Robert Harris (ed Judith Beveridge)
The Gang of One: Selected Poems
Grand Parade Poets, 2019

The Gang of One

 

There is heart and skill on display in these poems. Harris maintains a certain defiance and confidence in his work and this stance is cleverly encapsulated in Don’t feel sorry about it.

Good poetry has rhythm and heart. The beat can be discordant jazz, strident rock or symphonic. The reader’s eyes glide across the page in this collection according to the varied rhythms Robert Harris (1951-1993) conducts.

JANE Interlinear, his longest poem at 34 pages, is a symphony. An overarching couplet syntax gives the poem an historical verisimilitude. Harris captures the political brutality of Lady Jane Grey’s nine days as Queen of England and summary execution.

There is heart and skill on display in these poems. Harris maintains a certain defiance and confidence in his work and this stance is cleverly encapsulated in Don’t feel sorry about it.

Harris' faith shaped how he saw himself, the world and humanity in general. It is overt in the poem’s Ray ("now in my light go seeing"), The Call ("then I felt like one in a room of crimes, as the blind rattles up, and the light crashes in") and The Cloud Passes Over ("Lord God of waters").

Faith also informs keen observations such as "our secular sandstone, the failure in the soul comes of desire" in Sydney and "dust in people’s minds" in Class of Ninety-One. The latter poem reflects on freer times that were touched by tragedy but those days are "dust in people’s minds". Memory, too, in reflection, is from dust and unto dust it returns.

Some of Harris’ poems throw up a surprise. The bite at the end of Ezekial’s Music and gran’s line, the final line, in My Irish Grandmother.

There is a breadth of material across this collection. You Will Thicken is a lovely nod to wisdom coming with age. Australian Rules has the great line that footy carries a "task of hope and burden of aggression". Cane Country and Canefield Sunday, 1959 are insightful historical reflections. Dolekeeper Rag is a life’s lament and The Enthusiast captures the essence of a personality. The Wish is a snatched memory of Harris’ father with a backdrop of changing times. Memoir of Cherry Bomb and the Stomach Pump is cloaked in sadness, the sadness of "orange juice and methadone, their version of comprehension".

Take the time to read and ponder both the craft and the insight this collection of poems offers. The late Robert Harris' works are both very Australian and very Christian - and in neither case was he a chest thumper.