This page contains some of the many reviews of Andrew’s books and general comments about his work.



Abundance: New and Selected Poems

The Chronicles of Klarin

Distillations of Different Lands

Kyoto Sakura Tanka (poetry and photography)

Inadvertent Things (poetry)

Gestures of Love (poetry)

Birds in Mind (poetry)

Fontanelle (poetry)

The Dispossessed (short fiction)

Between Glances (poetry)

Abiding Things (poems, stories, essays)

With My Knife (novel)

The Grasshopper Heart (poetry)

Waking and Always (poetry)

Homecoming (poetry)



♦ General comments about Andrew’s work

♦ Other websites with information about and copies of Andrew’s poetry and fiction


Reviews of Abundance: New and Selected Poems


2021 Australian Christian Book of the Year Award

Abundance: New and Selected Poems was shortlisted for the 2021 Australian Christian Book of the Year Award. The Award judges said:

“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
to flame.

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, 2023

Westerly Magazine, March 2023




Abundance: New and Selected Poems. By Andrew Lansdown. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2020. ISBN 978-1-7252-8457-9. Pp. xvi+225. USD $25.00

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:

The thing that astonishes me is that
life goes on abundantly without me…

[Here follow four stanzas, in which he celebrates various of the themes that run through his verse. The poem ends,]

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.”[1] 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
about poetry

my son (still months
from walking)

lounges without a care
on my knee, fronts

my old friend with
a vacant stare,

spasmodically stops
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.


[1] 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), pp. 124-128



Untitled 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

[Note: Abundance is the second of four books Ivan Head reviewed in the one article in the October 2021 issue of Quadrant magazine.] .
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 …

spasmodically stops
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





Reviews of The Chronicles of Klarin

“The Things Unseen”

by Ian Keast

The Chronicles of Klarin
by Andrew Lansdown
Wombat Books, 2018, 400 pages, $25


One of my earliest memories of childhood is my father reading The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis to me. Favourite sections were read, again and again. So began a lifelong interest in the genre of fantasy.

Andrew Lansdown is a familiar name to Studio readers. We associate him as the poet whose writing has graced the pages of this journal for many years. What is not as well known is that he has written three fantasy novels: With My Knife (1992); Dragonfox (1997); The Red Dragon (2006); and now they have been republished in this trilogy, The Chronicles of Klarin. Having read them as separate novels when they were published, it is a great pleasure to re-read the trilogy. Like all worthwhile fantasy, they offer much from re-reading their rich imaginative worlds.

In 2001, Lansdown published an essay, In Defence of Fantasy. As the title suggests, he wanted to present a lucid defence of the integrity of the genre. After all, as he states, it has seen notable practitioners—C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and George MacDonald—to name a few. Fantasy is defined as, extraordinary and remarkable. Fantasy stories go beyond everyday realities and may often transcend the laws of nature. They portray things that do not normally happen and worlds that do not actually exist … It is the unexplained, unembarrassed presentation of the extraordinary that separates fantasy from all other types of literature … Yet while fantasy writing depicts the extraordinary, it also celebrates much that is ordinary: trees, stones, horses, hearth-fires, bread—all somehow become solid and important in fantasy writing …

This quotation serves to introduce us to The Chronicles of Klarin. There the “extraordinary” and “remarkable” abound—dragons, other worlds, dragonettes, foxes and the like, appear across the pages. The “ordinary”, both in setting and many of the characters is alongside. And this mix is driven along by a strong, taut, and thoughtful narrative. The battle scenes, where “good” and “evil” are in conflict, are “page-turners”. We know the outcome in this moral world constructed, but we are still captured by the adventures.

This is one level of reading The Chronicles of Klarin—the three books, even with the slower (but growing menace and foreboding) of the third, are “rattling good stories”. And as worthwhile fantasy, they also offer a glimpse into a deeper reality, the things unseen, in this case, the longings and temptations of the heart. Colyn, the central character, is the focus as he becomes the keeper of the knife, the main motif in the trilogy. At first, it offers an innocent delight and wonder, then a growing awareness of its power, and becomes, as the narrative continues, the object of pride, control, envy, bitterness, deceit, conflict and bloodshed, as his  heart struggles with its darker depths, the heart’s dragons. All is viewed through the lens of Biblical motifs. Psalm 44, Thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death, introduced in the first book, is the link to Colyn’s mother and her courageous example as the knife-bearer. In Book Two, the beast coming up out of the earth… (Revelation), and, in the third book, from Revelation 12, And another portent appeared in heaven; behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads …, is the warning from his father. It is the playing out of these motifs in all their complexity and personal implications for Colyn , that creates the intensity of the third book. To pick up the metaphor in Book One, the pieces of the jigsaw-puzzle come together. (No spoiler alerts necessary—I am not going to divulge any plot details!)

The ordinary, “this” world, and the extraordinary, “other” world of Klarin, are portrayed with the skill and perception of this poet’s imagist eye. The “this” world comes through the solid, ordinary things, (referred to earlier)—trees, stones, potatoes, horses, jigsaw puzzles, the significance of names, dust, sheds, gravel roads, cardboard boxes … By contrast, the mood of the “other” is conveyed, vividly and visually, to emphasise the extraordinary and the remarkable, It had the usual dragon features: large, round, yellow eyes with black, vertical, slit pupils, eye-sockets so large that the ridges curved above the rest of the head; flared, protruding nostrils like twin trumpets … Had he expected a dragon, he would have expected all this. But what he could not have expected—what surprised him utterly—was the dragon’s size and colour. It was small and red. Here is writing of the highest order for younger readers to encounter.

At this point in the review, I have put on “the (retired) teacher’s hat.” For in that role this trilogy has much to offer for reading and the study of the fantasy genre. All the elements of imaginative and thought-provoking storytelling are here. And to “test” this, I gave The Chronicles to my grandson, Noah, Year 9, an avid reader (Tolkien and Lewis have been devoured), for his view. Here are some of his comments: “I thought the first book was very entertaining and had a flowing tempo. The main character, Colyn, is well developed and relies a lot on the memory of his mother for inspiration. The second book is probably my favourite. I enjoyed the adventures of Colyn and Yasni in Klarin, even though some conflict was evident between them. The book made for an exciting third novel. Reading the three books together helps to see the connections between them and how the ideas are developing. In the third book, I liked the way Colyn’s father is more involved, especially when their life is interrupted by the dragonettes, the red dragon and foxes. There is more conflict between Colyn and the other human characters and he makes many mistakes as the book progresses. In some ways the ending is not what I expected. Overall, I really enjoyed the trilogy. While suitable for all ages, I would recommend it to readers under-12 for the adventures about fantastic creatures.”

R. R. Tolkien in his essay, On Fairy Stories, has written that fantasy involves the fullest expression of God’s creative nature, because it involves the greatest originality and inventiveness. For in fantasy, he suggests, the writer is a “sub-creator”, making a “Secondary World” of “arresting strangeness.” Andrew Lansdown’s The Chronicles of Klarin is testament to such creativity.

© Ian Keast

Studio, Number 148, 2020



Reviews of Distillations of Different Lands


Celebration and Beyond – Review by Hal Colebatch in Quadrant

Distillations of Different Lands
by Andrew Lansdown
Sunline Press, 2018, 144 pages, $25


I met Andrew Lansdown in 1974 when I was trying to teach Creative Writing at Curtin University of Technology and he was the best student in the class by a country mile. It was obvious that he had enrolled in the class not because it was easy but because he genuinely wanted to improve his writing skills. His voice was original and absolutely sincere.

Since then he has published a best-selling series of fantasy books in the US, two collections of short stories and fifteen books of poetry and verse as well as other work. Readers of Quadrant will be familiar with his poetry. He has combined what would be a more-than-respectable body of work for a full-time writer with a career as a Baptist minister and teacher. His religious sensibility as a theologian has given a special depth to his poetry, especially the celebratory poetry, and given it—even the short and humorous pieces—a special richness and wholeness.

All his books have been outstanding. One of his most interesting previous collections, Allsorts (2011) includes a seventy-page section for children on how to use poetic forms, making it a valuable handbook as well as an important anthology in its own right. Aspiring poets of any age would do well to read it, and poetry editors sick of receiving slabs of dull, chopped-up prose should be grateful that it is available.

Family life and his happy marriage are constant themes. His wife Susan has illustrated some of his books, and one collection is devoted to fatherhood.

He has the mark of a major poet in that as well as quantity of output, his command of technique continues to develop from book to book. He has worked steadily, advancing this technique, while the “generation of ’68” have come and gone, leaving nary a wrack behind nor a memorable line (except, perhaps for the memorably meaningless “Mallarmé’s curse hangs over Launceston”). One of the keys to his success is that he never for a moment loses sight of the need for poetry to communicate.

Even a couple of Andrew Lansdown’s poems which I found rather disgusting—about mouse-droppings and popping blow-fish—are technically accomplished miniature portraits of aspects of life. His celebratory poems are full of beauty.

Lansdown’s latest collection, Distillations of Different Lands, is a collection of largely imagist poems of Australia, Japan and the northern United States. Japanese poetic forms and disciplines have been a powerful influence on his work for some time and the cherry blossoms and medieval castles, temples and stories of Kyoto are strong influences in his imagination. From Japan, as well as birds, flowers and landscapes (and Christian martyrs) come legendary figures like the fox-god, Inari.

Birds have always been an important subject for him, not only for themselves, but as pointers to the wonder of creation:

The sound, and even
the force, of a small brittle
leaf striking a board—
the wren veranda-skipping
cheekily for biscuit crumbs.
            [“Sounds and Wrens” – 1 “Afternoon Tea”]

“The Man with the Gun” is a lament for the days before Islam’s unremitting terrorist war on the West made even innocent actions fearful. (“The sergeant saw the man with the gun / was simply old and full of fun.”)

As I indicated above, not all the poems are cele­bratory. There are tragedies hinted in the background of a number of them:

Distracted briefly
by a bird hopping sideways
up a bamboo cane.
And I observe that it, too,
is struggling to keep a grip.
            [“Birds of a Feather” – 1 “Slippage”]

One sees some of the angst that must touch every human life:

If only our hearts
were rigid like the segments
of timber bamboos
they, too, might have a limit
to the emptiness they hold.
            [“Meditations on Emptiness” – 1 “Limit”]

Wisely, there are not many poems about poetry, but like the rest, these few are memorable:

Again the poet
settles to the priestly task
of redeeming words
from their base and futile state
and lifting them to Heaven’s gate.
            [“The Poet’s Work – 1 “The Priestly Task”]

There is another perfect poem—and they are all perfect to my ear—on the grave of Basho, the greatest master of haiku. While he shares the master’s love of the deceptively small, Lansdown can also write of the great. Some of these poems, like “The Martyred Mother”, are tours de force, in this case of pity and terror.

It would not do these longer poems justice to quote them only in part. But let it be said that their sustained power never flags. “Mummy-long-legs” blends the comic and the gruesome in a way that reminds me of certain recent American legal proceedings.

“The Shodo Egret” is a wonderful poem, a genuine opening of the doors of perception. Then there is:

It has the grey robes
and the meditative pose:
perhaps the heron
on the temple bridge rail hopes
to become a Buddhist monk?
            [“Japanese Heron” – 2 “Aspiration”]


Is it a heron
aspiring to return a priest
or is it a priest
reincarnated a heron …
or perhaps purely a heron?
            [“Japanese Heron” – 3 “Speculation”]

A classic Japanese koan is put to new use:

The mosquito whines
at me, wanting instruction.
Very well, small one,
come here and meditate on
the sound of one hand slapping.
            [“Mosquito Meditations” – 1 “Koan”]

Some day scholars may see the work of a small group of West Australian poets—Andrew Burke, Rod Moran, Philip Salom and Shane McCauley among them—forming, if not a movement, a distinct “voice” which has kept a poetry of strength and meaning alive in a fierce national drought. Andrew Lansdown has a major place in that company. He has been generous in promoting other poets on his website, and he gave much support to the gentle old poet William Hart-Smith when he was alone and nearly blind, and I guess that Hart-Smith has been an important influence on Lansdown’s work where he has presented poems as little “surprise packages”.

This book is precious for what it teaches the mind, the eye and the heart.

© Hal Colebatch
Quadrant, No. 551, November 2018




Andrew Lansdown’s new book of poems is a heartfelt journey into lands beyond and within. This is Andrew’s fifteenth book of poetry. Studio has published four of his poetry books, Abiding Things – poems, stories, essays, Allsorts – poetry tricks and treats and both his stunning Japanese photographs and poetry books. In this new collection the titles of the four parts of the book convey the breadth and depth of these poetic journeys: Heartland, Japan, Homeland, America. The title of the opening poem in Heartland, ‘Sketches of Life’, captures the spirit of this collection, as Andrew explores with raw emotion the playful joy and innocence of young grandchildren, the scraped-back pain from the death of his younger brother, and the depths of intimacy in love, birth and family.

The opening poem in this collection, ‘Us2’, captures the joyful childlike spirit of a grandchild through the creative language used and the vivid experience explored. Here are the opening three stanzas,


Lying beside me on the mattress
on the floor, my nearly3grandson says,
Grandpa, whydocowshavebells?

1longword in 5rapidfirestaccatos.
Then with barely a grabbedbreath’spause
he answers, Causetheirhornsdon’twork!

It takes me 2heartskips to get it …
And then I laugh, trulyloudlylaugh at
the delightfulunexpected doubleentendre

In Variations of SorrowAndrew examines the pain of loss through a series of poetic vignettes, including Cutting,

As a cutter cuts
a human shape out of raw
gingerbread dough—
so death, brother, cut the stark
shape of you out of my heart.

In the delicacy of small things and through precise observations in nature, Andrew Lansdown examines the world around us and the world within, while exploring the deeply significant messages connecting both these worlds.

In Japan, the second part of the collection, the titles of poems evoke the world in which Andrew immerses the reader: ‘Water for Worship’, ‘Japanese Heron’, ‘Stone Bowl’, ‘Women and Blossoms’, ‘Concerning Origami Cranes’, ‘Petals Scattering’, ‘Walking to the Waterfall’, ‘Nijo Castle’, ‘Bamboo with Breezes’, ‘Gazing at a Geisha’, ‘Sacred Sakura’. Andrew evokes and explores people, places, insects, birds, objects, plants and the unique culture of Japan with compassionate insight and meticulous precision.

In Homeland, the third part of the book, Andrew ranges across ancient Australia, ancient Japan and the intricacies of nature with, as the poet Geoff Page has observed, ‘descriptive exactness and a seeming spontaneity’. He has included one of my favourite poems here, and this poem captures those qualities completely,

The Japanese Gardener

The Japanese gardener
who keeps the river
is working hard today

He has raked
the entire bay

except for a small patch
near the centre

which he has trowelled
smooth     perfectly

Now just wait

and he will probably
that sailboat

into the stillness

for a mountain

The shorter final part, America, takes us to the forests of North America and the flights of Canadian geese with a variety of poems that hint at a reluctant journey and the chill of isolation, finishing with an ironic eye and a belly laugh in New Orleans with the poem, ‘Them Shoes’,

‘First,’ he says, ‘you gotta pay for a shine
if I can tell you where you got them shoes.’

‘Ten bucks,’ he says, when I ask how much.
I agree and ask, grinning, ‘Tell me where, then?’

He pulls a rag from his pants back pocket
and drops to one knee on the pavement.

Straight-off straight-faced he says, ‘You got them shoes
on your feet, and your feet’s on Bourbon Street.’

You will be surprised, amused, challenged and affected by the poems in this new collection, affirming the viewpoint of Geoff Page that ‘Lansdown is one of the most assured of Australian poets working in the Imagist tradition …’

© Paul Grover

Studio, Number 149, 2020


Reviews of Kyoto Sakura Tanka



by Erin Thornback

Through a series of visual and textual explorations, Andrew Lansdown’s Kyoto Sakura Tanka creates a striking depiction of the bicameral, separating his collection into kami no ku (the poet sees) and ashimo no ku (the poet wonders). The fundamental basis of Lansdown’s series is rooted in the Japanese tanka, or traditional waka: a five-line piece of poetry divided into mortas, or syllable counts, of 5/7/5/7/7. Yet, in this series, Lansdown once again takes up the themes of nature, transience and master Bashō’s doctrine of fueki ryūkō – ‘permanence and change’ – only to position himself against his chosen poetic tradition.

Lansdown’s self-assigned task in this collection is twofold: he is disruptive to form and yet desires to remain meaningful. Notwithstanding bold innovation, Lansdown’s tanka captures the precision of haiku in its brevity while simultaneously preoccupied with fresh visions of the Imagist tradition as a means of cognitive exploration. Each poem takes the reader on a poetic detour of Kyoto, which furnishes new significance for this microcosm of Japanese culture and tradition. Of course, small details and Lansdown’s exquisite precision of language are not definitive, yet they are specific enough to keep abreast of fueki ryūkō as a necessary innovation to the waning presence of the tanka in contemporary poetics.

Take for instance, Lansdown’s ‘Volcanoes’:

There are volcanoes
among the mighty bamboos,
extinct volcanoes
with water in their craters
where once other bamboos stood.

This perception of the ‘bamboos’ awakens us to a dual significance in what remains once the bamboo undergoes metamorphosis. In the heavily codified realm of traditional Japanese poetry, waka’s select poetic words allude to a multitude of connotations and prescribed associations. Within ‘Volcanoes’, ‘bamboos’ embody the perpetual vitality of nature itself or are presented as ‘extinct volcanoes’; nothing more than an awareness of the impermanence and delicate im / perfection of things, characterised in the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi Sabi. This idea is also demonstrated in Lansdown’s ‘Off-Pivot’:

Shishi-odoshi –
an off-pivoted bamboo tube
lifting with the load of water, 
falling with the load of itself.

The ‘shishi-odoshi’ is an imperfect metaphor for the realisation that things are lost to us even as they are found, characterising the traditional subject of seasonal change and awakening thoughts of the transience in and of nature. This motion of ‘lifting’ and ‘falling’ is similarly presented as involutional, the motion from past to present, present to past, which thus allows the past of the classical tanka form and Lansdown’s contemporary poetry to embrace and inform each other in the dynamic immediacy of present vision. This is literally and figuratively realised in the accompanying photography. In this way, Lansdown’s poems offer an aesthetic ideal that uses the uncompromising touch of mortality in ‘Volcanoes’ to focus the mind; and, in ‘Off-Pivot’, to provoke a sharp, intuitive discovery in order to get the essence of life and fueki ryūkō, infused with tradition and abruptly disturbed by ‘the haunting hollow bamboo sounds punctuating the temple garden’ (‘Shish-odoshi Hauntings’).

Of the haiku, Lansdown adopts hyperbole and repetition as a kind of foil to the elegant poeticism of the tanka, and a contrast to the worldly realism of ‘vulgar’ rhetoric, only to then re-poeticise them. Set within the language of common speech and his perceptions, Lansdown utilises the poetic diction incorporated in the haiku to entice the reader to review the everyday life of contemporary Japan through aestheticized eyes, thereby authorising new subject matter as worthy of the grand tanka tradition:

Sakura, Susan …
as with the cherry petals, 
so also her cheeks –
a pink flush in the whiteness
and my regard as witness.


The consonance of ‘cherry’, ‘cheeks’, ‘whiteness’ and ‘witness’ is used here to emphasise the ephemeral beauty caught fleeting in the sakura blossom and Lansdown’s wife, Susan, to whom the text is dedicated. Normally, of course, this sort of cloying reiteration would be very obvious. It stands out here, however, as an evident anomaly within the minimal scope of 31 syllables, where its imagist inclination depends on verbal economy, the reverential ‘pink flush in the whiteness’ resonating with ‘regard as witness’. Lansdown employs the exact word, not the nearly-exact, nor the merely decorative word, but hypostasises love and consciousness as qualities of nature itself. Through the alliteration of ‘Sakura, Susan’ he reveals that both figures are invested in an immense environment, not distinct from it, but, as determined in the adjoining poem, in a mutual, inexplicable process of eternal blending and appreciation of natural beauty:

She’s beyond white
in purity, so she’s quite
beyond seeing –
the Kyoto bride trailing 
confetti through the cherries.


The result is a vision of human presence framed against an interfusional setting, that is, nature is not presented as an otherness distinct from Susan, but as a shifting perceptual field that is so ‘beyond white in purity’, that it is ‘quite beyond seeing’. This quiet process, whereby humankind and nature appear perfectly continuous and productive of each other, displaces consciousness into all things – human and inhuman – in such a way that cognitive and emotional qualities ordinarily belonging to the human are seen to anticipate an amorphous and embracive environmental unity of seeing and feeling. In unifying nature and the human, the marriage Lansdown celebrates is rooted in the Japanese concept of ‘furyu’, which literally means ‘in the way of the wind and stream’; Sakura and Susan presented as within a liminal zone, which the reader, as ‘Witness’, must occupy to realise Lansdown’s vision of the ‘Bride’.

The nature Lansdown exalts throughout his poetry is similarly given visual engagement through the accompanying photography. In this collection, the first to contain a series of his images, he evokes for the reader the exact vision that inspired the accompanying poem, literally leading the reader ‘through the cherries’, all the while identifying the inspiration and the degree of interfusion present in the lyric. In ‘Night Canal, Gion’, he writes:

Like the faces
of loved ones, cherry petals
on the canal – 
passing into and out of 
the last reflections of light.

The adjoining image sets up a point of focus, strongly indicative of his title motifs, cherry petals and Kyoto, while the tanka complicates and illuminates the poet’s vision. On the surface, the photograph appears to simply record a moment of startling receptivity: the light dispersing as people go in and out of focus, until their reflections flow down the ‘night canal’. Upon closer inspection, the poem emerges as a record of profound dislocation – the blooming cherry blossoms, the opaque reflections, loss of light, and lack of stability as faces pass in and out of view, serving to suspend and preserve fragments in time. The transcendental nature of the Sakura blossom and humanity represented within Kyoto Sakura Tanka preserves Lansdown’s memory and the fleeting moment, which is no longer available as perception, but immaculately, captured in a photo as it is swept up by the canal. This constant revivifying of the cherished tanka tradition with the literal imagist precision of photography is what epitomises Lansdown’s collection and his utilisation of Bashō’s doctrine of ‘permanence and change’. What Lansdown accomplishes in his series is an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time. This is perhaps never more realised than in ‘Wonderment’:

Fingerlings of fire
burning in the still water 
of the stone basin – 
I wonder, did they drop down
from the reader paper lantern?

Lansdown identifies the natural as a vital continuum of interactive forces within the tanka. The ‘still water/ of the stone basin’ cannot be viewed as something other than fish, and the ‘Fingerlings’ of ‘fire burning’ colour cannot be viewed as anything other than pertaining to the ‘red paper lantern’. This personification imbues the photograph with motion to form a still point of oceanic calm and penetrating insight.
The insight of which Lansdown speaks is between the word and action, the place where poetry unfolds:

Beside the blushings 
of the cherry blossoms, they 
are so small and plain, 
the little scarlet buddings 
of the Japanese Maples.


In between these lines, a quiet listening in anticipation, a kind of potential action on the brink of realisation unfolds, as the reader waits in suspense of the Japanese Maples flourishing.

Another scene shows the relationship between the human and the natural worlds:

The spring cherry trees
wave their pretty handkerchiefs,
beckoning the bees. 
and to their surprise, humans
also come to gaze and hum.

(‘To Their Surprise’)

While this poem creates a pleasing image, it’s Lansdown’s precision of syntax and perception of the places he dwells that stays with the reader, the intimate qualities of a diary laid bare through his visual journal. As each poem progresses, it feels natural to connect each photograph with the intended poem; each sequence linked by the subtle colours present in the image and reflected on the neighbouring page. ‘To Their Surprise’ is just one of the instances where this symbiosis advances the text’s tranquillity and elegance, the subtle shift between the kami no ku to ashimo no kubeautifully realised in the poet’s observation of the visual and sky blue reflected on the adjacent background.

However, there are instances within Lansdown’s Kyoto Sakura Tanka where it is desirable for these microcosmic poems to be left wanting of an image. Rather, their fragmentary nature invites suggestion and implication, so that the reader can interpret the tanka in light of their own experiences. This not only reflects Japanese grammar, but is also a poetic culture in which the experience is felt to be as important as the subjective frame around it. This lack of breathing space between the images and the language cuts off the reader as an equal participant in the sensory experience, and limits the potential of the text to truly capture and inspire fueki ryūkō, as in the tanka string, ‘Resignation’, ‘Aspiration’ and ‘Speculation’:

If it’s not because
the koi in the temple moat
are too big to kill, 
why does the heron regard 
them with such resignation?

It has the grey robes
and the meditative pose: 
perhaps the heron
on the temple bride rail hopes
to become a Buddhist monk?

Is it a heron
spring to return a priest, 
or is a priest 
reincarnated a heron …
or perhaps purely a heron?


Taken as a whole, this sequence brilliantly captures the possibilities of the heron, and the image resonates with mimetic constructs. However, this long poem borders on the merely observational, lacking depth – or is simply cut off from that possibility due to the multitude of evocations. As in ‘Speculation’, the heron is betwixt human and natural realms, living in tension with its anamorphic possibilities, unable to progress beyond the question mark, or as Lansdown demonstrates, in ‘Draught’:

Even unloaded
cherry petals sit too deep 
in the water, so
they cannot pass on the flow
across the stone basin’s rim.

This poem describes in the most pragmatic terms the way the poet and the poem form a relationship, and is beguiling in its mysterious ability to evoke essential connection, sometimes not necessarily for the better, as the water ‘cannot pass on the flow’.

The collection does, however, allude to the cadences of other poets, such as ‘Imagine’, which is dedicated to Arakida Moritake:

A master’s haiku
moved me to imagine them
among the cherries:
butterflies like petals resting, 
petals like butterflies wafting!

Placing Moritake at the centre of this poem, the reader cannot help but find the subtle allusions and tells of his most famous poem:

A fallen blossom
returning to the bough, I thought –
But no, a butterfly. 

Taken together, these cadences concentrate each line of Lansdown’s ‘Imagine’, bringing every word and its allusions into focus and opening up his poem as an accessible Kyoto that is gradually expanding.

In ‘Issa’s Style’, the lyrics are an evocation, the poem in pursuit of master poets:

In the old pond near
Basho’s grave, a small turtle
rides a big one’s back: 
a subject suited perhaps	 
more to Issa than Basho.

The image and poem conflate into an act of philosophical perception; the culmination of the turtle riding one’s back presents a jocular regress to life’s transience and the problem posed by the ‘unmoved mover’ paradox (‘it’s turtles all the way down’). Essentially, the poem suggests it’s Basho and Issa all the way down, Lansdown unintentionally working himself out of the hierarchy, but eternally in pursuit of a place within it.

But as in Aiden Coleman’s review of Lansdown’s Inadvertent Things – Poems in Traditional Japanese Forms, there are instances within Kyoto Sakura Tanka where the writing borders on the kawaii and the extreme use of rhyming is out of place in the grand tanka tradition, as in ‘Newly Flowering’:

The newly flowering 
cherry will keep its pink ruff
intact for days yet – 
so, let the spring breezes cuff
and the wild sparrows play rough!

Yet, if it has been Lansdown’s intention to inspire fueki ryūkō and encapsulate Wabi Sabi, then he has been successful, but perhaps to a degree near on saccharine. It is poetry which easily moves between subjects and awakens the world of invisible spirits where cherry blossoms come alive and humans have the power to morph with nature – but it lacks the unexpected and falls into formulaic poetic devices such as couplets and juxtapositions.

Throughout Kyoto Sakura Tanka, Lansdown has aspired to capture the transience of nature and evoke the delicately personal experiences and perceptions of time within sakura fragments of tanka, immaculately captured in his camera lens for the reader to experience and relish. Towards the beginning of the collection comes one of my favourite tankas, ‘Tricky Kitsune’, a poem which I think encapsulates the fueki ryūkō of Lansdown’s collection, and is evocative of the transient nature of Kyoto and humanity within the waka tradition:

Would ghost-foxes
appearing as young women
dress in fox masks? 
How like the tricksters to work 
concealment by revealment!

© Erin Thornback

Cordite Poetry Review, February 2017



Poems exhibit delicate strength

by Brian Peachey

Kyoto Sakura Tanka is Andrew Lansdown’s 15th published collection of poetry and his first published collection of photography.

It is an elegant publication, in a beautifully crafted hardcover edition, which makes it an ideal gift. Even more so, because the contents were created by one of the finest poets in Australia.

I have fond memories of his previously published books of poetry. His 1996 book of poems and stories, Abiding Things, has an early touch of Japan with the first poem, The Japanese Gardener. But the five-line lyric tanka poem of Japan, which has since become a fascinating adventure for him, had not then grabbed his attention.

In his beautiful book, The Grasshopper Heart, published in 1991, he moved closer to Japan with Five Haiku. On the blank page before the contents, he arranged five lines from Isaiah 55:12, which in my limited ability to judge seems to come close to a tanka.

In Kyoto Sakura Tanka, Lansdown soars to new heights. Not only is the book a delight to read, but his scholarship adds great value. The book should be in all school libraries.

Cherry blossom viewing  (hanami) has been practised in Japan by emperors, courtiers, samurai, priests and commoners for nearly two millennia and cherry blossoms (sakura) have been invested with many forms of aesthetic, cultural and religious significance. Several of my tanka (also known as waka) allude to this:

Of Petals and Poets

The waka poets
weighted the cherry petals
with sad sentiment …
Nonetheless they sail the air
as if unburdened with care.

The poem Kyoto Autumn Maples, which is a sequence of six tanka, won the Melbourne Poets Union International Poetry Prize.

To Their Surprise

The spring cherry trees
wave their pretty handkerchiefs,
beckoning the bees.
And to their surprise, humans
also come to gaze and hum.


© Brian Peachey
News Weekly, June 17, 2017





by Aidan Coleman

Andrew Lansdown’s poetry has long been defined by the primacy of the image and a preoccupation with form. Inadvertent Things revisits the themes of nature, family and God through the familiar Japanese forms of tanka and haiku, and also the choka, a sort of extended tanka. The haiku is the form that features most often and always as part of a suite called a gunsaku, where the poems work independently but also cumulatively. All the terms are explained in a short introduction for the uninitiated, in which Lansdown expresses his intention to follow the spirit rather than the letter of the law.

As in Lansdown’s other collections, small details matter. Take the tanka ‘Azure’:

Surely a piece is
missing from the azure robe
of the Madonna
in some ancient mosaic
because of that fairy wren!

Lansdown’s imagery is precise and inventive. The tanka ‘Caress’ is simply one perfectly realised simile:

As one gorilla
might caress another with
the back of its hand
– just so this excavator
gently nudges the brick wall …

As in the best translations of classical haiku, seemingly unremarkable details, captured through unadorned language, can produce a satisfying whole in which every syllable counts. This is the first part of ‘Loquats’:

My littlest boy –
dropping from the loquat tree
after his brother.

It is not only the simple but exact choice of words that appeals but the way the syntax unfolds, withholding completeness until the final word sends the reader back to the opening line, creating a perfect circle.

Humour is employed throughout Inadvertent Things, not the laugh out loud kind but the kind to make the reader smile in recognition. This haiku from ‘Frog Cacophonies’ is worthy of the Japanese master Issa:

Oh stop, you jolly
little frogs – it’s unseemly
to be so happy!

Other poems play self-consciously with the idea of form to pleasing effect. ‘Crab Shell Haiku’, for example:

Like an empty shell
a haiku offers a home
to a hermit crab.

Like a hermit crab
a haiku offers new life
to an empty shell.

But for all the fine poems in the book – and most of them are good – others fall short. There are places where the writing is overly cute, as in the final haiku of ‘Pygmy Bat’ and the second part of ‘Jonquils and Daffodils’:

The pup of a pug –
That’s how you look, pygmy bat,
with that ugly mug!


Perfectly pretty,
jonquils – but also, alas,
painfully pongy!

The abundance of poetic devices is cloying and the effect of the rhyme above (and in a few other places) lands somewhere between a haiku and a rhyming couplet. There are chokas in the book where rhyme is effective, but rhyme rarely works in haiku because it tends to draw attention to itself and complete or close off at the expense of the meditative quality that is the form’s chief appeal.

In other cases, the lyric is prosaic or flat. The following parts of ‘Birth Haiku’, for example, lack the surprise or the interesting juxtapositions that characterise classical Japanese haiku:

A steel suction cap –
the doctor settles it in,
adjusts the vacuum.

This delivery –
who will deliver her from
the doctor’s pulling?

His misshapen head –
the doctor explains, ‘That’s just
where the suction was’.

The inclusion of such material is unnecessary because Lansdown has always been prolific and this book – stretching to 161 pages – could easily have been shorter.

Lansdown is one of our best writers of haiku and poetic miniatures and, for those interested in Japanese forms, this attractive volume is worth purchasing. For those concerned less with such forms, other books by Lansdown, such as the award-winning Between Glances, will be a better introduction to the poet’s work.

© Aidan Coleman

Cordite Poetry Review, February 2014



by Paul Grover

Inadvertent Things: Poems in traditional Japanese forms
Andrew Lansdown — Walleah Press, 2013 — PO Box 368, North Hobart, Tasmania 7002

Gestures of Love: The Fatherhood Poems
Andrew Lansdown — Wombat Books, 2013 — PO Box 1519, Capabala, Qld 4157

Andrew Lansdown is a well-known name in the pages of Studio, and these two new books, both published in 2013, are books with a specific theme and focus. Inadvertent Things is a carefully crafted collection of poems using traditional Japanese poetry forms, the choka, tanka and haiku. Andrew writes with the poet’s precise eye and the insight of the sensitive observer. At the beginning of the book the author provides a helpful guide to reading these traditional Japanese poetry forms, and then immediately provides us with a rich tapestry of nature poems that carefully analyse a moment in nature, an instant in time or a point in life to inform and inspire us. As Les Murray says of Andrew’s work:

Andrew Lansdown is an imagist of almost unlimited inventiveness. His observant eye can graze, can focus on the tiniest quiddity and make it perpetual or it can feast on a subject and draw out an inexhaustible wealth of comparison.

 On inadvertent things, Andrew says in one poem:

Inadvertent Things (2)

Could it be, even
though they look like happenstance,
inadvertent things
are signs of Benevolence—
less than fate but more than chance?

Andrew looks within and beyond all that is around us, in nature, in life, and exposes the ‘this-ness’ of this life, and the ‘nature’ of nature. In a personally reflective moment he writes:


A mistake I’ve made
for most of my life has been
to think the mundane
is not really part of my life
but merely a hindrance to it.

Gestures of Love is a fine collection of poems about fatherhood, a rare subject for a whole collection—and this collection explores the whole gamut of fatherhood experience: the joys, the griefs, moments of delight and despair just as Andrew Lansdown looks with a poet’s precise eye at the small things of nature, and sees large signs and deep meaning, so too does he focus on the many moments fathers experience with sons and daughters, and draws rich insights and richer relationships. He truly garners the gestures of love in this collection:

Gestures of Love

He waves a greeting
then, grinning, skips back to play
How can I gamer,
against the times of leanness,
such simple gestures of love?

This collection is one to savour, one to revisit often, and one to explore. Geoff Page has observed of Andrew’s poetry:

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

This observation is echoed throughout this special collection, as we are invited into the poet’s mind and heart as he watches his children grow, explore life, question the world around them and face their childhood challenges.

© Paul Grover

Studio, No. 130, 2014


Reviews of Gestures of Love



by Paul Grover

Inadvertent Things: Poems in traditional Japanese forms
Andrew Lansdown — Walleah Press, 2013 — PO Box 368, North Hobart, Tasmania 7002

Gestures of Love: The Fatherhood Poems
Andrew Lansdown — Wombat Books, 2013 — PO Box 1519, Capabala, Qld 4157

Andrew Lansdown is a well-known name in the pages of Studio, and these two new books, both published in 2013, are books with a specific theme and focus. Inadvertent Things is a carefully crafted collection of poems using traditional Japanese poetry forms, the choka, tanka and haiku. Andrew writes with the poet’s precise eye and the insight of the sensitive observer. At the beginning of the book the author provides a helpful guide to reading these traditional Japanese poetry forms, and then immediately provides us with a rich tapestry of nature poems that carefully analyse a moment in nature, an instant in time or a point in life to inform and inspire us. As Les Murray says of Andrew’s work:

Andrew Lansdown is an imagist of almost unlimited inventiveness. His observant eye can graze, can focus on the tiniest quiddity and make it perpetual or it can feast on a subject and draw out an inexhaustible wealth of comparison.

 On inadvertent things, Andrew says in one poem:

Inadvertent Things (2)

Could it be, even
though they look like happenstance,
inadvertent things
are signs of Benevolence—
less than fate but more than chance?

Andrew looks within and beyond all that is around us, in nature, in life, and exposes the ‘this-ness’ of this life, and the ‘nature’ of nature. In a personally reflective moment he writes:


A mistake I’ve made
for most of my life has been
to think the mundane
is not really part of my life
but merely a hindrance to it.

Gestures of Love is a fine collection of poems about fatherhood, a rare subject for a whole collection—and this collection explores the whole gamut of fatherhood experience: the joys, the griefs, moments of delight and despair just as Andrew Lansdown looks with a poet’s precise eye at the small things of nature, and sees large signs and deep meaning, so too does he focus on the many moments fathers experience with sons and daughters, and draws rich insights and richer relationships. He truly garners the gestures of love in this collection:

Gestures of Love

He waves a greeting
then, grinning, skips back to play
How can I gamer,
against the times of leanness,
such simple gestures of love?

This collection is one to savour, one to revisit often, and one to explore. Geoff Page has observed of Andrew’s poetry:

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

This observation is echoed throughout this special collection, as we are invited into the poet’s mind and heart as he watches his children grow, explore life, question the world around them and face their childhood challenges.

© Paul Grover
Studio, No. 130, 2014




by Warwick Marsh

It is so hard to explain fatherhood and the many emotions it entails, but Andrew Lansdown, from Perth, has done a cracking job. His new book of poems called ‘Gestures of Love – the Fatherhood Poems’ is full of moments and emotions experienced by fathers the world over.

Les Murray, arguably Australia’s greatest living poet, writes:

“Many of Andrew Lansdown’s poems have to power to bless, to unsettle now with mysterious calm, now with the deep resonance of poetry. Of all Australian imagists, he is the one with the broadest and warmest human sympathy, and no one writes of family love with more tenderness than he.”

The media release provided by the publisher, Even Before Publishing, gives an accurate description of this collection of fatherhood poems.

Few poets have explored the weight and wonder of fatherhood like Andrew Lansdown. Over the years he has established a high reputation for his subtle, insightful poems about his wife and children.

Acclaimed poet and critic Geoff Page has observed that ‘Lansdown has a very sincere and direct way of handling poems about his immediate family which subtly suggests great tenderness without becoming sentimental.’

Now, for the first time, Andrew’s widely-published, award-winning poems celebrating family life are gathered in one collection, Gestures of Love. These fatherhood poems are bound to delight and move all readers-not only parents, but also any interested in the joy, grief and quirkiness of the human condition.

Allow me to share some of Andrew’s 118 poems, from this particular volume, with you. May you enjoy them as much as we have! Happy reading!

First Child

So, the doctor has confirmed
what we had scarce presumed:
the force and fuse of our love
has exploded into life.

I can see it in your face,
the joy, as you proudly pace
from the consultation room,
I too am glad, though a gloom

has gathered round about me.
Now there is no doubt, who can share
the desolation and despair
of this immense responsibility?

Having asked, strangely I am relieved:
just as I was born in God’s Mind
aeons before I was conceived
so also our child, whom He will refine.

from Gestures of Love – The Fatherhood Poems

© Andrew Lansdown 2013

In First Child Andrew has captured both the joy and the fear that men experience as they anticipate the birth of their first child in his wonderful whimsical way.


I sing a rhyme for my daughter
of a teapot short and stout.
She mimes a clumsy kettle,
crooks a handle, points a spout.

The world is wide with danger,
my life is dark with doubt,
but a child commands me sweetly,
‘Come on, daddy, dance and shout!’

Sometimes I sense my children
have turned my life about.
They top me up with gladness,
tip me over, pour me out.

from Gestures of Love – The Fatherhood Poems

© Andrew Lansdown 2013

The above poem is a beautiful metaphor the children’s song that you may know. Hence the title ‘Rhyme’.

I’m a little teapot, short and stout.
Here is my handle, here is my spout.
When I get all steamed up, hear me shout,
‘Tip me over, pour me out’.

We all know that our children turn our lives upside down. To a certain extent we have to allow this. The challenge is to look past the annoyance of our children’s demands and embrace the state of poured-out-ness with gladness.


If he were home
we would hardly

know what to say
to each other,

my son and I-
my eldest son.

So why this deep
pang in my heart?

from Gestures of Love – The Fatherhood Poems

© Andrew Lansdown 2013

Aftermath is an eloquent look at a father’s difficulty in expressing himself to his children, despite his deep love and care. This poem reminds me of the song by Paul Simon:

I know a father who had a son.
He longed to tell him all the reasons for the things he’d done.
He came a long way just to explain.
He kissed his boy as he lay sleeping then he turned around and headed home again.
Slip sliding away, slip sliding away.
You know the nearer your destination, the more you’re slip sliding away.

Such is the challenge of fatherhood.

Warwick Marsh
21 September 2013



A Father’s Poetic Love

by Kara Martin

A review of Gestures of Love: The Fatherhood Poems by Andrew Lansdown. Published by Even Before Publishing.

I had not heard of Andrew Lansdown before, and yet he is an extremely accomplished writer and poet with more than 18 books of poetry and fiction published. He has won several state literary awards, and been shortlisted for a national award. He is a regular at poetry festivals around Australia.

More pertinent to his latest book, he is a father of five children.

He has put together a collection of poems, Gestures of Love, which is a celebration of fatherhood. It is such a treat to read a collection of fine poems. Poetry and songs seem to have that ability to send arrows through and open up our hearts.

His poems traverse the whole experience of fatherhood, from conception:

So, the doctor has confirmed
What we had scarce presumed:
The force and fuse of our love
Has exploded into life.

To birth:

After the long pain –
such brightness on her face as
she held our firstborn,
his head still messy with blood
and vernix and forceps-marks!

Through the first few months of babyhood:

Everyone else is asleep
and I am up this early
only to keep my small son from crying

To the delightful toddler years:

‘I heard a song and
it was pink,’ she says, pestering
me to come and see.
I follow her to the front yard
as the ice-cream van drives away.

To the time when the nest is empty

Not until they took
their independence

of me, my children –
not until then, then

did I discover
just how much I am

in dependence, in
dependence on them.

Through it all is a rich knowledge of, and celebration of his faith mingling with his experiences of fatherhood, and imparted to his children.

Your life has spoken
The mysterious grammar of godliness,
The deep logic of love and law.

Father, if in eternity I have a place,
it is because (no matter how jaded)
I first saw Jesus in your face.

Lansdown’s poetry creeps up on you. As the Oxford Companion for Poetry comments: “The effect of his poetry is cumulative.” This reference also notes that Lansdown is unusual amongst his modern colleagues because his poems have a mood of contentment and joy, as well as “consistent technical excellence.” It is a tribute to him that the iconic Les Murray has dedicated a poem to him, with the final line: “it glories like the kingdom within Andrew.”

This is a wonderful collection of poems, and a lovely tribute to fatherhood. Perhaps it is fitting to close with a characteristically playful stanza, which captures the delight of parenting:

Sometimes I sense my children
have turned my life about.
They top me up with gladness,
tip me over, pour me out.

KARA MARTIN is the Associate Dean of the Marketplace Institute, Ridley Melbourne, has been a lecturer with School of Christian Studies, and Wesley Institute and is an avid reader and book group attendee. Kara does book reviews for Hope 103.2’s Open House and Eternity.

© Kara Martin
Wednesday 20 November 2013


Reviews of Birds in Mind


Launch speech for Birds in Mind 

by Shane McCauley 

Eminent Western Australian poet and critic, Shane McCauley, launched Andrew’s latest collection of poetry, Birds in Mind: Australian Nature Poems, on Saturday 24 October 2009. Speaking to a gathering of about seventy people, Shane McCauley said:

I was very touched, and of course honoured, when Andrew Lansdown asked me to launch his wonderful collection of poems, Birds in Mind: Australian Nature Poems. Ours has been a long acquaintance and friendship, going back to the mid-1970s or so. For a while, we were always the youngest WA poets to appear in anthologies such as Quarry, edited by Fay Zwicky in 1981. And I note that several of our near contemporaries in that anthology have gone on to either better or worse things, but Andrew and I have somehow managed to stay in the poetry-writing business.

Initially, there are several things to note about Birds in Mind. Firstly, the sheer size and scope of the subject matter. The joy in birds is apparent from the title, but they are only some of the creatures and plants the poet celebrates and sometimes mourns. You will also find superbly spare descriptions of, and reactions to, shells, frogs, lizards, kangaroos, crabs, fish, sunflowers, bamboo, orchids, trees in abundance—karri, jarrah, marri, redgum—and much, much more.

Another initial observation concerns the variety of places in which these poems have been published—they have obviously appealed to many different editors, and the Acknowledgements page is really mind-boggling. Apart from appearing in countless Australian journals and anthologies, many have been published overseas, in Japan, the USA, the UK.

A third observation is in regard to the quality of the book’s production itself and the generous 223 pages—no “slim” volume of verse this! The beautiful cover painting is by Andrew’s late friend and mentor, Peter Good.

Andrew’s poetry is much influenced by Japanese short forms such as haiku and tanka that aim to capture the particularity, the is-ness, of (usually) a natural object, animal or scene. The goal is to achieve a rendering of this essence in just a few words. Andrew is adept at both forms (and many traditional Western forms, too) but it is more the spirit, the underlying intention, of them that gives grace and lucidity to all the poems gathered here.

Purely descriptive nature poetry can sometimes pall if it is not accompanied by insights, revelations, new slants. Andrew’s poems abound in these and irresistibly startle and delight, aesthetically appealing both to mind and emotion. Open the book anywhere and you will find descriptions of birds and animals we have all seen, but that are suddenly lifted here into another dimension via a combination of the poet’s imagination, diction and control of form. Here is one of my favourites, “Hawk” (p. 56):

Hunched in an overcoat of feathers
a hawk on the high wire,
like a snapshot of a shrug
As easily as he wields the wind in his wings
and clamps small creatures in his claws,
he sheds the world from his shoulders

We’ve all seen that hunched bird up on the wires on a cold day, but who has so perfectly fixed it in our memory as Andrew?

The poet’s capacity to be continually astonished by the natural world is both very moving and inviting, too. We, the readers, are also encouraged to look with new eyes on things we might have taken for granted. These poems are full of those “Ah!” moments beloved of the haiku poets. Humble slaters, wood lice, “forage about in their armoured coats/ like miniature armadillos”; a jewel beetle basks “in rainbows, like a drop of oil”; the bobtail has “unexpectedly, a yellow flower/blooming in the back of the throat”; straw necked ibises are “like elderly Oriental/ gathered for a festival”. This is poetry forged from a brilliant combination of observation and compassion, what [the Chinese philosopher] Mencius referred to as the “thinking heart” (or maybe camera with heart!).

Although great beauty and a sense of joy infuse these poems, it should not be thought that they are in any way merely “pretty” or dainty. Nothing could be further from the truth, for thought Andrew delights in the natural world, he does not shy away from its less attractive manifestations (though the negative is frequently related to some human intervention, as in “Snake in a Box” or the mindlessly cruelty “Blowfish”). There is grit and blood and pain in this poetry, too: I won’t read “Four Men” to you, a graphically precise account of mulesing, lest anyone here, including myself, passes out. Nature here is multifarious and complex, powerful and sometimes violent, as well as exquisite in its forms, colours and profound variety.

There are some poems, such as “Trap” and “Good Catcher”, wherein Andrew contemplates the innocence of children coming into contact with some of the problems related to human responsibility in the face of nature—that we are here, as I think Rilke puts it, as guardians, protectors not owners of what surrounds us. The poet muses on his child in “Good Catcher”: “He is too young to know/ how some things are crippled by love/ if they’re not let go.”

I could single out countless other poems for their wisdom and whimsy and elegance, but I am aware just how eager you are to buy and read the book yourselves! I would just like to conclude with one small poem, a tanka, that for me best encapsulates the driving force of Andrew’s poetry. It is very appropriately called “Importance” (p. 216):

Given that God
did not consider robins
too small to make,
I regard them big enough
for my poems to celebrate.

Enjoy this major contribution to Australian poetry. I have the greatest pleasure in announcing that Birds in Mind is launched! Thank you.

Shane McCauley

24 October 2009



Just released: ‘Birds in Mind’ by Andrew Lansdown

Author Andrew Lansdown is renowned for his award winning poetry. In this brand new collection of over 200 pages there are poems told through various forms, but all with a focus on nature.

On the back, Les Murray says: “Lansdown spices the world with pinches of finches.”

There are many haiku and tanka within these pages, and the same accurate eye and ear is brought to bear in other forms on much minutiae of the natural world.

Here’s a little poem, as many of them are, as a taster:

Street Artist

Using pompom brushes
and a pointillist technique,
a wattle tree has dabbed
a park bench with yellow.

© Andrew Lansdown



Resonance in the Natural World

by Hal G.P. Colebatch


Birds in Mind

by Andrew Lansdown

Wombat Books, 2009, 224 pages, $22


Andrew Lansdown is one of a very small handful of West Australians who, for more than 30 years, has committed himself steadfastly to writing, with poetry a major part of his output. His many books include the popular series of children’s adventures beginning with With My Knife, and collections of essays. He has recently launched a website and has an impressive collection of literary prizes. He has, from his first work, established a distinctive and individual voice.

Birds in Mind, a very substantial collection of 224 pages, consists mainly of “nature” poems, of birds, fish, flowers and animals, often with a Japanese cast to them. “Lansdown spices the world with pinches of finches,” according to Les Murray. However many of these have deeper resonances behind them, such as the grim “Poised on a Premonition” and the equally grim “Blowfish”:


Giggling, a young girl

tickles with the tip of her knife

the blowfish’s belly.



Gulping in the air

that’s killing it, the blowfish

inflates its belly.



‘Let me,’ the boy begs,

raising his boot high above

the blown-up blowfish.

“Spring, Alfred Cove,” shows his mastery of longer lines in the creation of a landscape. It begins:

This wildlife sanctuary: the last wetland on the Swan

River estuary. How long will it last? Some call it

wasteland, and few notice it at all. A patch of sedge


signals in semaphore to an inattentive world.

Samphires mat the mudflats, their bulbous stems

like strings of red and green rosary beads. …

Much of his work contains surprising little “packages” of ideas, in some ways reminiscent of the work of the late Bill Hart-Smith:

A eucalypt bud is an incarceration of strong men—

boxers—cramped, bent double in a green locker-room

with a conical ceiling-cum-roof. Though they dislike

each other, they co-operate, set their shoulders


to the shelter’s cover. They press and push, crack

the seal that holds the ceiling to the circular wall,

then shunt the roof right off. Breaking out, they

cheer in bold colours, brandish their golden gloves.

The poems cover a wide variety of subjects, from the poetically familiar (“Pelicans”) to the strange: he is one of only two poets I know who have written poems about daddy long-legs. There is also the wonderful but ruthless life of the sea’s edge. One of the important themes of this book is gratitude for the richness of nature, as with “Almonds”. Simple objects and images become “blessings.”

First a galah, now

a pair of parrots have come

to the almond tree.

Give them up, the unripe nuts,

and accept the birds they bring.

As well as the many small imagist poems, Birds in Mind also contains longer pieces which fully maintain the high quality of the work. This is a less overtly religious collection than some of Lansdown’s work (he has been a church pastor) but is imbued with a consciousness of the transcendent which seems to enlighten and enrich the world. A hunting hawk at sunset is “buoyed and buoyant with light.”

Short sword ready,

the heron warrior monk

contemplates what

it fancies shimmers beneath

the world floating at its feet.

This is to some extent summed up in his poem to the tiny luminous creatures seen in the water at night when prawning:

The path we have trawled

is gone without a trace,

but before us the river

is latent with light and grace.

I do not wish to give the impression that these poems are parochial: while some of their subjects are local, the light they cast shines much further afield.  Almost all these poems show the reader new ways of perceiving the world, and should recruit new lovers of both nature and poetry – it is highly recommended for poets and naturalists old and new. He makes the countryside and suburban gardens of full of wonders which have always been before us but which have largely been unrecognised. WA poet Shane McCauley has said correctly that Lansdown uses words with masterly precision to create things as we have not previously seen them, but as we may be tempted to see them henceforth: “Sometimes the images are so acutely accurate they have us asking, ‘Why didn’t we see that same similarity, that resonance?’”


© Hal G.P. Colebatch

Quadrant, May 2010

This review can also be read on the Quadrant website at:


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 fisherman
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.

Copyright © 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 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.



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

[An ABC radio program on the poems of Fontanelle.]

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:

Poetica is 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 pm.


Reviews of The Dispossessed


Lansdown dialogue turns key

by Shane McCauley

In this new collection of short stories, Andrew Lansdown again shows that he is not only an accomplished poet, but a fine writer of prose as well. The range in tone and subject is considerable. The contemporary and naturalistic easily rub shoulders with the historical and satirical.

Each story has a distinct purpose; not so much “something to say”—rather a skilfully presented packet of observations to share with the reader. The pace is measured and well judged.

The title story successfully reflects many elements to be found in the other pieces. It demonstrates Lansdown’s understanding of the absolute importance of human behaviour at what might be called the micro-level, the outwardly ordinary patterns of domestic and social life.

On the surface, not a great deal happens in this story. The narrator has had a bad day at work and returns home to find things little better there. The children are fighting and the narrator begins to simmer. He is on “the edge of violence”.

He suggests they go to the park for their evening meal and his wife is only too happy to comply. The details of season and street and park are deftly and economically conveyed.

Within a page or two we are at home with the narrator, and the story’s strength lies in the conviction given to his character. He muses on the way adults habitually speak to children. He sees an old Aboriginal woman lying under a tree and has to caution himself “against thinking she was dead”.

Later, the woman’s old partner appears and tries to explain her predicament. The situation—the lostness, the homelessness, the bewilderment—is beyond the narrator’s capacity to change: “He was looking at me intently, as if he wanted me to say something wise or sympathetic. But I didn’t know what to say.”

The story ends with the narrator watching these two discarded people, the dispossessed, stagger off into the gloom. It has the quiet, lucid observational power and restraint of Chekhov. This moving empathy with his characters is also to be found in the longer story, Salt, chronicling the lives of a rural husband and wife. It is a warm and engaging account of the pleasures, challenges and vicissitudes of farming life.

The Lepers, which immediately follows it, couldn’t be more different. It is violent and allegorical, culminating in the horrific stoning to death of those who transgress by entering a city without permission.

Much can be read into this tale of confused and hypocritical morality. Only the hardest of hearts would not share the narrator’s belated identification with the condemned.

Understanding and sensitivity is wittily and mordantly swept aside in Out of Grace. It is a return to domestic observation but of a different and darker nature. Here, with sublime political incorrectness, a father itemises the travails of his family, keeping a tally and itemising all the perceived crimes and misdemeanours committed against himself.

The narrator stews in a spirit of vengefulness: “I nearly tripped on his flamin’ tip-truck again. I’ll know better than to buy him one next Christmas.”

Lansdown’s excellent ear for dialogue is a common feature of these stories. In some, such as The Thing That Amused Them, the story is almost exclusively carried by the conversation. “Like driving in a microwave oven,” says one character recalling a long , arduous journey.

Another delightful aspect of Lansdown’s writing, both prose and poetry, is his serious play with metaphor and hyperbole. Sometimes the metaphor is simply apt, there to help us see or feel as the writer sees or feels: “And mice! Scampering everywhere like tufts of shadow.”

On other occasions it is still appropriate but outrageously so: “Faith Higgins, who walked as if two children were pillow-fighting under her dress …”

Lansdown has a fondness for West Australian landscape and history. Many stories are sprinkled with the names of little far-flung towns. In The New Chum he entertainingly evokes the migrant experience as an old-timer recalls the culture shock of his arrival in 1926. In the sweltering heat of Christmas the Englishman is still thinking of “snow and plum pudding”. The voice, the mind, the writer behind these stories is filled with what amounts to a sense of robust compassion. There is enormous strength in the sensitivity and, above all, humility with which these tales are rendered.

Who else but Lansdown could draw forth, not bathos, but genuine pity when the cows eat a woman’s prized nasturtiums in The Only Things? Anyone who has ever felt vulnerable and sad and yet irrationally hopeful will greatly value the humanity of these stories.

Copyright © Shane McCauley
Published in The West Australian, “Weekend Extra”, Saturday, March 4, 2006



Interview with Andrew about The Dispossessed

In this issue [of IP eNews], Assistant Editor [of Interactive Press] Anne Marshall interviews [one of] our Spring Season authors Andrew Lansdown …

Andrew Lansdown is perhaps best known for his award-winning poetry collections, but he’s also written some fine fiction, including his Highly Commended IP Picks 2005 title The Dispossessed.

MARSHALL: You’re a well-published author in both prose and poetry. Do you find you can work on a poetry manuscript at the same time as a prose manuscript, and can you borrow from each technique or must they remain a separate entity?

LANSDOWN: I usually have a number of writing projects underway at any one time. This is more by necessity than by choice, because new ideas come before old ones are settled.

I do not find it difficult to shift from poetry to prose and back again. In fact, writing in different genres helps to overcome writer’s block. If, on a given day, I lack the impetus and/or insight to work in one genre, I can usually do something in the other.

Of course, poetry and fiction are significantly different from one another in intent and intensity. So there is a sense in which they require separate approaches and remain separate entities. Yet both are writing, after all. So skills developed in one genre are potentially useful in the other.

I think that being a poet has helped me to become a better prose writer. Poetry has instilled in me a love for the English language itself, and I have brought that love to my prose. Language in poetry is often (almost) an end in itself, while in prose it is often (almost) a means to an end. Poetry is sitting in a garden to enjoy the moment, while prose is riding on a train to get somewhere. Thanks to poetry, I find that I want every sentence in a story to be balanced and pleasing to the ear. I want my prose to have some of the qualities of poetry.

MARSHALL: What made you decide to write a collection of short stories about these themes, such as cross-cultural and social interactions and how individuals and family members see one another? Was it from personal experience, or musings of an imagination?

LANSDOWN: I did not decide to write a story collection, as such. Rather, I set out to write this story—then this one. The subject, theme and mood of each story reflect particular interests or preoccupations that I had at the time of writing. When at last I began to gather the stories into a collection, I was surprised and pleased to discover the recurrence of certain concerns.

Some stories sprang from chance ideas, others from fragments of information, and still others from my own experience.

The events described in (the story) “The Dispossessed”, for example, are not far from reality. I did go to the local park with my family and I did encounter and help an Aboriginal couple. When I later reflected on the actual persons and events, I decided to transform them into fiction. And as I worked on the story, a certain mood took hold and a particular theme began to emerge.

Other stories are not so strongly grounded in experience—and some, such as “The Lepers”, are quite outside my experience. But many are a mixture of personal experience and imaginative musings.

MARSHALL: The points of view in these stories change quite rapidly between each one. In some there are third person, others are first person and some are letters. What made you decide to use these narrative points of view and techniques?

LANSDOWN: In literature, how a thing is said is as important as what is said. Indeed, what is said gains (or fails to gain) power on the basis of how it is said. For this reason—along with a sheer love of language—I have always been interested in form and technique.

I like to experiment with different styles. However, it would be wrong to view the stories in The Dispossessed as experimental. The stories do not vary in point-of-view and technique because I wanted to experiment for the sake of it. The variations arise from the demands of the stories themselves. The forms in which they presently exist are the only forms in which I could get them to exist.

Soon after I began writing short stories, I realised that a story can fail simply because the writer has chosen the wrong point-of-view. I originally wrote “The Leper”, for example, in the third person—and the story did not work. But when I changed to the first person, the story came alive.

MARSHALL: When compiling a short story collection, there are often many short stories too choose from. How did you decide on these particular stories, or were they all written with the collection in mind?

LANSDOWN: Although in their collected form some of the stories exhibit certain similarities in theme and tone, none of them were written with the collection in mind. Rather, they were chosen from a pool of about forty stories that I have had published over the years in various literary magazines, newspapers and anthologies.

While sorting through these stories, I came to feel that certain ones were not strong enough to go into the collection. I wanted to include only the best. However, after IP had accepted the collection for publication, IP director/editor David Reiter expressed reservations about several stories.

After reconsidering these in the light of David’s concerns, I decided to withdraw them from the collection. The end result is a shorter but stronger collection.

MARSHALL: Many of the stories are set in rural situations. Do you think the themes of your stories work better in these settings rather than in an urban setting, or are the themes universal, regardless of the setting?

LANSDOWN: I believe the themes are universal, regardless of setting. Yet a particular setting can facilitate the exploration of a particular theme and/or enhance the theme itself.

MARSHALL: Was any research needed for some of the details that are included in your stories, such as salt gathering in “Salt” and wheat harvesting such as “The Story”?

LANSDOWN: The stories set in the early 1900s contain bits and pieces that I gleaned from discussions with elderly people. My grandfather, for example, helped me with the technical information about horse-drawn harvesters in “The Story”.

An elderly farmer in Burracoppin, a town in the eastern wheatbelt of Western Australia, told me about collecting salt for his sheep, and I used that snippet of information to form both the plot and the emotional metaphor of the story “Salt”. Also, on his farm he actually had an old stone well of the sort I describe in the story (although it had never been the scene of the sort of catastrophe that I have imagined). I also thumbed through some archives of the Road Board in the area—and it was in these that I learned about the bounty paid on emus at that time, which also figures in the story. And so on …

Copyright © Andrew Lansdown
This interview was first published in IP eNews, Vol. 7, No. 4, 2005
(ISSN 1442-0023)


Review of Between Glances


Untitled Review of Between Glances

by David Kelly


Between Glances, Andrew Lansdown (William Heinemann Australia)


The back cover blurb proclaims that ‘no Australian poet is so often moved to celebrate as Andrew Lansdown is. His work brims with tenderness, wonder and joy, all qualities which are in short supply in the modern world of which he is an acute observer.’

      He sometimes drops in on the modern world—he does mention aeroplanes, money belts (bum bags), cafes and black bitumen—but the things which most move him to poetry (or move him to what seems to be his most inte
nsely felt poetry) are the more eternal things of the natural world like birds, lizards, flowers or weather. I can’t help linking him in my mind to Gerard Manly Hopkins. Some of the more famous lines of Hopkins came into memory as I read through Between Glances—lines like ‘The world is charged with the glory of God./ It will flame out like shining from shook foil’ or ‘There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.’

      Andrew is indeed a celebrator yet at times, to be honest, the celebrating wears a little heavy. For if the world is charged with the glory of God it is also dusted with the work of the bloke with the pitchfork. We are constantly confronted with his offerings on the television news, the daily papers, the petty conflicts in every workplace and the sad spectacle of amputees begging in wheelchairs at bus stops and train stations.

      Still, many of the directly celebrative poems are very, very good and I did feel good after reading the book. So maybe celebration is addictive. The book is also one of those very rare ones that doesn’t let up. I started at the first poem and kept going, turning page upon page until the last poem and the last celebratory line:


the rainbow enfolds us like a promise.


      Even so, tension and frustration and conflict and disappointment are inescapable parts of life and their portrayal and their resolution are the basis of much of the best writing and art. It is as if Lansdown wants to forget the ugly, the sordid, the unhappiness. Even when he sees it, it is not major unhappiness. There is a wonderful poem called ‘Kangaroos’ which tells of three kangas in a paddock bounding towards a fence. The first (and biggest) clears the fence; his two smaller companions can’t. They are separated. The two smaller ones race along the wire fence desperate for a way through. A simple situation but the feeling of frustration that comes out to empathise with the trio creates a richer and more complex response (while still celebrating kangaroos) than would a poem which single-mindedly presented kangaroos as evidence of the grandeur of God.

      Incidentally (no, more likely deliberately) there are two delightful lines in the kangaroos poem where the syllable stresses alternate in a lovely sing-song way and you can almost hear the kangaroos bounding and thumping along.

      While I don’t share Andrew Lansdown’s religious passions I never found the worship-presence off putting. I’m pretty certain that poetry readers who share his faith would feel it reinforced and validated upon reading these poems.

      Perhaps it is the faith and the need to celebrate that keeps him writing so much in the natural world. It may well be a lot harder to find evidence of God’s grandeur in money belts and aeroplanes and bitumen. He finds it from the aeroplane in two poems but doesn’t seem to find it in the aeroplane itself.

In technical terms he is a master of the restrained use of genuinely arresting imagery—a delight in correspondences to use one of his own phrases. Take ‘Waterbird’ for example.




I appreciate that

it’s a waterbird

but it’s going

a bit overboard,


don’t you think?


—that heron

standing by the lake

with a kayak

strapped to its face!


      There are many such image-moments in the book. The flight of fancy that creates such moments is of course the part of poetry that can’t be taught. You’ve either got it or you haven’t. Fortunately for us Andrew Lansdown’s got it. Still more fortunately he knows how to restrain it and how to build a poem of the right size around a few good images. He is also very subtle in the way he uses internal rhymes and half rhymes, alliteration, assonance and the repetition of words in slightly variant meanings or contexts. There are frequently sound echoes adding to the overall music in many of his poems. You’ll find many in a tight little nut of a poem like ‘Those Colours’.


Those Colours


It is hardly beautiful, the bobtail

goanna. Its triangular head

is like a death adder’s. Ticks,

cream-coloured, hang at its ears

like enamelled pendants. I squat


for a closer look and it gapes

at me. Those colours: the pale pink

gums, the deep purple tongue and,

most unexpectedly, a yellow flower

blooming in the back of the throat.


Between Glances won the 1994 John Bray National Poetry Award recently. Valued at $12,000 it is the highest paying award for a poetry book in Australia. There are many fine poems in the book; the title poem is particularly good; the miniscule ‘Praise’ sums up the recurrent theme of the book (and comes close to the ‘Red Wheelbarrow’ in the process); ‘Ducks in the Rain’ is among the liveliest and most enjoyable poems I’ve read in a long time. At a mere $14.95 Between Glances is great value. Let’s close with ‘Sonnet of Thanksgiving’, a mysterious and strangely moving poem which illustrates many of the qualities I’ve mentioned above:


Sonnet of Thanksgiving


I wake, draw the curtains and am suddenly aware

that He is profligate, our God, giving us more

than we need, more than we ever dream to ask for.

Through the window on this winter morning, there


beside my house, the forest is faint with mist.

The white trees are like women standing half-seen

in a sauna. The bushes where the spiders have been

are strewn with ornaments for throat and wrist:


necklaces, bracelets strung with diamonds. A stark

and startling wealth, this jewellery the women

have put off. They stand in silent communion:

unadorned, white, bar the occasional birthmark.


And then in the stillness, the whiteness, the swirl,

a lone bird call. It hangs on the ear like a pearl.


This review by David Kelly was published in Five Bells (‘Australia’s monthly poetry magazine published by Poets’ Union Inc.’) in June 1994.



God and Landscapes: Andrew Lansdown: Between Glances & Rhyll McMaster: On My Empty Feet

by Mark Roberts

Between Glances by Andrew Lansdown, William Heinemann Australia 1993 and On My Empty Feet by Rhyll McMaster, William Heinemann Australia. First published in Overland 135, Winter 1994.

There is a simple delicacy to many of the poems in Andrew Lansdown’s sixth col­lection of poetry, Between Glances. Lans­down moves slowly through the landscape bringing a spiritual intensity to bear on the objects of everyday life. Many of his best poems grow out of a single image. In ‘Tea Chest’, for example, a robin drinking water out of a dis­carded tea chest is captured in the centre of the poem:

The late afternoon light
duplicates the bird’s shape darkly

in the still water as it stoops
to drink.

The poem is, in fact, almost a fable. Lansdown is suggesting that nature can transform a func­tional object which is perceived to have outlived its usefulness to an object of beauty and of a different functionality:

Truly, this moment, that tea chest
bears a cargo more precious than any

it carried long ago from India or Ceylon.

The title poem of the collection, ‘Between Glances’, operates on a similar level. The poet has been watching a single autumn leaf on a liquidambar tree all day:

… I glance
down at my work then out

again, only to find it gone.
Gone between glances. If only
I had known that last wave
was a goodbye, a farewell,

I would not have looked away.

While the transient nature of beauty obviously lies at the heart of this poem, ‘Between Glances’ can also be read as a fable where the falling leaf represents human mortality. Above all else Lansdown is a religious poet and, in the context of the rest of the collection, these ‘fables’ take on a distinct spiritual dimension.

Between Glances contains a number of more obviously religious poems. There is an uneven-ness to these poems which I feel is probably almost inevitable. Religious poetry is difficult to write and like many poets Lansdown does occa­sionally fall into cliche. However, Between Glances contains some of the best religious poetry I have read for some time.

For most of the collection Lansdown is content to write about his children and the natural land­scape, but in the last section there are a number of poems which grew out of a trip to Sydney. These poems lack some of the spiritual intensity which runs through the rest of the book, but I feel that they actually balance the more overtly religious nature poems.

After the softness of Lansdown’s poetry Rhyll McMaster’s third collection, On My Empty Feet, seems positively hard-edged. In the opening poem, ‘Figure in the Landscape’, we have a view of the landscape very different from Lansdown’s images of transient beauty …


© Mark Roberts



Review of Abiding Things


A Courage of Delicacy

by Hal Colebatch

Readers of Quadrant will be familiar with Andrew Lansdown’s poetry from these pages. Abiding Things is a showcase of some of this remarkably productive writer’s short stories and essays as well as his verse. It gives an overview both of his rich and coherent vision of life and of his literary versatility.

      Andrew Lansdown has been quietly but very steadily building a major literary reputation since he began writing in Western Australia about twenty years ago. He has published eleven books and his work is represented in about fifty anthologies. Like some other West Australian writers, however, he is in some ways much better known nationally and overseas than locally. His heroic fantasy With My Knife, first of a trilogy, and now in its fourth reprinting, has sold more than 25,000 copies in the US, and the sequel Dragonfox was published there recently.

      All Lansdown’s writing is notable for its clarity and originality. It is also distinguished by a seriousness of purpose. This is not to say that it is sententious or preachy, but it is informed by a belief that things matter in a moral sense. Although he often writes about small or commonplace things, there is always at bottom a sense that these things are important.

      The short essay “What’s So Special About Humans?” reprinted here, reminds one with considerable wit that there is a great deal special about humans. Although quite different in its presentation, some of its feeling reminds me of C.S. Lewis’s “The Weight of Glory” with its message that “you have never met an ordinary person”.

      The quality of originality Lansdown displays is something special: it is not the originality of gibberish, but the originality which, in prose, a Sir Walter Scott or a Robert Louis Stevenson showed in their day—that is, the use of highly-developed technique to present afresh profound and timeless things. Among other leading West Australian poets, Rod Moran has praised his ability to “lift the veil of familiarity from the world, to have us see things anew, to re-encounter what we thought we had understood, and to take another look at what we might have consigned to the margins of our consciousness”, and Philip Salom has called him an imagist of high order.

      The clarity of the writing, most notable in the descriptive poetry, should be a model for aspiring writers. Andrew Lansdown was a friend of the late William Hart-Smith (of whom he writes here), and has much of Hart-Smith’s almost Oriental gift of achieving a profound clarity through simplicity of expression. His evocations of a West Australian Christmas tree, of night fishing in a harbour, and of the joys and sorrows of family life, are penetrating and unforgettable.

      This is by no means the only mode of his poetry, though in every mode he employs there is a great deal of meaning packed into every word. His poetry, much of it written in celebration of nature, has a special quality of showing the world more clearly and reminding us of the wonder of common things, the transcendent that can touch all our lives. It would do these poems less than justice to quote extracts out of context and I urge those interested to buy the book and read them whole.

      Lansdown has also distinguished himself in that neglected form, the short story, particularly in explorations of the responsibilities (as well as the joys) of family life. His well-known story “The Bowgada Birds”, reprinted here, is about a family relationship grown sour indeed, and with a notably gruesome ending, but many of his other tales are more positive, or at least point towards the positive. Certainly in some of his work there is the presence of horror, but he is a long way from those writers who, ostensibly bemoaning the nihilism and negativity of life, are in fact adding to it.

      All Lansdown’s work here is worth reading, but among the most interesting essays are his tribute to Hart-Smith, a review of the work of the poet Peter Kocan and an essay, “Why I Write”.

      Les Murray has written that Andrew Lansdown’s work has “a courage of delicacy, and a real unconventionality which resists the busy inertia of received literary attitudes; he is not afraid of concepts such as joy, or the literal tears in things”. Apart from being consistently pleasurable and thought-provoking, with passages of real beauty and profundity, Abiding Things can be studied with profit by any would-be writer.

© Hal Colebatch

Quadrant, No. 341, November 1997


Reviews of With My Knife


Andrew Lansdown’s With My Knife

by Stella Lees, Associate Editor, Viewpoint magazine


Andrew Lansdown is an established WA poet. Although he has written poetry and short stories for young readers, this is his first novel, and if you are still looking for a book to intrigue Year 7s who like adventure or fantasy, you should consider With My Knife (Omnibus, 1992 ISBN 1-86291-120-7 $8.95).

       Colyn digs up a knife when he is working with his father on their potato farm. It is a fine knife, with a ‘richly brown’ handle and a ‘long, thin and slightly crescent-shaped’ blade. After a moment of hesitation, his father allows him to keep it. The knife will do much more than cut potatoes or whittle, and Colyn soon discovers that it provides an entry into a world under threat from dragons. Simple beginnings, like a slice cut from a potato, a dog carved out of wood, an old jigsaw puzzle or a triangle cut in an empty freezer carton, lead on to momentous events which in turn affect Colyn’s everyday world. To say more would reveal too much. This is a tightly constructed novel, full of meaning and undercurrent, and the fine cover by Vivienne Goodman provides some clues. There are traces of William Mayne’s A Game of Dark (Hamilton, 1971) summoned up through the worm-like monsters which Colyn must fight, and Ursula Le Guin’s four Earthsea books, with the suggestions of a greater destiny for this artless boy, but With My Knife is no derivation. It is a captivating fantasy in its own right.

       Colyn is a quiet, hard-working ten-year-old, loved and loving; his father is affectionate, strong and thoughtful. Without any sentimentality or fulsome language, Lansdown draws a man touched by a deep sadness and a boy with courage and curiosity. The farm where they live has an earthy warmth and simplicity far removed from the noble tasks which Colyn faces, but the juxtaposition is telling. Klarin, the world which Colyn passes into, is one of vast plains, grand waterfalls and brave warriors—male and female. In the women archers Lansdown has combined resourcefulness with an appealing tenderness, although in some respects, such as its social organisation and its place in time and space, Klarin lacks strong definition.

       The prose is deceptively simple, almost austere. He picked up the potato and cut a slice from it. He cut a triangle in the centre of the slice, then peeled it. It turned to stone—a flat circular stone with a triangle window in it. He held the window to his eye and looked through it at a large rock on the far bank. The rock was not there. As Colyn moves into Klarin, and the pace changes, the language develops greater complexity. In their sadness, Colyn and the Kinroan watched the brown cloud draw nearer. Horses and their riders appeared in the dust, at first flickeringly, then solidly. Kinzar ran out to meet them, barking across the shimmering plain.

       Landown’ s remarkable ability to convey depth of emotion and breadth of landscape clearly reveals a poet at work. I hope that the promise that further trials may confront Colyn and his marvellous knife is soon fulfilled, because this one is so enjoyable and thought-provoking.


This review by Stella Lees was published in Viewpoint (on books for young adults), Vol. 1, No. 4, Summer 1993.



Ten reviews of With My Knife  on



I first read this in the early 90s as a young lad and loved it quite a bit.

But sometime over the next 20-odd years I lost the book, which really bugged me. I’d searched for it on and off during the last 6 years, since in my memory the story became mythologically-good 😀

When I finally came across it I was thrilled AND relieved – since With My Knife is still fun and imaginative, after all – potatoes are made into something pretty clever and powerful!

Great for a younger audience and a great spin down memory lane for me today.

Jan 10, 2017  –  Ashley Capes  –  rated it 4 stars




I wavered between 3 and 4 stars. Then I imagined I was a child reading this book (which is the intended audience) and I settled on 4. Then I sat down to describe what I liked about the book and realized that as simply as it was written, I actually loved it and had to change it to a 5 star rating.

It’s a coming of age story. Colyn is a young boy who is not yet a man, but still needs to step up and be one anyway. His facing war, loss, sacrifice and even pointless death while still remaining a boy, free to cry and cuddle his father without shame is uncommon in children’s literature. I love the strong female characters, though only lightly featured. Additionally, the premise and how the knife’s abilities manifest are unique. The simple setting and origins of Colyn as a potato farmers son is an added charm.

I wish I could have read this as a 10 year old. It would have made me cry and would have changed a great many things about how I see the world. I look forward to reading the sequels with my own 10 year old son.

Jun 14, 2016  –  Rebecca  –  rated it 5 stars




My teacher read this to me when I was in grade 5 or 6. The story has always stuck with me, but I only recently remembered the title. This is a great book to read to your kids and I fully intend to do so with my children one day. Absolutely loved it.

Apr 17, 2015  –  Georgia  –  rated it 5 stars




Still maintains its four star rating for me.

I forgotten how fast-paced and exciting this book is. Then again, it’s is only a short story and meant for younger (MUCH younger) readers, so it has to be pretty quick with the whole beginning/middle/conflict/resolution/end line of story telling.

I loved it when I was ten and I love it now. More than likely a book I’ll be reading to my own children, and a book my own children will read one day. “With My Knife” is a lovely piece of children’s fantasy.

Nov 09, 2014  –  Jeanette Schaeche  –  rated it 4 stars




good cool and imaginative story
Apr 14, 2014  –  Jack George Tony Healy  –  rated it 4 stars




I have read this book for the second time in 2012 and found it an easy read. It is written for the younger age ranges. I would recommend it to parents and grandparents to read to their children.

Andrew develops the story well. Sometimes fictional stories have too many names for places, people and things but in this story Andrew gets a better balance I feel.

Mar 23, 2012  –  Graham Okely  –  rated it 4 stars




I read this when I was younger and forgot what it was called. I have thought about it over the years and never got around to searching for it. I loved it!

Aug 11, 2011  –  Alicia  –  rated it 5 stars




i loved this book so much it amazing book !

Jul 28, 2010  –  Ashley Cogill




My son and I really liked this book. Simple fantastical story which keeps you hooked until the end.

Jun 16, 2010 – Dee-Ann – rated it 5 stars




The day before his birthday, Colyn finds a knife in a potato patch. The blade is black and the handle has a design of a circle with a tapering triangle inside. His dad remembers losing it when he was a boy. But it looks as if it has been regularly polished. And the cutting edge—well, there’s something mysterious about it. Why do potatoes turn to stone as Colyn finishes peeling them? And did the piece of wood he whittled really bark when he threw his failed carving of a dog into the fire?

Colyn idly cuts a triangle into a potato and creates a windowstone. He discovers that, when he places his finger into the window, it doesn’t come through the other side.

He looks in—and sees a terrifying yellow eye.

Later, when making a jigsaw with his dad, he recognises it as a dragon’s eye.

So Colyn is introduced to the Otherworld of Klarin and before long his curiosity leads him to create a doorway into the borderland between worlds: a white wrapping mist where dragons roam.

But a doorway in is a doorway out. Through it a dragon comes hunting.

Making five smooth stones from potatoes — reminding us perhaps of David about to confront Goliath — Colyn faces the dragon.

With My Knife is a spare and beautiful story like the harsh landscape which forms its backdrop — wasting nothing, hiding secrets, only revealing its treasures when you peer closely.

Colyn blinked in disbelief. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘There you are. You’re alive.’ The dog looked up at him, his head cocked to one side, one ear pricked, the other bent.
His father reached the shed. ‘Hello,’ he said. ‘Where’d the mutt come from?’’
Colyn knelt to pat the kelpie. ‘I made him,’ he said. ‘With my knife.’’

With My Knife is the first book in the trilogy, The Chronicles of Klarin. Parts of it are strongly reminiscent of Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife, though Lansdown’s work was published a year or two earlier and exposits a very different worldview.

A gripping book, highly recommended.

Nov 19, 2009  –  Anne Hamilton  –  rated it 5 stars




Review of The Grasshopper Heart


Untitled Review of The Grasshopper Heart

by Shane McCauley


The Grasshopper Heart, by Andrew Lansdown, Angus & Robertson


In The Grasshopper Heart Andrew Lansdown uses words with masterly precision to paint things as we have not previously seen them, but as we may be tempted to see them henceforth. His approach to his material is confident and systematic. And beguiling. Sometimes the images may veer towards the more outlandish conceit (‘The Windmill is a dandelion/ on a tall stem’) but in general we can accept and feel the legitimacy of these allusions and cross-references. Sometimes the images are so acutely accurate they have us asking ‘Why didn’t we see that same similarity, that resonance?’: ‘A wagtail swings like a vane’ (‘Windmill’); ‘The dead mussel shells are/ miniature, hard-covered books/ spread unread on the shore.’ (‘Summer’).

     Lansdown’s book is a genuinely uplifting one. It is difficult not to feel embraced by his enthusiastic alertness to the natural world, its forms and creatures. A single well-placed exclamation mark can evoke a true moment of joy, that intake o f breath, as he observes his daughter eating some melon:


her blonde hair tangled

in the ripe flesh.

Oh child! Glancing up,

she smiles, a pip


slipping from her chin.

(‘Child With Melon’)


     Even the title of this poem is a painterly one, and ways of envisioning transfuse the entire collection. Sometimes the extreme clarity of observation, the excruciatingly exact analogy, intensifies the subject matter to a vividly memorable degree. This is certainly the case with ‘The Four Men’ (awarded the Tom Collins Poetry Prize):


… The third man holds

a pair o f sharp shears. He pinches

the fleece beside the tail

and snips. A crisp, fibrous sound,


like cutting cloth. It is an art

to cut no deeper than the depth

of the skin. Blood spurts out,

a thin jet, as from a water-pistol;


     Fortunately, beauty can be conjured just as graphically:


Robins set fire to the roadside;

rosellas fly up from the oats;

kingfishers reel blue from the skyline;

and magpies toss tunes from their throats.

(‘Idyll, Boyup Brook’)


     There is much I would like to quote here, and many poems to recommend, but space does not permit. The Grasshopper Heart is a book anyone might read and enjoy and return to. It is also a book that any beginning poet could profit from reading, as its technical accomplishments and delight in language are manifold. Without this craft, without this shaping, poetry can but remain cold and inert.

© Shane McCauley

Published in Fremantle Arts Review, Vol. 6, No. 11, November 1991, pp. 8-9


Reviews of Waking and Always


Untitled Review of Waking and Always

by Rod Moran


Waking and Always by Andrew Lansdown, Angus and Robertson


You will find with Andrew Lansdown’s book of verse Waking and Always a unifying force-field in the form of a deeply held Judeo-Christian metaphysic, with a corresponding morality. One does not need to share his religiosity, however, to appreciate the poetic achievements that this volume represents. Lansdown is a past master at performing one of the chief tasks of a serious poet: to lift the veil of familiarity from the world, to have us see things anew, to re-encounter what we thought we had understood, and to take another look at what we might have consigned to the margins of our consciousness.

     Hence, in his intensely imagistic style, you will discover that the tiger snake is the ‘Shere Khan/of the Australian swamp’. A flock of ibis are ‘like elderly orientals/gathered for a festival’ and the casuarina tree is seen as a spider ‘spinning a wooden web’. It is also a ‘vertical glacier’ and a giant ‘nerve synapsed to the earth’. One poem along these lines that stands out from the rest is ‘Shodo Egret’. It is a delicately wrought observation, where the egret can be taken as a symbol for, amongst other things, the fragility of beauty, the vulnerability of the natural world in the epoch in which we live.

     There are verses here also on love, on children, on freedom, about the warmth Lansdown derives from familial attachments, and poems about the delicate loveliness of flowers, water, trees and the positive currents of human life.

     However, this poetry also explores a darker underbelly to the scheme of things. These pieces derive from Lansdown’s work in prisons and have to do with the grittiness, the ugliness and alienation of prison life and the small human tragedies each prisoner embodies in the penal context. They chronicle, but never in a sentimental way, the prisoners as human beings fallen from the grace of society, with one quite startling piece where he encounters what Hannah Arendt termed in another context ‘the banality of evil’. It is a small poem called ‘Sharing a Joke’:


They feel at ease with me,

treat me as an honorary crim.

I value their acceptance. But knowing

how easily brotherhood inspires betrayal

I turn away, unwilling even to grin.


     The poem in Waking and Always that provides the essential key to Lansdown’s outlook is to be found towards the end of the volume. It is called ‘Not in Truce’ and its second stanza reads:


And perhaps it’s only little things that will remain

to shore the heart against the broad and brutal ugliness

that looms as the destiny of man. Perhaps

small gestures — the weaving of poems

or the pursuit of a personal integrity

or an unfaltering faith that God is good and

good is no illusion — are all that is left to us.

Like spiders, we bind the broken roots.

Not in truce, but on trust, we raise

our ragged, regal flags in the winds of a desolate age.


     There is much in sentiments such as this that will appeal to a range of metaphysical positions, secular and celestial. The one criticism I have of the book is that I think there are two, possibly three, poems with a strong narrative framework that could have done their theme more justice in the form of a short story.

     It was a delight to read Ron Pretty’s The Habit of Balance because, like Lansdown, he does refreshing and interesting things with technical forms that represent very well-trodden territory. If Lansdown can construct poems drawing on various forms from Japanese prosody that often have a gemlike imagistic beauty to them, Pretty can hone a sonnet sharply to great effect. …

© Rod Moran

Published in Fremantle Arts Review, Vol. 3, No. 11, November 1988, p. 15



Untitled Review of Waking and Always

by Owen Salter


Andrew Lansdown’s poetry has something of that aching, bitter-sweet quality C.S. Lewis called sehnsucht—the human longing for joy that is itself both a joy and a wound, a grief and a hope.

      His words are full of what might be called pre-echoes of heaven, radar blips giving a clue about Reality coming.

      Paradoxically, this yearning for as-yet-unrealised future perfection is rooted in a wonderful celebration of the here-and-now, particularly in nature.

      There, wherever it remains uncorrupted, each created thing “enacts itself precisely” (“Choka for Sacred Kingfisher”)—a kind of prefigurement, perhaps, of that perfection of being that will be the essence of the New Creation.

      Lansdown’s latest collection is Waking and Always (Angus & Robertson, $10.95). It is poetry to take home and love.


© Owen Salter

Published in On Being, Vol. 16, No. 1, February 1989


Reviews of Homecoming


Untitled Review of Homecoming

by Hal Colebatch 

Andrew Lansdown, Homecoming. Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1979


Publication of this first book of poetry by a young West Australian writer is another very creditable achievement by the Fremantle Arts Centre press.

        In the few years it has been operating this press has brought out an impressive list of high-quality first books by writers whose work is certain to be remembered long after the already-fading geniuses hailed in Australian Poetry Now or New Writing in Australia have had the last dusty memory-hole sag shut behind them.

        Andrew Lansdown is a professional writer in his early twenties, who has published a remarkable amount of diverse and admirable work in a very short time (readers of Quadrant will be familiar with some of his poetry and social essays), including more than 100 poems in reputable journals in Australia and New Zealand.

        Even in a small collection like Homecoming the stamp of a powerful individual talent is unmistakable. The author is unusual for a young poet in many ways. He is, for example, concerned in his poetry with expanding rather than diminishing areas of human feeling and understanding. Further, his work is frequently explicitly religious, with a commitment to traditional fundamentalist Christianity quite unusual to find in technically, conceptually and even politically sophisticated poetry like this.

        One of the most striking features of his serious poems is their sustained imagistic and intellectual power, as this extract from “The October Revolution” may indicate:


It was not long before we knew

that the sun would always hang, for us,

just below the black rim of the world.

Our skies put on the twilight like a uniform.

Our earth dressed in a sepia of grey —

without depth of shadow or distinction of light,

without bright of colour or sharp of shape.


We have become winter rivers

rigid on top, flowing always below

conforming to the dictates of our only season …


        Striking a grand but essentially empty pose is all too easy for a young poet. Though Andrew Lansdown is not afraid of grand gestures, there is an untypical strengthening wisdom within his work. Further, the reader becomes aware that Andrew Lansdown does not regard his gifts of perception and articulateness as simply [a] means for self-advertisement of those perceptions. He conceives of poetry as having a purpose: a very large and serious purpose, in which the role of the poet and even of the poem as artefact, is a humble one. I doubt he could ever join the ranks of those who try to write poetry in order to be able to regard themselves as poets.

        Untypically, too, for a young poet, there is no self-pity in his visions of the world, that succeed in celebrating without sentimentalising or trivialising, as in “Rosa Glenn: Tree”:


The old tree stands


like a woman


in dimension and beauty.


Framed by the door


she nullifies


necessity for artistry.


She claws at the


praying its gold


turn her smooth silver to green.


My small hut is


with her serene


and the song of her magpies.


        This is, in its way, a quite perfect poem. To stand it beside a chosen piece of other, noisier poets would be simply to be cruel to the latter. Ezra Pound said that one gets tired of promise. It is enough to say that Andrew Lansdown has already moved a long way from promise towards substantial achievement.

© Hal Colebatch

Published in Westerly, No. 4, December 1979, pp. 87-88


General comments about Andrew’s work


On Lansdown’s “Leaf and Load”

by John Jenkins

Andrew Lansdown struck me, too, as being particularly gracious to his fellow readers. Sympathetic and sensitive, he was always interested in how a poem someone read came about, its inspiration and means; its sources and resources. He had an acute ear and was, clearly, a marvellous listener. He showed me a poem of his, “Leaf and Load”, which I have used in creative writing workshops: a model of direct observation, about a leaf which bends under the weight of a swollen droplet of water during a storm. It is simple, yet exquisite, Zen-like in its clarity and attention to detail. For a second, this poem communicates what we know to be impossible: the direct apprehension of subject matter—a leaf bowed by a rain-drop—somehow unmediated by poet, poem or language; as if artifice could simply erase itself, leaving only the presence of reality. In my opinion, Lansdown remains the doyen, in Australia, of this sort of exquisite, small-scale, nature poem. Easy to attempt, devilishly hard to do!

This is an excerpt from John Jenkins’ recollections of the Tasmanian Poetry Festival in 1994, written to celebrate the Festival’s 25th anniversary, and published as part of a multi-part essay, “Written in Silver: The Tasmanian Poetry Festival”, published in Island, No. 121, Winter 2010, pp. 50-51.

The poem, “Leaf and Load”, to which John Jenkins refers is:

Leaf and Load

The rain is breaking its phials

on the ornamental plum. From

the verandah I choose a leaf,

glistening with wet, and watch

until each vein becomes a rill

running into the midrib-river

and on to the leaf’s tip

where the waters gather in a blister

to weight the leaf downwards

by imperceptible degrees. Slipping

from the chlorophyll plane, the rain-

drop hangs from the leaf-tip

as a ball-bearing might hang

from the point of a magnet, held

by the barest contact between

curve and cusp. Like a miniature

transparent balloon tied by a child

to a tap, the drop swells,

bulges with a fragile elasticity,

bowing the leaf with its growing load,

until loosed at last by gravity.

Released, the leaf leaps up,

shudders to an easy equilibrium

in the light, impacting rain.

           © Andrew Lansdown

First published in the literary magazine Westerly, “Leaf and Load” is included in Andrew’s poetry collections The Grasshopper Heart (1991) and Birds in Mind (2009).



The Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Australian Poetry

by Geoff Page


Andrew Lansdown

Born 1954, Pingelly, Western Australia; graduated from Western Australian Institute of Technology and Murdoch University; has worked as a journalist, as a teacher at several TAFE colleges and as an education officer in WA prisons.


Andrew Lansdown is very much a poet who is working consciously in a tradition, in this case that of the imagists such as the early Pound, William Carlos Williams and the Wallace Stevens of ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black-bird’. The strengths and limitations of Lansdown’s work are, despite his considerable originality, essentially those of this particular tradition. At his best Lansdown is able to suggest very deftly and concisely the so-called ‘thisness’ of things, especially things in nature, for example plants and birds; at his worst he runs the risk of degenerating into whimsy or of trying a little too hard for his images. Something of the latter problem may be sensed in his short poem ‘Oak, Jacoby Park’: ‘The oak is a hen—a pullet / plumped up with green plumage. / The oak-hen: exotic — not to mention // economical. Before moulting / each autumn, it lays / numerous eggs — hard-boiled, / served up in egg cups.’

     His publishers have asserted that ‘Of all the Australian ‘imagists, Lansdown is the one with the broadest and warmest human sympathy’ and they certainly have a point. Lansdown has a very sincere and direct way of handling poems about his immediate family which subtly suggests great tenderness without becoming sentimental. Something of this can be seen in the haiku ‘That Movement’: ‘Swishing the dish-water / to froth the detergent — that movement / like ruffling a child’s hair’. In a more developed way it comes out in the poem ‘The Grasshopper Heart’, the title poem of his fifth book, where Lansdown looks at a man whose style he clearly disapproves of and sees that, as he plays with his little daughter in the water, the man is experiencing exactly the same sensations as the poet himself has had doing the same thing; ‘and I know his heart is like a grasshopper — / leaping and landing spring-loaded to leap again.’

     It is strange then that Lansdown is often at his most memorable when he abandons his imagistic method for (or perhaps develops it into) something more extended and more imbued with moral force — not the force of his apparently fundamentalist Christian conviction (which has tended to overwhelm a few of his less successful poems in successive books) but the force seen for instance in the poem ‘Four Men’, a long and very close observation of the current method of ‘mulesing’ lambs, a poem guaranteed not only to make one think twice next time at the meat counter but also one which has a nice sense of the poet’s complicity in the process as well as his revulsion from it. The poem closes with the lines: ’… The last lamb hobbles, bellowing // to its mother, a red glare / at its rear. The pasture is splotched / with crimson. “They’ve got their / tail-lights on,” the third man grins, // wiping the blood from his hands.’

     In Lansdown’s most recent book, Between Glances (1993), there are developments which take him some distance from the pure imagist he is usually seen to be. One of these is a greater proportion of longer poems which employ a narrative or discursive method rather than the haiku-like technique of imagism. Another is Lansdown’s increasing use of rhyme — a tendency he shares with a number of other ‘free verse’ poets of his generation. Unlike some of them, however, Lansdown is careful to align the formality of his rhyming with a more regular rhythm.

     Yet another innovation for Lansdown in his sixth book is a certain amount of humour. Even God has a sense of it in ‘Mirth with Meaning’ when one of the poet’s young children misinterprets the biblical injunction to fast and starts running around the table. At this point the poet notes that ‘There is a smile / on the three faces of God’.

     Unfortunately, such lightness of touch is not seen in all this book’s fairly numerous religious poems, some of which would be better appreciated by a bible-study group than by the general reader. In some of these poems Lansdown has a way of tagging his religious image on the end of a poem as a kind of ‘clincher’ to disconcert the agnostic. Even the ‘delicate donkey / orchid’ by the end of the poem is seen as ‘braying / in bright colours // before the throne / of God.’ At other times there are, admittedly, some persuasive and unforced moments of spiritual insight, such as at the end of ‘The Colour of Life’ when the poet ‘break(s) a scone and steam / wafts from the wound, like // the spirit of a just man, going home’.

     At his best, Lansdown is one of the most assured of Australian poets working in the Imagist tradition but, as indicated, he is not immune from the risks of slightness and whimsy which seem to be inescapably associated with it. 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.


Published in The Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Australian Poetry by Geoff Page (University of Queensland Press, 1995), pp. 165-167



The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-century Poetry in English

edited by Ian Hamilton

Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (1994), 624 pp

LANSDOWN, Andrew (1954—   ), was born in Pingelly, a small town south-east of Perth in Western Australia. He gained arts degrees from both the Western Australian Institute of Technology and the Murdoch University before becoming for a time a tutor in creative writing at the former institution, which later was renamed the Curtin University. Since then he has worked as an education officer in various prisons in Western Australia, a grim occupation which has done surprisingly little to affect his work.

Few Australian poets have been so prolific and consistent. At 37 he has already published six collections of verse, with a seventh ready for publication. From his first book Homecoming (Fremantle, 1979) he has adopted a Christian stance and, perhaps as a result, his work has been neglected and undervalued. A collection of poems for children, A Ball of Gold, was followed by Counterpoise (Sydney, 1982), Windfalls (Fremantle, 1984), Waking and Always (1987), The Grasshopper Heart (1991), and Horse with Lipstick (1992—all Sydney). Lansdown is a miniaturist, a poet attentive to the smallest details of nature, and to subtle domestic emotions. The effect of his work is cumulative, so that his poems can seem slight when considered separately; their style is precise and direct, and never ostentatious. Unusually for a poet of the late twentieth century, the mood in his poems is generally one of contentment or joy, causing fashion conscious readers to overlook his consistent technical excellence.

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Critique from Wordhord

by Dennis Haskell and Hilary Fraser


Andrew Lansdown was born in 1944 [sic – 1954] and has lived most of his life in Perth. He has taught English and creative writing in various educational institutions and in Western Australian prisons. A prolific writer, he has published collections of poetry — Homecoming (1979), Counterpoise (1981), Windfalls (1984) and Waking And Always (1987) — short fiction and work for children, and has edited an anthology of religious verse. Windfalls won the Western Australia Week Literary Award in 1985.

      Andrew Lansdown is an image-making poet interested in visual analogies, many of them playful. His images are largely drawn from nature, especially from the animal world (birds are especially prominent) and from childhood. His poems evince an enjoyment of the elegant quirkiness of birds and of the imaginative quirkiness of children. It is unusual for other adults to be present in Lansdown’s poems: rather, animals or children draw the otherwise solitary speaker to meditations on metaphysical order in the world at large. Nature is seen very much in human terms, as in ‘Spring, Alfred Cove’, where ‘the wind/ knits the water plain and purled’ or in ‘Kestrel’, which likens the hovering bird to a kite. The general effect of this is to chart links between the human and natural worlds, links often more readily perceived by children than by adults, whose instincts have been clogged by worldly preoccupations. Lansdown, in fact, has an abiding concern with innocence and his poetry demonstrates an effort to maintain a view of the world which sustains an attitude of hope.

      These attitudes — Lansdown’s concern with nature and children, his solitariness and the conversational manner of much of his work — are reminiscent of Wordsworth and Coleridge. Indeed, it is not difficult to see Lansdown as a latter day Romantic. Lansdown sees nature’s ‘mechanical rituals’ (‘Should 1 Fall and Fail to Rise’) as suggesting something much more spiritual than this phrase implies — a teleological order in the universe, a pattern which we reach to in the analogising functioning of metaphor, but to which we are often blind. Children in their innocence often have a simple awareness of this patterning, while animals demonstrate their part in it.

      One might, then, see all Lansdown’s poems as songs of innocence and of experience. They are characterised by delicate, precise and imaginative description, by a simplicity of statement (but not of diction, as words such as ‘bracts’ and ‘eldritch’ show), and by masterly uses of rhyme, rhythm and alliteration.

      Lansdown’s attitudes towards innocence are given an intense form in ‘Spring Morning with Baby and Birds’. Bird imagery links the baby to sunshine and birdsong as well as to the instinctive world of crabs and sea anemones. Her ‘eyes … bright with hope’ are given grudging recognition by the jaundiced adult speaker, who sees the sun insinuating brightness through a blind put up to keep out light, and whose connection with the animal world is a form of metaphysical denial: the fretting bird of his heart would be struck down by God if it attempted to fly. The older children present at the end of the poem already perceive the world in his terms. Their bickering seems such a trivial activity in this context of sunlight, birds and the baby’s anticipation. However, he is aware of his own embitterment and it may be a temporary mood, as the word ‘today’ suggests. The infant shows the way out of this frame of mind: the child is parent to the man.

      Similarly, ‘In Her Haste’ presents a father congratulating himself on his awareness of what his daughter is feeling — her ‘bursting with importance/and impatience’. His awareness exceeds her self-awareness, and suggests that he has control of this domestic world. However, her surprising, ‘impish’ retort demonstrates that he was not aware of all the dimensions of her outlook; and this is a pleasure, as, smiling ‘like an alligator’, he is drawn into the child’s world, empathising with her buoyant innocence.

      This theme is aided by the clear, explanatory character of Lansdown’s poems; in their openings they step forward, inviting the reader in. ‘Spring, Alfred Cove’ imaginatively presents the activities of a variety of birds in ‘the last wetland of the Swan River estuary’. Counterpoised with the variousness of the birds and of their actions is the constancy of the stars by which the birds map their flight to this cove. Beyond the delight in creating images of the plants and birds the poem attests to an order in the world that brings them there. This is also the message of ‘Should I Fall and Fail to Rise’, with its variety of crabs united in a discordia concors. The title has biblical, prayerful overtones which are denied by the poem’s ending, but even the crabs’ potential whittling of the speaker’s body is part of the order, which is larger than the individual, and larger than the human altogether.

      The steady, careful lines of ‘Should I Fall …’ might shift attention from flamboyant effects such as the onomatopoeia of ‘crabs click in crustacean speech’ which form an important feature of Lansdown’s work. This verbal delight is prominent in ‘The Brobdingnagian Banana’, even in the poem’s title. To see the tree as a brick-layer is to give it a functional human role but the tree is made fantastical through its Brobdingnagian dimensions. Liveliness in the language is matched with conceptual wit.

      Somewhat different poems are ‘Far from Home, the Blower’ and ‘The Horseshoe Shooter’. ‘Far from Home …‘ is a talkative poem, in which the speaker almost holds a conversation with the reader about an Aboriginal held in a maximum security prison. Despite this location the poem is not harsh or highly dramatised. Lansdown does not confront the reader with his theme of black-white separateness, but lets the theme emerge from the gentle discussion between the speaker and the black inmate. In the poem’s opening lines the Aboriginal’s colour provides the first measure of separateness from white beliefs, and allies him to the didgeridoo. The didgeridoo music contrasts with the jangling of keys when the prison officer comes in. The Aboriginal lives according to Aboriginal Law and to the lore of the didgeridoo. The white speaker does understand him at times, even likening himself to the Aboriginal image of ‘a cut and ochred hollow branch’. But it is their differences which dominate, as when the speaker imagines the Aboriginal responding to him with a ‘symphony of longing’. Symphonies seem a long way from the world of the didgeridoo.

      It is also important to recognise that the didgeridoo conveys not just musicality, but meaning, even ‘wisdom’. For the Aboriginal, didgeridoo playing is a source of dignity and pride, here in a white institution which denies him dignity. Although he is an inmate of a maximum security prison, there is a good deal of innocence in his comments. It is clear that the terms of his life are quite different to white terms, as demonstrated by the connection of the deep woody music of his didgeridoo with animals and the land, and by the distinctiveness of his language, revealed in words such as ‘didgeridoo’ and ‘gningi-gningi’.

      A more precarious vision is conveyed in the most subtle of all these poems, ‘The Horseshoe Shooter’. The poem’s tones range from the jokey to the sombre, and the tonal transitions are made with extraordinary deftness. The poem begins with the speaker’s son’s playful imaginativeness, seeing the curved end of his hockey stick as a shooter of horseshoes. Imaginativeness equals possibility, but ultimately the poem displays a sombre awareness of human limitations. The shift begins with the focus on ‘the old stick’, which occasions a simple, assured portrayal of family relationships. Mention of the relationships conveys death to the edges of the conversation. Trying to understand the family structure brings the speaker’s daughter to ‘revising the relationships’. Uncertainties are becoming ordered in her mind, but the uncertainty provoked by mortality cannot be neatly ordered. For these children death has meant no more than shooting with a hockey stick; suddenly it becomes a presence. Death might have been expected to have a ready entrance into adult consciousness, but it has not previously entered the separate world of the children. Adult imaginativeness creates the hockey stick in another form; it becomes the flute which entices the cobra of death into the mind. Death is only thrust out of the children’s minds with their father’s white lie about being ‘grown up’ when death arrived for his brothers.

      Throughout, the poem is remarkable for the Frostian succinctness of the dialogue and the ease with which the speaker’s empathy with his children is revealed. Ease and subtlety are apparent in other respects too: the ‘almost dark’ of evening in the first line becomes a metaphor for a metaphysical condition by the end of the poem; the last line’s ‘coming upon the world’ has some of the overtones of parable, but is followed by the child’s simple finalising word ‘Good’. The ending is in fact stated without sentimentality and without any of the exaggerated toughness sometimes found in modern literature. It raises the question ‘Is the world good?’ The speaker accepts the nature of the world — and in this poem the world does not seem neatly ordered. He accepts too his role as father, as vulnerable protector. His vulnerability is as certain as his wish to protect his children, and he knows that their childish, innocent trust is falsely placed. But there is no hypocrisy in his white lie: the speaker recognises and respects the necessary separateness of childhood. His children are not separate from death, but they do need to think they are. Death reduces the world to uncertainty, but the children’s certainty he recognises as a necessary fiction.

      This is Lansdown’s work at its best: ‘The Horseshoe Shooter’ is a delicate, quiet, restrained poem, with surprisingly little self-dramatisation, but its content is immense.

[Poems by Andrew Lansdown published in Wordhord: “Far From Home, the Blower”; “The Horseshoe Shooter”; “Spring Morning with Baby and Birds”; “The Brobdingnagian Banana”; “Should I Fall and Fail to Rise”; “Spring, Alfred Cove”; “New Leaf”; “Kestrel”; “In Her Haste”; “Haiku: Light Rain”.]

This critique was published in Wordhord: A Critical Selection of Contemporary Western Australian Poetry, edited by Dennis Haskell and Hilary Fraser, Centre for Studies in Australian Literature, The University of Western Australia (Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1989). 



Metaphor and Meaning in David Brooks’ The Cold Front and Andrew Lansdown’s Windfalls

by Elizabeth Perkins


David Brooks’ The Cold Front (Hale and Iremonger, 1983) and Andrew Lansdown’s Windfalls (Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1984), are attractive collections of essentially lyrical and personal poems in which metaphor and image are used to cross the boundaries between subject and object, human and external nature and the inner and the outer world. The titles themselves place the collections in the natural world, but also introduce connotations of human experience. Brooks’ strong, tempered lines invoke an intellectual and emotional confrontation with the cold, sharp episodes of experience, and Lansdown’s short poems do have the fresh maturity and ease of ripe fruit loosened naturally from the tree. As the poem “Darkness” suggests, Brooks is concerned with fragments of experience “that will not/alchemize to song,/that yield not/to the metaphrast.” Lansdown finds in various forms of resemblance within and between the inner and outer worlds, a mode of metaphrasis that interprets one experience in terms of another. When, in “Nightfall” he hears in the thud of windfall fruit the “mute thud” of the young kangaroo that feeds on them, or sees the resemblance of a loved face in the grace of moonflowers, he performs the same act of interpretation and redefinition that Brooks performs in the complexity of “The Swineflower.”

     A simple reading of the two collections suggests that they illustrate two phases of imagism. But the same reading also points up how inexorably images of the external world become metaphors in the inner world of human consciousness. Lansdown frequently adapts haiku and choka forms and draws on direct observations of external nature in order, as his epigraph from Thomas Traherne suggests, to render “to things their due esteem.” The result is poetry whose strength is the control and lucidity of image found in the work of Hilda Doolittle and William Carlos Williams. Brooks, in another phase of imagism, slides his images into another plane, so that The Cold Front uses the deep, evocative images of T.S. Eliot, James Merrill or Gary Snyder. The difference, which requires a different reading, is seen by setting Lansdown’s “Ibis” beside Brooks’ “The Gap.”

Stilts tread gracefully in the small-fish shallows.

Black shags stand on the sand-bar, shine

In the sun. Sandpipers poke on the shoreline.

Ducks dive in the backwater and shadows.


As we approach, peace departs; the birds freeze.

Then fly, crying, to where their fears end.

In the grasshopper-paddock by the river’s bend

Hundreds of ibis roost in the ring-barked trees.


Again our presence sounds the common alarm.

Embracing the day-heat, the land-hot thermals,

They lift into the air, rise in gentle spirals.

As if even here in our canoe we could do them harm!


They circle in two loose formations: Ibis,

Gliding gradually, soundlessly away from us.

This sonnet illustrates well one aspect of Lansdown’s work in which observation of external nature is dramatized in the first person address, and the distance between human and external nature is preserved during the process of showing their interaction. Apart from this, the interest of the poem lies in its formal shape and the crafted rhythm and sound of the poetry.

     Brooks’ “The Gap” absorbs landscape and human inscape in a complex, panoramic image:

On the pond path by Campbell’s

amidst the wheel-ruts and the fallen leaves

a gap nothing fills

it gets late


cross in the half-light

lugging their haul toward Tumut



the great lake of silence beneath them

flight after flight after flight

To read this as a highly personal elegy it is not necessary to surmise that it was written in memory of the poet David Campbell (1915-79) whose home country and poetic region are the Monaro uplands named in the poem. The plane of imagery shifts from exterior to interior with the third line, although “a gap nothing fills” does not seem out of place with the natural images of wheel-ruts and fallen leaves. Without knowledge of anything outside the poem, the reader finds in the third line a signal that the poem is not purely an observed landscape, and begins to interpret natural images of fallen leaves, half-light and bird flight as images of death and the continuity of life.

     Typically, the images in Lansdown’s Windfalls do not require this kind of interpretation, but their objectivity is more apparent than real. These poems emphasize the fact that all language is a metaphor for human experience, and that the language used by the poet in talking about nature differs from the taxonomies of science only in that the metaphorical character of the latter is less obvious. Windfalls begins with the poem “Should I Fall and Fail to Rise” whose opening lines are:

Early in the morning,

before the wind takes up its broom,

and the poem proceeds to a series of objective observations and subjective interpretations:

You can see where claws

have carved cuneiform runes

into the curve and crust

of the dunes.

Later, the crabs’ movements are described as “mechanical rituals” and the crab itself is “boxbodied like a hansomcab.” The poem does not attempt a studied objectivity, and the kinship of even simple metaphors with the intellectually or imaginatively broader metaphors of surrealism can be seen in comparing the opening lines of this poem with lines by the surrealist poet Benjamin Peret:

Le vent se leve comme une f emme apres une nuit d’amour.

Il ajuste son binocle et regarde le monde, avec ses yeux d’enfant.


[The wind rises like a woman after a night of love. It adjusts

its glasses and looks at the world with its childlike eyes.]

From La Brebis Galante

Lansdown’s poem curbs the imaginative spread of its metaphors, and instructions for precise observation are explicit: “Look carefully, and you will see/the shells walk.” Yet it must immediately explain the metaphor of “the shells walk” with the more precise

Hermit crabs

inhabit the reef — housed

in periwinkles and whelks

tritons and topshells.

The interpretive intellect cannot long remain outside the poem, which intends to pay homage to the animal life on the beach. Some lines later the same cone-hatted crabs are described in simile and metaphor:

Like initiates at a secret ritual,

they dance in their white hats —

the ku klux klansmen

of the crustacean world.

The poem, with nine brief lyrics, reproduces in its forms some of the variety of the crustacean life on the shore, but the idea that minute observation is involved requires qualification: language metamorphoses the experience of observation into one of interpretation by the poet.

     The final meaning of “Should I Fall and Fail to Rise” is intensely interesting. After the eight pieces in which, in all but one, human values interpret the phenomena observed, the last stanza demonstrates how frail and tenuous is the human dominance of nature:

As I walk this beach alone

I begin to realise

should I fall and fail to rise

they will whittle me to the bone.

     The poem’s final statement helps to explain why language so compulsively seeks to annex the external world in its metaphors, as it has been seen to do even in this poem that attempts a certain objectivity. In the end, it is only through the languages of science and the imagination that humankind has any control over external nature. There is emblematic force in Lansdown’s poem, and in the second part of the epigraph he borrows from Traherne: “All things were made to be yours and you were made to prize them according to their value.” This humanist idea sanctions the annexations of language by which things are made part of human experience, but only so long as the things are rightly valued. If the human mind controls external nature through the language in which it speaks about it, a failure in language indicates a loss of that control. The metaphors poetry uses in dealing with the natural world have their own efficiency in allowing the human imagination to retain its grasp on the external world. Science, as Hannah Arendt pointed out in The Human Condition (1958), now moves in a world in which mathematical symbols contain statements that cannot be translated back into speech. When the knowledge of science lies outside the language of the human imagination, humankind has lost effective control of the external world. The fate of the voice of Lansdown’s poem, should it fall and fail to rise, images the fate of humankind if its languages lose the capacity to handle the forces of nature it attempts to manipulate.

     The title of Brooks’ “The Horseman” suggests an apocalyptic statement which bears on the meaning drawn out of “Should I Fall and Fail to Rise,” but the poem requires a different method of reading from that used in reading Lansdown’s poem. Where the I on the sea-shore spoke from a realistic and natural environment. Brooks’ I inhabits a semi-biblical, semi-dystopian environment of the imagination, in which the holocaust of civilization is represented by a landscape emptied of all but isolated symbolic objects. The poem is in four parts. In the first part, the speaker, “sitting/high in the leaves” watches four horsemen ride “from the far end of the bible” through an overgrown allotment “off Phoebe Street.” In the second part the riders eat “white bread/white cheese/the white flesh of pigeons,” whose ascetic delicacy and simplicity evoke both a spiritual and subsistence food. The watcher sees “through the eyes of the last of them” fields of ripening grain. In the third part a dropped egg, and the ants drowning in it, image a destruction of nature. In the fourth part of the poem, the speaker comments on what has been seen:

It was our fault


we should have said

the sun is a delicate globe

no one should drop it

we should have said

without action

there can be no true adoration


we should have explored

the full possibilities of language

which include responsibility


risking harshness

risking poetry

risking ultimate simplicity

This landscape is evocative as a painting is evocative. The reader does not need to find a hidden meaning for the speaker’s sitting “high in the leaves,” or in the speaker’s comment “who would have thought it” on the diet of the horsemen. A number of obvious meanings which are all trivial suggest themselves; but it is the broad effect of the lines that is important. The voice of the poem is a survivor, but it is not known what form the survival takes: in the world of the poem it is only certain that the voice understands responsibility. The three failures of obligation, which apparently account for the visioned holocaust, concern responsibility for the natural world, “the sun is a delicate globe/no one should drop it;” responsibility for observing the mutual dependence of action and meditation; and responsibility towards the possibilities of language. To single out harshness, poetry and simplicity as three possibilities of language does not confine language to its literary use, but implies many kinds of language communication including the scientific, the imaginative and the language of everyday use.

The last lines of the poem achieve a strange quiescence:

but we had been sitting

too long by ourselves in the sunset

and a great distance was leaning from everything

This indifference empties the world of humankind and its language. There remains only

the wind

or the time

or the silence

truly rinsing the stones.

One of the insidious powers of language is that it can suggest its own demise in metaphors that distract the mind from the horror implied in its demise. Against this, the conviction must be hastily summoned that the poetic statement of the possibility asserts the durability of art which can play with such possibilities.

     Lansdown’s “Should I Fall and Fail to Rise” is a literal statement that may be read as a metaphor of the human condition and human language within the external world. Brooks’ “The Horsemen” is a metaphorical statement that may be interpreted as a literal statement about an envisaged world in which the human condition has no reality.

     The majority of poems in both collections are concerned with less portentous aspects of the human and natural worlds, but in almost every poem the ultimate meaning points to an inescapable relationship between the two worlds, and the poems themselves often serve as a metaphor for that relationship. In a series of poems about a child’s awed and reverent encounter with nature, Lansdown tenderly explores the human impulse to embrace the external world. In the “Good Catcher” poems, “mysweetson” and “In from the Garden” the natural world evades this capture with pain, or death, or in the discomfiture of the small and loving predator. Only rarely is the animal world described in a word appropriate to human artefacts, as when the grasshopper’s bead of black vomit “lubricates its mechanical mouth.” Human and external nature interact in “At One Purpose”, in which old Mrs Shaw and the gum tree share a supple and sapling youth, and the boy “hops/like a little bird/about her.” Almost all Lansdown’s poems take place out of doors, reinforcing the metaphorical meaning of the title, and strengthening the cultural validity of the borrowed choka and haiku forms which originally were almost wholly restricted to natural images.

     The spiritual dimension of Lansdown’s collection is explicitly Christian, animated by love for the human and natural worlds and untrammelled by dogma which might, for example, offer an easy consolation for the death that is present in the background of the poems. Although the overt spiritual dimension of the collection also strengthens the validity of borrowing the Japanese verse forms, in which a religious element was traditionally central, the spiritual dimension does not extend to any suggestion of a mystical union between human and external nature. It is one of the interesting qualities of Lansdown’s poetry that it stops short of the mysticism that is implicit in much of Brooks’ imagery. Lansdown’s images typically point up the discreteness of the units within both the natural and the human world, as when, in “While Watering Vegetables,” one moth remains


above the broad beans


Like the evening star

above the quiet earth

By comparison, in Brooks’ “Late Swim,” the narrator retains a human psychological uniqueness, although, as in many of these poems, he does not maintain an identity discrete from the natural world:

The storm-clouds

are now small islands

haloed by the moon.


The only star

not visible amongst them

or floating in the bay

is sleeping in my arms

weighing no more than a bird.

     There is an explicit political dimension in several of Lansdown’s poems, which gives rise to one of the most interesting annexations of the natural world in the image of the dragonfly, or the “caballito del diablo,” in the poem “One Day.” The annexation is made possible by the conflation of apparently Chinese Marxist connotations in the English name of the insect with the infernal connotations in the Spanish name. The dragonfly’s movements around the polling station, where the narrator acts as election clerk, are described in military terms: reconnoitres, blitzing, hovering, pilots. There is menace in the “occult precision” with which the insect “pilots between obstacles,” “disappears,” and “reappears.” The narrator sees it as a portent:

Why has it strayed

to this dry bed of democracy?

It portends unremembered.

but unbroken

alliances. Caballito del diablo.


When will the dragon

fly from our midst? …


Caballito del diablo: the devil’s little horse.

One day it will return, bigger

and mounted with machine guns.

     The compassion and the concern for the natural world that give the collection its dominant tone are challenged by an awareness of death which invades the human and the natural worlds and threatens the transaction between them. “Bush-Walking” comprises a three-lined stanza:

What manner of death

fills my body, that birds fall breath

less at my approach?

In “Doe and Fawn” an Indian antelope whose dead fawn dangles from her vagina is watched by zoo visitors, the women sharing a moment of sympathy with the animal that stops short of any mystical empathy in parturition:

From the crowd, women look on quietly,

ignoring the questions of their children.

Death is identified as a powerful opponent in “Except Trees” and “Salt in the Earth”:

Trees defy death’s gravity.

Past living they stand

silver and majestic, like monuments

to life.

In another metaphor, nature is arbitrarily annexed by language, for there is no reason why the blackbird rather than another bird should image death:

Death is a blackbird

(not nearly

so rainbow-bright

nor raucous-sweet

as a crow)

and trees stick in his craw

like fishbones.

In its handling of the natural world, “Death is a blackbird” is as violent a metaphor as the surrealist image, “The wind rises like a woman after a night of love,” and they belong to the same order of imagination. The violence of the blackbird metaphor reveals the energy of the poet’s opposition to death, just as the violence done to the dragonfly in that image reveals the strength of the poet’s political feeling. A chain of visual and verbal stimuli has given rise to both images, but the ultimate use of an image depends on factors too complex to analyse. The reader can be certain only of the urgency that incited its use.

     The natural world, of course, may exercise its power over human language. Lansdown’s concern with sound and units of phrasing is frequently a response to the rhythm and chiaroscura of the external world as much as a response to inner psychological and emotional pressure — as was the concern of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Dylan Thomas, whose phrasing is evoked in this aspect of Lansdown’s work. In “Wallabies Grazing,” the first and last lines of the poem illustrate how the blended shades and movement of the landscape effect a blending of language:

Bush arid pasture

brush and posture in sepiagrey

and I —

oh the freshandchill, hushandstill dusk! . . .



they standupandstare


bound to the boundaryfence:

looseshadows in a lostshape landscape

In “For the Force of Flame,” a sonnet that also recalls Hopkins’ characteristic work, the language of the camp fire not only invades the language of the speaker but is held to be of a higher order than human voices:

For the force of flame, a thousand voices shout:

In the moment of change, each leaf cries out,

Leaps up redly, brightly eclipsing the white

Stars, before flickering and fading into night.


The moon is water-smoothed stone on a river bed.

Shimmering beneath the streaming smoke. The crack and cough

Of coals counterpoint the flames’ stutter. Strangely enough

I remember the voice of the fire, but not the things we said.


We re-affirmed what we already knew: we do not agree on this,

On that. How foolishly we darkened simple pleasures —

Friendship, fire, roast potatoes and fish —

With our convoluted talk. Life has its proportions and measures:

I would learn them before my soul cries out to its Creator,

Leaps, stuttering with joy and shame, up to my Saviour.

Although “cough” and “stutter” are human terms imposed on the fire, it is the image of the fire that controls the human image in this poem. And although several images come together in the last two lines, they do not coalesce but remain separate.

     Lansdown, in this collection, is an imagist, and his imagism is typical of the clear, discrete mode of imagery that invokes connections rather than evokes unity. It is therefore observant of Traherne’s injunction to render to things their due esteem. Nevertheless the poems constantly yield to the inexorable demand of human language that things be interpreted in human terms, and the tension that arises between the objectifying and subjectivist functions of language may be read as another level of meaning in his poetry.

     The images in Brooks’ The Cold Front are seldom discrete. They are typically metaphors originating in subjectivity and requiring subjective interpretation. This does not imply that meaning may be diffused beyond meaning because images are unstable. On the contrary, there is never any doubt what a passage means, but almost any passage defies paraphrase. “On Durras Beach,” for example, opens with a statement of human perplexity and loneliness in confronting the universe:

Another night,

again the moon, self-hugged, self-eaten,

rolling imperceptibly deathward.


I stoke a small fire on the beach

with driftwood and the gnarled

roots of my sleeplessness


and watch the wind

weave through the flames

the dark tongues of the cosmos.

Although there is no attempt to describe external nature objectively, imagery from the natural world invades the human world, as in “the gnarled roots of my sleeplessness,” and later the self-hugged, self-eaten moon becomes an image of humanity, and the driftwood of the fire becomes the dry speculation in which the mind attempts to find enlightenment. Here external images annex the internal world and dictate the language in which it is spoken about, and there is an insistence on overcoming discreteness with unity.

     The title poem could be a metaphor for a relationship that is passing through a critical testing period, but the paraphrase is unnecessary to establish the poem’s meaning. The images, however, are not simply imaginatively evocative but require intellectual attention:

It was coming

the cold front

and the complex weather

we returned

and the difficult loves were waiting

the long conversations

with pain in the final sentences


gathering her parcel for the victory

     The effect of Lansdown’s poetry is to emphasize human responsibility towards the natural world and especially responsibility to the language in which we talk and think about the natural world. The effect of Brooks’ poetry is to indicate the resources of language that lie in the external world. Paradoxically, by penetrating deeply into one natural image the poet outgrows a narrow subjectivity and reaches an intense but personal self whose comments have arresting meaning for others. Sometimes this language is in the sign that lives in action after it has become legend. This seems to be the meaning of Brooks’ translation of Czeslaw Milosz’s “Campo di Fiori” in which the public death of Giordano Bruno, the Italian philosopher burned in Rome in 1600 for heresy, is a wordless sign for the deaths in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw in 1943:

                when Giordano

climbed to his burning

he could not find

in any human tongue

words for mankind,

mankind who live on.

Both martyrdoms are surrounded by gay indifferent crowds whose laughter and voices as they go about their daily life carry no meaning at all. Poetry finds its language not in the human crowd but in the events themselves:

Those dying here, the lonely

forgotten by the world,

their tongue becomes for us

The language of an ancient planet.

The intellectual force of much of Brooks’ poetry depends on its sensuousness, on the knowledge of the self that is achieved by contact with the outer world through all the senses. The last two poems in The Cold Front are about the importance of this sensuous apprehension of one’s being. “Although” ends with the assertion that sunset “still casts its crimson on my heart/and rakes it with desire for the world,” although the speaker has suffered through all the senses, and in emotion and mind:

and the greatest love I know

will never lift my worried flesh

very far from the bed that it lies upon

It is through the outer world, whose imagery penetrates the language of the poem, that survival is possible:

I shall keep from drowning.

While these things last

slow-worm, blind-worm, I shall still surround

myself and my family with light.

The final poem, “The Swineflower,” is exhilarating in its sensuous interpretation and re-definition of mind and emotion. It is, for the moment, the goal of the rather austere and ascetic pilgrimage that images the earlier part of the collection — a pilgrimage that at times overtly recalls Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi.” The voice in “The Swineflower” revels in its voracious appetite for life:

I continue.

I tear at it and snort.

I slurp ostentatiously

letting it dribble from my chin.

I gulp great draughts of darkness

and they do not pain me.

This gluttony is not the selfish indulgence of an egotist, but the appetite and extravagant spewing of dehiscent nature. The poem ends:


on a patch of the heart-stained ground

you will find

in the lightening gloom

the swineflower, the carnivore orchid,

and know

that nothing is wasted,

that nothing in the long, hot tumult of the swine

is sordid,

not even the hunger I died for,

not even,

for all it has left bare or broken,

that strange seed,

of sunflower, starflower

flaring in your spine.

The transition from the self to the other in the final stanza is smoothly made and the I appears only in the phrase of absence, “the hunger I died for.” “The Swineflower” is an interesting example of the way in which the intensely experiencing self can be totally absorbed by the external world, and in the process of this annihilation assert itself in its richest form of being.

     Read together, Lansdown’s Windfalls and Brooks’ The Cold Front become the thesis and antithesis for an almost inexhaustible meditation on the significance of poetry in the human and the natural world.

© Elizabeth Perkins

Published in LiNQ [Literature in North Queensland], Volume 14, No.2, 1986, pp. 35-47



Comment by Geoffrey Lehmann

If I were to prepare an alphabetical list of Australian poets who are outstanding and whose first books have been published since 1980, my list would be ridiculously long. It would have to include Judith Beveridge, Kevin Brophy, Elizabeth Campbell, Caroline Caddy, Jennifer Compton, Tricia Dearborn, Stephen Edgar, Peter Goldsworthy, Philip Hodgins, Carol Jenkins, Andrew Lansdown, Anthony Lawrence, Bronwyn Lea, Emma Lew, Stephen McInerney, Homer Reith, Gig Ryan, Philip Salom, Andrew Sant, Shen, Craig Sherborne and Alex Skovron. Some of these poets are very different from each other and might look askance at their bedfellows. But all have written memorable and exciting poems. (emphasis added)

Excerpt from “New poets mine rich seam of language” by Geoffrey Lehmann in The Australian, 21 February 2009

Read full article at



Critical comment on Andrew’s poem, “On Poetry”

by Jim Legasse


The final voice I want you to listen to is that which speaks poetically of poetry. The poem is called “On Poetry”; the author is Andrew Lansdown, who was born in 1954 in Pingelly, W.A., and who, like the others, has published widely. His first book of poetry, Homecoming, was published by the Fremantle Arts Centre Press in 1979; two more books of poetry, Counterpoise (Angus and Robertson) and A Ball of Gold: Poems for Children (The Nine Club), are scheduled for publication in 1981.

The voice of “On Poetry” is a father’s voice. In the poem the speaker talks about talking about poetry. The speaker’s infant son, “still months from walking”, and we assume from talking, conveys more, however, the poet-speaker acknowledges, than poets themselves do. This is another piece, then, like Olive Pell’s, which verbalizes the eloquence of a non-verbal communication. The “statement” made by the young child is, in the love of his father, more expressive, although unarticulated, than his father’s philosophising about Art could ever be. It’s an exaggerated statement about understatement, but I’ll let the poet make the point for himself; he says:


As we sit talking

about poetry


my son (still months

from walking)


lounges without a care

on my knee, fronts


my old friend with

a vacant stare


spasmodically stops

our talking with


a short sigh

and lifts and drops


his foot rhythmically

on the flat of my thigh


The ironies of the situation are evident, I think. Two adults are discussing poetry; one child is enacting a poem. His sigh, his movement, the rhythms and resonances of that “foot” on the flat of [his Dad’s] thigh”, show the child to be poetry. This short poem suggests the connections between life, love, and art, and it says a great deal without saying much at all. One idea that it implies is that we should all stop talking about poetry from time to time, so that we can hear the real artists speak.


This comment by Jim Legasse forms part of his review of 

Quarry, ed. Fay Zwicky (Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1981).

The reviewed was published in Westerly, No. 4, December 1981, pp. 73-76



Critical comment on Andrew’s poem, “The Shodo Egret”

by Shane McCauley

One poem that is especially noteworthy for the precision of its imagery and the control of form is Andrew Lansdown’s “The Shodo Egret”. Most lines consist of five syllables, reflecting both the stately gait of the egret and at the same time doing homage to the construction most favoured by classic Japanese and Chinese poets. Many of the four-line stanzas could be singled out as perfect Imagist poems in their own right. Two outstanding images are contained in the following:

… It does not

note its reflection

needled like a tattoo

on the river’s skin …


each step is three

brushstrokes, converging

on a common point …

     The entire poem is a triumph of observation translated into the closest approximation words can offer.

This comment by Shane McCauley forms part of his review of

An Inflection of Silence, edited by Christopher Pollnitz (University of Newcastle, 1986).

The reviewed was published in Fremantle Arts Review, Vol. 2, No. 4, April 1987, p.14


Other websites
with information about and copies of
Andrew’s poetry and fiction


1. The Universtity of Western Australia (Scholars’ Centre) has archived drafts and papers of Andrew’s work. View the “Scholars’ Centre Guide to the Papers of Andrew Lansdown – Scholars’ Centre, University of Western Australia Library – Reference number: MS 108” at:;cs=default;ts=default?DwebQuery=Hrtus-Jurina,+Pavol&DwebSearchAll=1

2a. The University of New South Wales (Australian Defence Force Academy Library) has also archived drafts and papers of Andrew’s work. View the “Guide to the Papers of Andrew Lansdown – Australian Defence Force Academy Library – Reference number: MS 74” at:;cs=default;ts=default?DwebQuery=Hrtus-Jurina,+Pavol&DwebSearchAll=1

2b. The “Guide to the Papers of Andrew Lansdown – Australian Defence Force Academy Library – Reference number: MS 74” can also be viewed at:

3. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has produced a 40 minute program on the poems of Fontanelle. It is titled “I Could Teach Bamboo About Emptiness – The Poetry of Andrew Lansdown” and was Broadcast Saturday 4th June 2005 on Radio National as one of the weekly Poetica series. View details at:

4. The First Australian Haiku Anthology website has four of Andrew’s haiku. Go to:


5. The Quadrant magazine website has archived many of Andrew’s poems published in the print magazine since 1998. Go to:

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