Now on his 11th collection, Canberra poet John Foulcher, has always sought to make each book different from its predecessor.
In Dancing with Stephen Hawking, however, the poet continues his same close interest in the natural world, in family and in religion (always managed obliquely).
There is also his ongoing facility for dramatic monologue and his ability to compose sequences which reveal their subject from successive angles and/or embody a developing narrative.
This new collection is divided into three loosely thematic sections.
The first, "Skin", is mainly concerned with physical presence, edging, almost paradoxically, into the metaphysical.
Sometimes, as in "The Babel of Rites", this can occur on a Greek island ("Below the mural Mass, the rest / is sound, undiminished by the words. That / slumped Hellenic Christ, hanging there."
In another, "Before the Walk", it's from the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.
The second section, "The Theory of Anything", a nice twist on what evaded Albert Einstein, features an ekphrastic sequence, "Among the Pines", based on photographs by Gregory Crewdson.
Although ekphrasis has been with us since the ancient Greeks, Foulcher freshly examines here the technique's potential for revealing extra dimensions to images which are, at one level, flatly explicit and, at another, stubbornly hermetic.
Again, parts of this sequence comes with religious implications, as in the prose poem, "Liturgy": " Twilight stains the sky. In the dim light, it is as if this is the long nave of a cathedral, as if the man who is standing there is a priest at the altar. He is alone in this wilderness, these pragmatic woods. No one has come for the mass."
This middle section also contains the book's (prize-winning) title poem, an outstanding demonstration of Foulcher's chameleon ability to assume a totally different viewpoint and (tastefully) tell a story not his own.
The final section also contains several of the book's most memorable poems, including "The School Band" (concerning the overheated minds of adolescent boys), "The Last Day" (foreshadowing their fates), "Annotations" (a long, moving elegy for the poet's late brother, Ian) and the final (prize-winning) poem, "Revising Casuarinas".
This last is vintage Foulcher and could conceivably have come from any stage of his career.
It's also a subtly structured tribute to the poet, Robert Gray, who was an important influence on Foulcher in his early career.
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