- Change Machine, by Jaya Savige. University of Queensland Press. $24.99.
It is tempting to see the Queensland poet, Jaya Savige, as the latest of our expatriate poets to emigrate to London, following Peter Porter and Clive James.
Like his predecessors, Savige has also been careful to maintain a toehold at home, partly by keeping his Brisbane and Bribie Island upbringing firmly in mind and also by editing poetry for The Australian.
The impact of Savige's having lived in the UK for more than a decade is hard to assess. It's difficult to know how his poetry might have developed had he stayed in Brisbane, but it's fair to say that it has now become more complex and cosmopolitan than it might otherwise have been.
Change Machine, Savige's third full-length collection, is extremely diverse in manner and subject, with a tone ranging from highly experimental to sardonically colloquial.
Not for nothing did he do his PhD on James Joyce. Finnegan's Wake, for instance, is explicitly referenced in the book's final poem, "Cinemetabolic", which serves to illustrate one extreme of Savige's current approach.
It ends: "ache hoof hour crate cram shelled wren, / hand haul off there shelled wren to calm".
The book's opening section, however, is more conservative. It's a sequence of 29 sonnets which, among other intentions, examines (and rejoices in) many permutations of the 800-year-old form.
The collection's title poem here is typical, with its arresting initial image and its clever (and timely) couplet near the end. "London," the poem begins, "the sky sits on your face / like the distressed arse / of a XXXL pair of stonewashed overalls". Then, some lines later, the ultra-neat: "We breathlessly await the new vaccine, / but no-one disinfects the change machine".
No less disorienting perhaps is the book's third section, which seems to focus on violence - domestic, in particular. Some of its book's most memorable poems are to be found here, including "Hard Water", "Ladybugs" and "Mister Michelin".
"Hard Water", for example, is disconcertingly Australian and has a violence of language well-suited to its contents.
It ends: " ... I was reminded / of it this weekend // when I saw him reach behind the bread / and casually plug the cord / into the wall socket, the way it was intended, // while he bubbled / up with pride / about the Broncos, who had // never finished / dead / last on the ladder, and the hard water roiled."
Savige's blend of extreme enjambment, half and full rhyme here is characteristic.
Change Machine may not be a "comfortable read" but there are numerous high points along the way.
- Geoff Page is a Canberra poet.