- Mount Sumptuos, by Aiden Coleman. Wakefield Press. $19.95.
Adelaide poet Aidan Coleman began his career as a kind of minimalist imagist. In Avenues & Runways (2005) he spoke of "6 a.m." as a time "when the air is flushed with dark, / you can hear the dew / tinkering, with fine adjustments".
Now in his third collection, Mount Sumptuous, his poems are more like small, intricate machines, the purpose of which is not immediately obvious.
Their overall tone is more than a little reminiscent of John Forbes (1950-1998), whose biography Coleman is known to be working on.
They definitely require (and justify) more than one reading.
On this second scrutiny, the reader will start to pick up on Coleman's dry, idiosyncratic and oblique humour.
The poems are rarely moving in any direct way but they do resonate with meaning and a kind of affection, even an ironic compassion.
A couple of his haiku-like poems illustrate the point. "Unready" is three lines suggesting a neat double-entendre: "A cry swerves into sleep. / You wake // a parent."
Another is the two-liner, "Regent & Seal": "in the wreckage of his waking / the infant slumbers." The baby, having regally inconvenienced everyone, goes back to sleep.
Although traces of Coleman's earlier, imagistic mode can be detected ("A party at anchor. Paddock dusty with stars") the poems in Mount Sumptuous are, for the most part, aiming at larger and more complex effects. Quite a few involve a critique of our materialist obsessions.
One such is "Nth Degree" which talks of "Tight blue / parents in the suburbs / of their constancy" and ends with them "racing through / catalogues / of aftershave - / a grappling hook / wedged in the thigh / of Mt Sumptuous."
Rather in the manner of Eliot's parodic notes to "The Waste Land", Coleman informs us, in an endnote, that "Mt Sumptuous is a fictional mountain, 11,483 feet high".
You don't need a PhD, of course, to see that the "thigh / of Mt Sumptuous" is a metaphor for all that can be acquired, or aspired to, in our prevailing mall culture.
Another poem in this mode is part 1 of "Logos, as in Brands". Here Coleman rejoices in "a white // goods salesman's leaden chicanery" and ends with cheery allusion to Robert Frost: "Among exhortations on the aisle / untaken, a single phrase flashes / its beautiful teeth".
Among the numerous, if sometimes hard-won, pleasures of Mount Sumptuous is the reassurance that the airily sardonic and iconoclastic spirit of John Forbes is still with us.
- Geoff Page is a Canberra poet.