Nervous about reading poetry? This book will put you on the right path


Another example of Holland-Batt’s breadth of taste and knowledge is the understanding she shows of the very different work of Stephen Edgar and Pi O, about whom she wrote in successive weeks. Edgar is the country’s (if not the language’s) pre-eminent formalist; Pi O is the ethnic anarchist from Fitzroy. Their separate merits are certainly different but also very real, and Holland-Batt has no trouble in introducing, and sampling, the work of each in a suitably sympathetic and persuasive way.

One further dimension of the book’s scope is Holland-Batt’s discussion of poetry’s many formal features. These range from the mandatory sonnet, ode, villanelle, sestina, elegy etc through to less-predictable and occasionally controversial aspects such as the “readymade” (or “found poem”), anagrams, ekphrasis, the prose poem and quite a few others. The author appears equally at ease with them all and wisely quotes the American poet Dana Gioia saying, of free verse and formal verse, that “only the uninformed or biased can fail to recognise that genuine poetry can be created in both modes”.

It’s worth noting, too, that many books of this kind (including a couple by this reviewer) begin with the poem in question, followed by the essay discussing it. Holland-Batt starts with the essay that provides contextual comments about the book generally, comments about the poem chosen, before finally printing the poem itself (often found on turning the page). This might seem counterintuitive but it works well. Fishing for Lightning is indispensable for anyone interested, at any level, in contemporary Australian poetry. And isn’t that all of us?

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