing the sometimes deep and challenging territory the poet treads.
Lansdown’s nature poems prominently feature birds: hawk, robin, kingfisher, heron, ibis, mopoke, wagtail and blue wren decorate the pages with sudden plumes of colour and draw the gaze upwards, lightening and expanding. In this way, the perspective of Abundance is broadened beyond Australia and beyond very personal experience.
Also countering despair is the jubilant joy of intimate relationships. On marriage, love and desire, poems about and addressed to Lansdown’s wife are woven with intimacy and gratitude, as in ‘Opulence’ (86)—an ode to the miracle of life and the bounty of new motherhood:
Her milk has come in
but our son still sleeps.
I cup my palm. Oh,
Such hard opulence!
She lies awake, willing
his hot mouth to squall.
My heart aches with love
As a breast with milk.
Though named Abundance, perhaps what this collection does best is to observe the paradoxes of human life: the nature of parenthood, where the presence of new life somehow draws closer the reality of eventual death; the vibrancy of the immediate moment making impermanence an inescapable fact. An abundance of sentiment, an overflowing of emotion—so much in this life to do, see and feel, almost more than our fragile forms can contain.
This anthology offers a perceptive portrayal of life and its poignant moments, explored as a brother, a son, a father, a husband and a child of the universe. At once an exultation of joy, hope and love, and an acknowledgment of grief, loss and change, through soaring highs and sweeping lows Abundance makes a comforting companion on the days in which we grapple with the big questions, and ask ourselves, ‘What is it to be alive? To be human? To love and be loved?’
Francesca Stewart is the Administrative Editor of Westerly. She is a West Australian writer with an interest in the relationship between the cosmic, landscape and human experience. In her work she explores time and the timeless, beauty, nature and emotion. Her poetry and critical reviews have been published in Pelican, Creatrix and Westerly.
Copyright © Francesca Stewart
Westerly Magazine, March 2023
REVIEW by T. M. MOORE in CHRISTIANITY & LITERATURE
Abundance: New and Selected Poems. By Andrew Lansdown. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2020. ISBN 978-1-7252-8457-9. Pp. xvi+225.
I was not familiar with Andrew Lansdown prior to reading this book, but I found his poems to be among the best I have read in many years. His mastery of form, variety of subject, precision of image, insight to everyday things, and buoyancy of hope and faith make reading his poems a delightful, satisfying, and enriching experience. Besides a few new pieces, the poems in Abundance are taken from eleven previous volumes of poetry, dating from 1980. They demonstrate a consistency of style, craftsmanship, lyric, and beauty that are marks of a very fine poet, one American readers and professors of literature would be pleased to know.
Abundance is a song book of wonder and gratitude. Its overarching theme is captured in the closing lines of “Grace”, from Lansdown’s 1993 collection, Between Glances (73):
“Let us give thanks.” And millions
at mealtime do. Even infants,
those most insouciant of souls,
offer thanksgiving with cries and cooing
as they nuzzle at the breast –
that guzzle-and-come-again fount
where form and feast fuse in bliss
and soft blessing. See how they tug
away from the nipple, smiling.
Eyes closed and heads bowed: it is
the only way to look up. Thank
You. And think of it, the dignity
we gain through humility. Being
grateful. Giving thanks. That precious
repetitious prayer that makes us remember
grace as we say it.
This is followed on the next page (74) by an even more succinct statement of theme, a poem entitled “Abundance”, which enlarges on the title of this collection:
[Here follow four stanzas, in which he celebrates various of the themes that run through his verse. The poem ends,]
The thing that astonishes me is that
life goes on abundantly without me…
Truly, it’s an astonishment,
this abundance independent of me
that touches me seemingly by accident.
Andrew Lansdown’s poems lead us into the mysteries, wonders, and beauty of creation; the joys, sadnesses, and uncertainties of relationships; the essentiality of family and community; the inevitability of death; and the hope of everlasting life in Christ. His work offers a worldview, by which I mean, a way of viewing the world that enables us to see through the everyday, mundane realities of our uncertain and underappreciated existence into the eternal beauty, glory, safety, and joy of our Creator and Lord. In his book, The Divine Conspiracy, the late Dallas Willard wrote, “By showing to others the presence of the kingdom in the concrete details of our shared existence, we impact the lives and hearts of our hearers, not just their heads. And they won’t have to write it down to hold onto it.” This is what Andrew Lansdown does in abundance through his beautiful poems.
Lansdown writes as a formalist poet, though not slavishly so. He employs traditional forms but also fiddles with them a bit, creates new forms, and uses free verse as he pleases. He has also been greatly influenced by Japanese and Chinese poetry, and this volume reflects his love for those themes and forms as well. “On Poetry” (3) is a very clever and effective example of his experimenting with form while thinking about poetry. Its economical stanzas reflect Lansdown’s interest in Japanese forms:
As we sit talking
my son (still months
lounges without a care
on my knee, fronts
my old friend with
a vacant stare,
our talking with
a short sigh,
and lifts and drops
his foot rhythmically
on the flat of my thigh.
Lansdown’s formal poems are primarily sonnets, tercets, and villanelles. He uses these forms as according to Hoyle, with little in the way of divergence from the received tradition. He also combines traditional and free verse, most effectively in the ekphrastic poem, “I Whistle and They Come” (12). In this poem, Lansdown’s love of form reins in his infrequent sorties into free verse territory. Here, the combination seems most apt, since Lansdown meditates on an art book for contemporary Chinese children which declares “that the children/‘learn socialist cultural subjects well.’” Their meager freedom is locked within the tight but tortured structure of a socialist society, just as the free verse aspects of this poem are made to obey its overall structure. This poem illustrates well a comment Lansdown shared with me in an email: “the power of a poem rests in not only what it says but also how it says it. Indeed, without the how, the what is largely irrelevant.”
Lansdown draws inspiration from his immediate surroundings and everyday experiences. One can easily imagine the plants, birds, water, people, encounters, and situations he describes because they are all very much akin to our own, except that Lansdown sees more deeply into them – and through them – than perhaps most of us do, not infrequently with self-abasement and whimsy. “Poem about Freedom” (31) is a fine example of both his structural and thematic skills:
I am sitting in the shade
of the lemon tree, trying to write
a poem about freedom. But
my son is swinging in the almond,
calling, ‘Dad, look at this! Dad!’
The day conspires to distract me
from things I have designated
important. On a branch
arching over me, a lemon’s
green rind is yielding to yellow.
Near my feet, a hornet
is hurtling sand from a hole
set in a clear space
between the rootbound and budless
chrysanthemums. In the apple tree
the fruits’ round cheeks
are powdered with rouge
and a parrot is summoning its mate
to a feast. Now my daughter
crams her rag doll
in the cane chair next to me and
places in its lap a sprig of mint.
Bruised by her clumsy hands
it smells so clean and sweet.
Everything seems free except the poet trying to write about freedom. Until, that is, the poem gathers up all the freedom around him and celebrates it in eight triumphant tercets.
Andrew Lansdown’s poetry is consistently spiritual. He wants to bear witness, a la C. S. Lewis, to the larger Beauty and Mystery to which the beauty and mystery all around us bear constant witness. He knows that “Taut or slack, spiritual chords/are strung across the hollow/at the heart of every man” (“Far from Home, the Blower”, 34). His thoughts turn frequently to death, but he wonders, watching a conversation between two deaf women on a train, “Why? And what/does deaf or death matter/if we are mere matter?” He is a stranger to the women, just as they all are strangers before God, “hollowed or hallowed by hurt.” The poem ends, “Father/the years yield me to yearning/while I tarry in transit to You” (“In Transit”, 43). On another occasion, observing the disfigured face of a handicapped child, he turns disgust to grace (“Reaction to a Retard”, 79):
How easy it is to deny a person worth –
to limit the human, which is the image
of God, to the beautiful and clever,
and to forget there is in every person
a spark, a spirit, that abides for ever.
There is a worse disorder than the damaged
brain that disfigures the blameless face.
It is the derangement of the cogent mind
that deforms the heart by a denial of grace.
My favorite of the overtly spiritual poems in Abundance is the sonnet trio entitled “Healing” (122, 123). The structure is precise and exquisite. Each successive sonnet in the series begins with the last line of the previous poem, and the last line of the last sonnet is the same as the first line of the first sonnet: “There comes a time when longing fills the soul.” However, by the time Lansdown has made the transit from line one to line thirty-three, the mood of the poem has turned from despairing to triumph:
There begins in our being the flare
of dawn: the Sun rising with healing in his wings.
With the gold of his blood he spins
fine silk, weaves a mantle for the faint to wear.
All things again are new and bright,
from the great to the least, the comely to the plain,
each in its own way is clothed with light.
In passing loss is permanent gain.
Hence, that if it will it might be whole,
there comes a time when longing fills the soul.
Lansdown’s hope is that his poetry will bear witness to God and His glory. His is an expansive faith, ranging widely and characterized by wonder, compassion, suffering, service, delight, joy, and praise. His poem, “The Crimson Maples” (188), combines many of these qualities:
It is their glory,
the Japanese autumn maples,
to look so gory…
enacting the martyrs’ burning,
depicting the Savior’s blooding.
And more pointedly, “First Blood” (201):
Hours before the souls
of the first sinners were washed
with the sacred blood,
the roots of the olive trees
were bathed in Gethsemane.
Throughout these poems, covering many years of close observation and careful craft, Andrew Lansdown delights to know God through His goodness and glory, available on every hand. He seeks to know the light from God, shining out of the darkness of ignorance and radiating throughout his soul, that it might “give me the light/of the knowledge/of his great glory/in the face of Christ!” (“Radiance”, 214).
The poems gathered in Abundance demonstrate that God has honored Andrew Lansdown’s aspiration and art. His poems will bring light and delight, insight and second sight to all who read and contemplate them.
 Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, ( New York: HarperCollins eBooks, 2009), Kindle edition, p. 129.
© T. M. Moore, Principal, The Fellowship of Ailbe, Williston, VT
Christianity & Literature, Volume 71, Issue 1 (March 2022)
Review by Ian Keast in Studio
Abundance: New & Selected Poems
by Andrew Lansdown
Published by Cascade Books, Eugene, Oregon, 2020
Poiema Poetry Series
It was 1980. I was in Sydney for a Conference, and browsing in one of my favourite bookshops which carried a substantial collection of poetry. “You must read this. He’s one of your believing lot. It’s a fantastic collection.” The bookshop owner handed me, Counterpoise, by Andrew Lansdown, just published. From conversations over several years, I knew he held views that were somewhere ‘to the left of Lenin’, so his opinion of Lansdown’s book was a real and very generous endorsement. “Read the title poem. That last stanza is such a marvellous statement.”
The title poem of his first major volume of poetry, Counterpoise, (and the first selection in Abundance), provides a good introduction to Lansdown’s work. The poem speaks of light on rivers, jellyfish, children, grandparents, prawning. Simple ordinary things that point to the certainties and strengths in life. The poem concludes,
How ignorant I have been
through these last years of learning,
how weighted down on one side of the scale.
The large, deep things are all
in their own ways dark and hard.
Small things are a counterpoise
to lighten and soften the heart.
‘Counterpoise’—balancing two different realities—is central to Lansdown’s poetry, both in its style and content. He has a simple, ordinary observation, which—in counterpoise—often produces deep insight. His language is clear and precise, in Les Murray’s words, “he is an imagist of almost unlimited inventiveness”. Once evoked, the reader’s imagination and thinking, can—in counterpoise—be extended beyond the poem to explore further the associations raised. It is this counterpoise of being accessible and profound, which provides the essence of Lansdown’s poetry.
Take, ‘For Grace’, from the third volume of his poetry, Waking and Always, as an example. The ordinariness of the scene at the beginning of the poem is established by the fathers wanting to discuss “Important Things” and not be concerned with the “pestering” of Grace. Being ignored, she turns to play, climbing on a chest in the window, looking out the window, draping the curtains about her shoulders. She catches the attention of an old woman outside who waves to her. It is at this point in the poem when, “Grace’s hand flutters up like a sparrow”, that a faint Biblical echo is heard, which becomes louder in the line, “Not even a sparrow…” The poem now reaches for something deeper and becomes, in the last four lines, a plea to (God the) Father for Grace. The reversal of the situation in the first two lines is complete,
Look then, Father, in the lace
while I pester you for Grace.
It is a rich poem, with its counterpoise of movement from the accessible situation at the beginning through to the profound Biblical associations in the last line. Grace is at its heart; grace is the heart of Lansdown’s poetry.
In 1985, Andrew Lansdown explained in an article, ‘Rich Red Plums’, (published in the magazine, On Being), why this was so. He quotes C.S. Lewis, “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else.” Lansdown adds, “Christianity is not only the way-of-seeing that informs my poetry; it is also the way-of-seeing that enabled me to value poetry in the first place.” He speaks of the importance of the “symbiosis of artistic and spiritual integrity.” This is seen in the rich delicacy in his observations of creation and its patterns, giving rise to respond with joy and celebration- as in, ‘Sonnet of Thanksgiving’, ‘Opulence’- as well as an honest realism about its fractures and brokenness- ‘Gone’, ‘Grief’, ‘In Transit’. His is a full-orbed portrayal of the image-bearers in this world of glory and the gutter – ‘Apart from Blood’, ‘Home’, ‘Behind the Veil’, ’The Grasshopper Heart’, ‘Sometimes in the Dark’, ‘Should the Marauders Come’- to give some examples.
His desire for the “symbiosis” of “artistic and spiritual integrity” is also evident in Lansdown’s fondness for the short poetic forms of the haiku and tanka. Here, with ‘counterpoise’, is the expression of ‘small things … to lighten and soften the heart.’ Abundance provides a generous selection of the poet’s writing in these disciplined and precise forms, (as well as a helpful section on them in the Endnotes.) And we can take Lansdown’s writing haiku and tanka a step further. Lisa Gorton, a poet and critic, in her Introduction to, Two Poets, (2011), writes, ‘Lansdown engages consistently, though by no means exclusively, with the austere Japanese tradition…Over nearly forty years, Lansdown has worked at this art of precision.’ Writing of Between Glances and Fontanelle, she writes, ‘…these poems show how an aesthetic of exact detail and subtle craft has shaped his poetic idiom- has become the very language of his thought.’
Symbiosis indeed; crafted together; in the haiku gunsaku, ‘Small Matters’, especially in,
The haiku poets
appreciate small matters
affect heart matters
Like Jesus, haiku
perceive the tree in the seed
and birds in the tree
Being small matters
haiku provide a way of
seeing small matters
To see small matters
and to see that small matters
are not small matters
(iv) is, I think, a sublime statement on the energy inherent in Lansdown’s writing – a gift, in order to acknowledge the Creator, along with the ‘small things’ of His creation.
The Poiema Poetry Series ”presents the work of gifted poets who take Christian faith seriously, and demonstrate in whose image we have been made through their creativity and craftmanship.” (Introduction). By including Abundance in the Series, they are opening, to a wider audience, an accessible and profound treasure-chest of poetry from one of Studio’s most well-known writers. The final poem in the collection, ‘Radiance’, is Andrew Lansdown’s testimony about his writing,
Writing the night away
I watch the whitening
of the dawn sky.
And I see the sun
rise up in its radiance
like its Maker,
the oneandonly God
who said, ‘Let light shine
out of darkness’,
and it did–truly it
shone in my heart
to give me the light
of the knowledge
of his great glory
in the face of Christ!
© Ian Keast
Studio, No. 153, 2021, pp. 57-60
Searching the Poetic – Review by by Ivan Head in Quadrant
Abundance: New and Selected Poems
by Andrew Lansdown
Cascade Books, 2020, 225 pages, about $30
Metre and notes also need not be far away when turning to Andrew Lansdown’s wonderful book Abundance: New and Selected Poems. Not that the pursuit of either need detract from the splendid accessibility of this large and carefully chosen collection. For instance, “On Poetry”, the second poem, and reprinted from Counterpoise (1980), carries a dedication to William Hart-Smith, who had a significant influence on West Australian poets. Immediately, one can use the marvels of the net to track material on Hart-Smith and the interaction between these two and other poets before returning to the poetry itself. At the end of “On Poetry”, Lansdown writes of his infant son, not yet walking but sitting on his knee as he talks with Hart-Smith:
my son …
our talking with
a short sigh,
and lifts and drops
his foot rhythmically
on the flat of my thigh.
Lansdown is a poet of the embodied and deeply-observed world and, in the end, metre and rhythm in poetry will have more than a close relationship to the beating heart, the dancing feet and all human movement. It is a kind of incarnationalism. Auden’s persona in “The Shield of Achilles” was also looking for figures dancing. To read Lansdown’s new book is to become open to a much wider world.
One earlier publication, Abiding Things, is not represented in this volume. I note that critics of that book said significant things about Lansdown. Les Murray wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald: “He espouses … an aesthetic of small observations”. Rod Moran in the Fremantle Arts Review wrote of Lansdown “lifting the veil of familiarity from the world”, and Philip Salom in the West Australian called him “an imagist of the highest order”.
Micro-observation can go hand-in-glove with a larger metaphysic, even an off-stage metaphysic that is made by the poet’s mastery of the art to serve the poetry, and where the poetry is not a convenient footstool for other concerns that in the end dominate. In that sense of micro, there is something dense and condensed in Lansdown’s poems, a vision lurking. I’m happy to call Lansdown a metaphysical poet. Blake could write in an observational-micro that evoked London in detail, though perhaps his larger vision became obscure in the longer poems. They became seriously esoteric, seriously gnostic.
Lansdown’s larger questions emerge in his exploration of Buddhist thematics and in the minimalism of haiku. These are fully consistent with his Western and Christian vision of the world as a created reality in which the traces of the creator are evident. Something immense lurks behind the micro and the nano. The focal point for the poet lies in the Buddhist concern with the moment-by-moment arising of consciousness, even the seamless construction of self from the little portions (a Franciscan term) of sensory and other mental data. Lansdown’s poems often land right on that moment of singular consciousness which is consciousness of items in the visual or wider sensory field. I deeply enjoy his poems that focus on the contents of the natural world in its precise setting. His selections from Birds in Mind: Australian Nature Poems (2009) make some explicitly theological comment where, for instance, the title poem, “Birds in Mind”, contains four stanzas, each of which is psalm-like in its praise of the Creator. One of them reads: “Goodness, that ibis / signals the presence of birds / in the mind of God!”
Now if one did not know a little theology, recourse to notes might be needed here. I simply refer to Eric Mascall’s Gifford Lectures called The Openness of Being where he discusses in the abstract a human capacity to co-intuit a thing and the ground of its being in a single act of perception. Whether then Lansdown sees the contents of the world as given icons within nature I leave the reader to pursue.
This is a wonderful book that makes considered selections from eleven earlier books and adds a twelfth section of twenty-five new poems. The book includes thorough and somewhat overwhelming detail of Lansdown’s substantive publication record and life work. Somewhere, James McAuley, the first editor of Quadrant, wrote that it was harder for Christ to walk in an Australian poem than upon the waters of the Sea of Galilee. Perhaps in time he revised that opinion. Les Murray’s poetry books were prefaced with “To the glory of God”. I close with some lines from the final poem in Lansdown’s book: “Radiance after the Apostle, 2 Corinthians 4:6”. This is overtly Christian poetry and Christ walks through its lines. It is a testimonial confession of identity and belonging and is placed intentionally at the end of the book.
Lansdown is playing with the Greek word doxa and the Hebrew word kabod, and it is the same word Murray uses as glory. Lansdown identifies a cosmion at the centre of which he finds himself as poet. But it is not an inner docetism but something cosmic as well. It is like St Francis’s Brother Sun: “And I see the sun / rise up in its radiance / like its Maker.” That Maker has also “shone in my heart / to give me the light”. And that light had its locus for Lansdown, literally, as “his great glory in the face of Christ”.
© Ivan Head
Quadrant, Volume Lxv, Number 10, No. 580, October 2021, pp. 91-92