Andrew Lansdown

Five Islands Press (University of Melbourne), 2004
(paperback, 112 pages)
ISBN 1-74128-074-5





Back Cover Blurb

“Lansdown is able to suggest very deftly and concisely the so-called ‘thisness’ of things, especially things in nature …

“Lansdown has a very sincere and direct way of handling poems about his immediate family which subtly suggests great tenderness without becoming sentimental …

“Lansdown is one of the most assured of Australian poets working in the Imagist tradition … Over six books now he has written a considerable number of poems which are perfect examples of their kind. They have a descriptive exactness and a seeming spontaneity, combining to produce a text to which one can imagine no change being made without damage.”

Geoff Page, A Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Australian Poetry


Three poems from Fontanelle



Strange, this seeing
the heart in the head.

Look, a drumming
in the cranium,

a tom-tomming
against the membrane

where the bones are
yet to meet and knit.

May they never
knit entirely, son.

May head and heart
beat in unison

always, as now
in your fontanelle.

          © Andrew Lansdown




This could be Egypt, they could be gods:
three white ibises standing on a sand bar.
One preens its plumes, another peers
along the river, while the third steps
to the shallows to probe among the lilies.
This is not the Nile. There are no gods
but God. Yet how striking the impression:
this could be Egypt, they could be gods!

          © Andrew Lansdown



Dark Sky

The sky is dark, dark.
It’s a fact. It’s a figure.
I look out the window
at my heart. I look out.

In a bush in the rain
a small bird is fluffing
and fluttering. I watch it
briefly, then turn away.

What does it mean, that
buff-bellied thornbill
rejoicing in the steady rain
from the dark sky? What?

          © Andrew Lansdown


ABC Radio National Poetica program on the poems of Fontanelle


I Could Teach Bamboo About Emptiness – The Poetry of Andrew Lansdown

Saturday 4 June 2005

Andrew Lansdown is a Western Australian poet who writes reflective, deeply religious poems about his great loves; nature and his family. A highly awarded poet who is identified with the imagist tradition, he has worked as a teacher, journalist, and Education Officer at Fremantle Prison.

With readings by Murray Dowsett and Kingsley Reeve, and an interview with Andrew Lansdown.

A beautiful, gentle program reflecting the man and his words.

“Fontanelle” by Andrew Lansdown is published by Five Islands Press.

Sound engineer: David LeMay. Producer: Ron Sims

Quoted from the ABC’s website: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/archived/poetica/i-could-teach-bamboo-about-emptiness—the-poetry/3450232

Poetica was a weekly poetry program produced by Mike Ladd
and broadcast on ABC Radio National on Saturdays at 3.00 pm and repeated on Thursdays at 9.00 pm.


Reviews of Fontanelle


“Place and Identity in New Australian Poetry”

by Syd Harrex

But we can at least note in passing that Andrew Lansdown from W.A. continues to enhance his reputation with the beautifully crafted, subtly imagistic poems in Fontanelle, including haikus which indeed justify in “Journey” Lansdown’s homage to Matsuo Basho, ‘my mind his staff,/ my heart his companion’ (92).

© Syd Harrex

Extract from “Place and Identity in New Australian Poetry, 2004-2005”
Westerly, Vol. 50, November 2005


“Poetry Survey”

by Oliver Dennis

“Oh, for a palette to accompany my pen!” This line, from a poem celebrating a blue plastic jug, might serve as an emblem of the Imagist vein in which Andrew Lansdown has written for over twenty-five years. In Fontanelle – his first collection since 1993 – a talent for plain statement and sharp observation remains amply evident, be it in descriptions of flora and fauna (“Sighted from the car – / dandelions crayoning / the roadside yellow”) or personal accounts of pain: “Dear child you died / in the secret safe place / alone. What did you suffer?” (“In Memoriam”). More happily, at the core of the book are twelve poems that trace a son’s successful progress from conception to infancy: “Strange, this seeing / the heart in the head. // Look, a drumming / in the cranium …” he writes in the title poem. Unfortunately, the bulk of these offerings are somewhat limited in scope, so it is a pleasure to come upon a number of good poems about birds, the best of which, “White Ibis” and “Wrens in Wire”, could scarcely be bettered. An active Christian, Lansdown’s governing impulse appears to be to offer praise.

© Oliver Dennis

Extract from “Poetry Survey”
Island, No. 101, Winter 2005


Getting Specific

by Jamie Grant

Back in the twentieth century, that distant historic era, when the once much-admired weekly the Bulletin still deigned to employ a poetry editor, a message descended from the heights of the editor-in-chief to the lowly minion who was paid to choose the permitted fourteen-lines-or-less used as a filler between blocks of advertising space. The word was this: no more Andrew Lansdown poems. (That minion, incidentally, was the author of this review.)

It might seem unconscionable that a consistently competent, widely praised and award-winning poet should be banned in such fashion. No other Australian poet kept so consistently to the space restrictions imposed by the Bulletin’s management. Yet, all the same, one can see the chief’s point. To begin with, publication of a Lansdown poem would guarantee that another Lansdown poem would arrive in the mail the next day.

More significantly, though, it has to be admitted that many of Andrew Lansdown’s poems appear at a quick glance to be the same poem. This impression is easily refuted when the poems are read in context, particularly when the context is a collection such as his new book, Fontanelle. The impression of similarity arises from the fact that Lansdown’s main strength as a poet can barely be distinguished from his besetting weakness.

His strength lies in the simplicity and clarity of his writing. A typical Lansdown poem depicts a scene in the plainest possible terms, with a minimum of figurative language and no long or unusual words:

That paddock the farmer is ripping
will soon bristle with seedlings.
Imagine it. Saplings queuing up
on the pasture! Then a forest. Yes.

For many years before the felling,
a forest of blue gums or pines.
This paradox: a forest arising from
a want of timber! In the interim

see how the man with the tractor,
methodical as a child with a crayon,
is drawing thick chocolate lines
on the green sheet of the paddock.

Striking, those dark scribbles,
parallel and contoured to the hill!

The effect of this poem is like that of a landscape painting, and one can gaze into it as at a painting to discover depths and details which at first go unnoticed: the world of the child and the commercial realities of adult life are drawn together in a few lines, as deft as brush-strokes.

Yet there is not an enormous gulf between this beautifully realised poem and one which the Bulletin might think of as a typical Lansdown poem:

Exquisite, these birds of light
on the lake’s smooth surface.

Ibises, herons, spoonbills—
each joined by spindly legs

to a three dimensional replica
rising into the radiant air.

Though this short poem, also, is not without its virtues—there is no fault in it so glaring that a poetry editor could instantly reject it for publication—its plainness is such that some readers might begin to wonder if it should be considered as prose rather than as poetry. The prosaic explicitness of the adjectives exquisite and radiant, where one might expect a poet to evoke those qualities through imagery rather than just stating them, certainly contributes to this impression.

The boundary line between poetry and prose is heavily smudged these days, particularly for a writer like Lansdown who does not make much use of rhyme or metre while also refusing to mystify readers with symbols or metaphors or other cryptic devices. Some poets expect their readers to work hard to discern their meaning; with Lansdown, work is required to detect the quality in his instantly decipherable poems which raises them beyond that blurry border line.

That work is hardly excessive; it need involve no more than a reading of a book like Fontanelle from beginning to end. Lansdown received the John Bray National Poetry Award from the Adelaide Arts Festival for his previous collection, Between Glances, but this new book takes his achievement to a higher level. There are two reasons for this: one lies simply in the inclusion of a number of longer poems.

Lansdown is fond of the haiku as a form, and in this as in each of his previous collections he includes several sequences of three-line miniatures. While his version, in these sequences, of the poetic style labelled “Imagism” is quite adequate, it does not bear comparison with the work of Robert Gray, Australia’s finest exponent of the Japanese technique.

It is in his longer poems that Lansdown’s plain diction can be seen to best advantage, the more so in those poems which also have a strong narrative line. In “Boat”, for example, he describes his fifteen-year-old son taking a small boat out to sea just as a storm approaches, and builds up a real tension in the reader. “Trap”, “Should the Marauders Come”, “Gladdened by Ibises” and “Home”—each of these substantial poems contains rewards for the attentive reader.

Yet the other impressive feature of this new collection is present in several of the shorter poems as well as some of the longer ones; it is what strikes this reader, at least, as an increased attentiveness to specific detail in his poems, most notably in those poems, like the one that gives the book its title, which deal with the birth and early stages of life of the latest of the poet’s children. As the father of several children, he has written about his family before, but seldom with such precision; in his earlier books children are present less for their own sake than for their impact on their father, making the poet himself the most significant figure in those poems. In Fontanelle the child becomes the centre.

By getting more specific, Lansdown has brought a new dimension of sensual intensity to his work, as can be seen in his title poem:

Strange, this seeing
the heart in the head.

Look, a drumming
in the cranium,

a tom-tomming
against the membrane

where the bones are
yet to meet and knit.

May they never
knit entirely, son.

May head and heart
beat in unison

always, as now
in your fontanelle.

No editor could refuse a work as clear and delicate as this. The real reason for the Bulletin’s banishment of Lansdown lies elsewhere in this book: there are a few, less than half a dozen but still enough to be noticeable, poems with an explicit Christian message.

Ironically, in an era which likes to boast of its tolerance, the only religion which intellectuals feel free to discriminate against is the one most Australians have been brought up in. When he is not writing poetry, Lansdown is a minister in the Uniting [sic. Baptist] Church, and it is this occupation which is held against him, secretly, by those who affect to dislike his work on literary grounds.

© Jamie Grant

Quadrant, January-February, 2006


Review of Fontanelle for JAS Review of Books

by Mark Mahemoff

A leaf on
the doorstep-
don’t even

have to pick
it up to
know the news

Cid Corman

I always thought the word sequester one of the most beautiful in the English language. Now I would have to say that fontanelle is in direct competition. Although I knew the word and its meaning before reviewing this book of poems by Andrew Lansdown, I had never seen it singled out in such a way. To my mind, the main qualitative difference between these two words is that sequester has a particularly masculine cadence whereas fontanelle, apart from its meanings and associations, has a feminine one. Maybe it’s the degree to which a poem grapples with these qualities of language which provides depth and richness.

Masculinity and femininity are threads that run through Lansdown’s poems. There are descriptions of the natural world and relationships between parents/adults and children. As Geoff Page writes in his back cover notes, “Lansdown has a very sincere and direct way of handling poems about his immediate family which subtly suggests great tenderness without becoming sentimental …” I would mostly agree with this assertion. Lansdown does what few contemporary Australian poets are prepared to do. He describes the “gulp in the throat” quality of feeling loved or love for someone or something special. Someone or something that feels miraculous. It is the love expressed in the privacy of one’s own thoughts. Or the darkness of a child’s room at bedtime, before he or she is laid down to sleep, bathed in the glow of a nightlight, when there are coos and kisses and eyes moist with intense feeling.

In ‘Drum’, (p 14) Lansdown captures fragility, a sense of time passing, complexity and simplicity in fourteen words:


The infant’s

a small drum
in the skull

that the heart
is pounding.

At one level this is a direct account of the heart’s pulse seen in the still incompletely fused bones of a baby’s skull. At another, Lansdown seems to be saying that it is the heart which does and must rule the head. That each infant will be challenged by life to grow into an adult who marches to the beat of his or her drum.

In ‘Opulence’, (p 28) Lansdown details the intimate scene of parents (he and his partner) and their newborn. He says, ‘My heart aches with love/as a breast with milk’ and cups his hand around his partner’s breast which is recently swollen with milk. Again he uses concision in describing complex feelings, as if verbiage might over explain and dilute the intensity.

Many of the poems are prayers weather [sic] they mention Jesus by name or not (and they often do.) They are also meditations on loss. Consider this one on page seventy-nine:


The day after I cut it
I notice the white rose
in the pottery vase
on my desk start to wilt

All day it has been
drooping lower and lower,
until now its small head
is hanging upside down,

lolling loose-haired
against the shoulder
of the vase, as if given
entirely to sorrow.

There is a gentle perfection and high degree of restraint in this poem. It asks us to slow down and listen and we do so because the voice we hear has authority. To me this poem exemplifies Lansdown at his best. Simple words and short sentences. Effortless similes that add up to a mood with which one can easily identify.

There are also several long sequences of haiku reminiscent of those found in Robert Grey’s earlier books although arguably lacking Grey’s originality and finish. In ‘Microfilm Dots: 35 Haiku’, here is one of my favourites:

Watching fishermen
cast out—an old pelican
with rips in its pouch.

If I have any gripe with this book is that it is too even tempered, too easily satisfied with tranquillity and beauty. While progressing through each poem I yearned for an expletive. A direct rather than hinted at description of sex or violence. Not because this is always necessary but because Lansdown hits so many right notes that eschewing these makes the book feel a little too safe. There seems to me to be coyness around descriptions of birth, a lack of blood, vernix and meconium, which makes some of the poetry feel too scrubbed and wrapped in a blanket.

Apart from this, I enjoyed Fontanelle immensely for its depth, skill and goodwill. I recommend it highly.

© Mark Mahemoff

Published in JAS Review of Books, Online Issue 44, July 2006

API Review of Books is an online monthly published by the Australian Public Intellectual Network www.api-network.com
and produced by the Australian Research Institute at Curtin University of Technology.
Selected reviews from this website are subsequently published in the Journal of Australian Studies.



Review of Fontanelle

by Dale Harcombe

To my mindAustralia’s finest poet. No-one handles imagery as deftly. I read Boat one of the poems from this collection and my favourite poem of many of his, to my writing group the other Saturday. Listening to it produced some interesting poems of our own. Lansdown’s poems are the ones I go back to repeatedly and reread. They remind me what poetry is.

© Dale Harcombe

goodreads.com, 20 June 2012



Not the review

by Ralph Wessman

Among other books to have appeared in recent months are collections by Carolyn Gerrish (dark laughter, Island Press, 2004) and Andrew Lansdown (fontanelle, Five Islands Press, February 2005).

At first glance, dark laughter appears an eclectic mix. Gerrish references long-dead philosophers (Plato, Heidegger, Holderlin), classical musicians (Schubert, Handel, Schumann, Rossini), movie stars (Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep) et al. Her poetry reveals, among other things, a penchant for political analogy. …

With Apologies
Cheryl Kernot
“the woman most likely” –
smiles from the window
of the second-hand bookshop

Yet the heart of this collection lies not with eclecticism but with its emotional landscape. Focussing on big-picture concerns – the effect on the individual of desire, of loss – Gerrish seeks to make sense of a life. Answers may not be readily forthcoming [why is it that situations we think we’ve healed are still there?/ Why is it we keep losing things which should never be lost?], responses may be neither wise nor considered, but that’s simply the process and flush of discovery.

could you lose your obsessions? your dearest perverse loves
you talk about them endlessly
now that door’s closed
(from ‘Obsessions’, pg 15)

Relinquishment of control is a recurring theme in Gerrish’s poems; not the forsaking of a formal or technical control, but a loosening grip over events. [but you’ve lost the narrative thread of your life]. Equally evident is the urge to return to a sense of equilibrium. Soren Kierkegaard in his diaries likens the traipse back to the mainstream, to the heart, as a journey through a burnt and blackened landscape; and in similar vein the persona of Gerrish’s poems charts her bearings by retracing her steps through places ‘unfit for habitation’.

I am living a life I have no right to live
one day you took directions from the wrong person
to a place unfit for habitation you’ve accomplished
the voyage out but no vessel arrives to take you back

Lansdown’s fontanelle isn’t written with the same pitch of intensity as dark laughter. This is neither a good nor a bad thing, merely indicative of a differing approach. There’s a contemplative quality to the poems in fontanelle, an essentiality Geoff Page refers to as the ‘thisness of Lansdown’s poetry’.

What does it mean, that
buff-bellied thornbill,
rejoicing in the steady rain
from the dark sky? What?

(from ‘Dark Sky’, pg 11)

Lansdown writes of a private rather than public world, an inner landscape detailing the minutiae of daily routine … the dealings with wife, family and friends, the poet’s delight (and focus of a number of poems in the book) in his young son’s early years of development:

He waves now without being told.
But what sense does he make of it,
my small son, when he sees me
drive daily out of his life? I blow
the horn, flash the lights and go.


What does he think? Does he feel it
as a desertion? A bewilderment?
Last night in my absence he told
his mother before going to sleep,
“Daddy gone broom broom beep beep!”

To contrast Gerrish’s urgency with Lansdown’s meditative quality is to illustrate the difference between the two. Gerrish is the diver in search of precious pearls, content to surrender to the experience (if it’s within reason) of whatever lies around the corner. (& you’re mourning that loss of intensity/ the wave that carries you wherever it wants). Lansdown’s the lapidarist, shaping and polishing his lustrous gems and seeking to extract the utmost from his material. Note the aesthetic focus of his concern with beauty.

It is nothing flash, the pale blue plastic jug
on my desk. But how beautifully it holds
those two loose-petalled pastel-pink roses and
that cluster of blazing-red pollen-lit gum blossom.
How it brightens my room, my mood, as I write,
reminding me of the things I am closeted from,
of that gungurru dropping its slender branches
over a wall by the footpath I walked this morning.

(from ‘Blue Jug’)

Lansdown manages this with objects, but pays little attention to the physical or charismatic charm of individuals, although – it is true – it’s implicit within the poem ‘Home’:

And later tonight, before we join
the children in that no-place
of sleep, she might embrace me.
Or she might not. Either way
is fine. Tomorrow will be different.
Only her constancy is constant.
Two decades ago she vowed,
“With my body, my heart, my will,
I will.” And truly she has, does.
Amazing! My wife. She’s the one,
she’s the one I’m going home to now.
Home. The place she makes
by being there. The place
that resolves the question, “Who,
who in this life will love me?”
(from ‘Home’)

The subjects of Gerrish’s poems don’t have the luxury of Lansdown’s cushion of comfort. Lansdown’s ‘Who in this life will love me?’ is much the same question Gerrish poses, but her answers aren’t found in domesticity. When Gerrish writes of beauty, she refers more often than not to personal and physical charm as a veneer – one which hints at promise but that is ultimately flawed.

The very fact that the soprano lives. Is a kind of
perfection. And if you died listening to her. It would be an
ecstatic death. But is beauty the antithesis of truth? That it
can only be tolerated or appreciated. When dressed up in
its best clothes. In front of an adoring audience.

And what of the singer’s real life? Has she charmed
the universe? So her life is chaos-proof? Has she never
had a headache? Been constipated. Never lost her
keys. Missed a plane. Worn the wrong clothes.
Or loved the wrong person.

Personal relationships intrude on Gerrish’s appraisals of beauty, and there’s a residue of pain involved. She writes less than Lansdown about the intimacy of family bonds, and more about relationships that though rough-edged are plainly workable, plainly rewarding; some too that are plainly unworkable.

remember how she changed her number never
answered your calls (you wonder at the ease
that a person can dispense with the past by
the use of technology)
(from ‘Mountain High’)

Gerrish exhibits a hard-earned wariness, an unwillingness – with relationships particularly – to repeat the mistakes of the past. In some passages, the experiences she describes are grubby and sordid or just plain appalling (you asked him where his wife was. ‘Passed away’ he/ sighed. later they told you he’d hacked her to death: ‘Performance Unreliable’), and (her partner –/ huddled outside/ dying of AIDS: ‘Gaol Poem’); and (some women can never be mothers because of the wounds/ of their mothers: from ‘Performance Unreliable’) – experience enough to send some to seek the comfort of religion.

But not Gerrish. Not overtly so, anyhow, not in these poems – which is not to deny a spiritual dimension to her work. I’m reminded of an interview some years ago with poet Chris Mansell seeking her attitude towards questions of faith. Mansell replied she was at a loss to understand what other people meant by spirituality – ‘I don’t consciously strive for a spiritual sort of approach, because I think for myself I can’t divide things up like that.’ – and there’s a hint of this approach in Gerrish’s writing, a sense of faith, hope and despair being implicit rather than objectified. Certainly she voices the hope of escape from the cruel, the mundane – i want to live in a world where everyone sings Schubert/ lieder & the voices go on & on to the glory of god or/ goddess (from ‘Performance Unreliable’) – but nowhere is the notion of faith as pronounced as it is in Lansdown’s work, as – for example – in the following poem:


Yesterday, when I woke early
with that pain and got up and got
no relief, I thought of death,
my death. This is it, I thought.

And I felt grief for my family
and friends. My two young sons
especially – fatherless in their
formative years. But mostly

I felt shame, an overwhelming
shame that I would soon meet
my Saviour with so little to give
in thanks. Inexcusably little

Today the pain has gone, but
not the shame. Oh, dear Jesus!

Two books with different approaches; both enjoyable reading experiences for their introspection, honesty – and humour.

your taxman (who’s in love with Elvis)
today he’s unusually tetchy he’s lost a file complains
everyone’s come too early you tell him royalties for
your third poetry book amounts to $91.20
– My – he says – You have become a woman of means –

(from Gerrish’s ‘412 to Campsie’)

© Ralph Wessman

Famous Reporter, No. 31, mid-2005



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