$19.95

Cactus

(4 customer reviews)

Throughout his forties and fifties Phillip found himself on a sticky wicket: the grief for his baby son and younger brothers, suicide attempts, self-harming, the premature termination of his career, and the failure of religious belief to explain or console. In and out of psychiatric care, he has been treated for PTSD, severe depression and social anxiety. There are consolations: family, companion greyhounds, Sunshine, the Western Bulldogs and Australian Football, books, the fine and performing arts but, for Phillip, this remains a time of loss and despair. This is, therefore, a collection of lamentations, achingly focused on what it is to live with poor mental health, but it is also a defiant celebration of survival and the redeeming power of familial love, sport and the arts.

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9780648936763 120 September 2021 , ,
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Throughout his forties and fifties Phillip found himself on a sticky wicket: the grief for his baby son and younger brothers, suicide attempts, self-harming, the premature termination of his career, and the failure of religious belief to explain or console. In and out of psychiatric care, he has been treated for PTSD, severe depression and social anxiety. There are consolations: family, companion greyhounds, Sunshine, the Western Bulldogs and Australian Football, books, the fine and performing arts but, for Phillip, this remains a time of loss and despair. This is, therefore, a collection of lamentations, achingly focused on what it is to live with poor mental health, but it is also a defiant celebration of survival and the redeeming power of familial love, sport and the arts.

4 reviews for Cactus

  1. Fotoula Reynolds (verified owner)

    Phillip Hall’s Cactus speaks of surviving grief, everyday. While living with poor mental health he finds relief in his beloved city of Sunshine. Family, sport and the arts are all acknowledged in his poems.

    A beautifully crafted book. There is hope for us all. We are all better for reading this collection.

  2. Kylie Hough (verified owner)

    It’s normal for me (an emerging poet with no published collection to speak of) to be intimidated by incredible writers such as the highly talented, multi-published Australian poet, Phillip Hall. What I lack in experience and skill, however, I like to think I make up for in enthusiasm. There’s also the fact I am Killer-Kween of my own moment-by-bloody-moment experiences of living (? existing) with ongoing mental maladies. According to me, I’m at least somewhat qualified to have-a-go on account of my (multiple) diagnoses. And, if that’s not enough, well, you just have to take it from me that Doctor Phill is the least pretentious and most humble of humans you are ever likely to meet, which makes it easier to attempt to review of a poetry collection that goes above and beyond the likes of me. That said, I have a few words to say about his brilliant new collection, Cactus. It’s not my way to map out rhyme schemes (vomit) or break down the structure (who cares?) and bang on about line breaks that see only other poets swoon or want to reach for a hacksaw, but I do like to write a bit on content and goals. So, what’s it about? Shitty times on behalf of chief antagonist, Mental Illness(s). But, importantly, it’s also about survival and love and art and dogs and football. And let’s face it, who doesn’t want to read about at least three of those topics? Why? The poet, in writing, is always trying to accomplish a goal. Something known or unknown to them, building like a thunderstorm until at last :: freedom. Here’s what I garner: A guy who has died is coming back to the life through the love and big deal that is, the line. When a “broken-down” person in need of “an end” can still somehow manage to rise each morning to “make [his] bed” to “fortify” himself “against the sober cold dreaming”, this kind of person is my kind of person. The kind on a quest to “rediscover resilience” is the kind I like to read, the kind I relate to and the kind I like most to support. So, do yourself a favour and read it. Oodles of stars Doctor Phillip—I loved it.

  3. Anita Nahal , Ph.D. CDP, Professor, poet, children’s writer & columnist University of the District of Columbia Washington DC

    Absolute pleasure and honor to write this short review for Phillip Hall’s latest poetry collection, Cactus by Recent Work Press, Canberra, Australia, 2021

    It was a journey of emotional discovery to read Phillip Hall’s latest poetry collection, Cactus. Tugging at the heart and soul, each poem is an unearthing into the way our minds, thoughts and feelings might work. The poems are deeply self-reflective and self-critical providing a way for the readers to seek the depths of their own personal crisis resultant of private or public encounters or happenings. Layer by layer, the poems compel you to ponder, deliberate upon one’s own challenges…pealing our lamentations naked much more than Sylvia Plaths’s poems. In the end, however, many poems deliver fresh drops of hope somewhat like we find in poems by James Baldwin.

    The cover has a majestic greyhound (Phillip Hall’s paradise) looking directly at the reader, challenging, yet comforting at the same time as dogs are a human’s best friend. Phillp Hall’s own life has been testing him for decades and he has been in a continuous process to comprehend the tribulations time has left at his doorstep, coming out resilient and full of heart. That softness, that courage, those self-injunctions, those silent moments, those noisy clamorings of circumstances around him, all seep into this precious poetry collection. Like cactus which can prick us yet also survive without much water in the harshest environs, Hall poses imaginary questions through his poetry, tempting us to go through fire, crumble like reluctant ashes, yet emerge like a phoenix. You will want to read all the poems carefully and you may cry or smile but you will certainly emerge a better person for having been part of Phillip Hall’s amazing creativity and lessons in survival.

    Get your copy today! Congratulations Phillip for this fascinating poetry collection!

  4. peter Mladinic (verified owner)

    Dirt Music

    a review of Cactus, by Phillip Hall

    Cactus indicates a sharp-needled plant that grows in arid ground. It’s a very relevant title for this collection of forty-two poems. A too familiar review, On the Edge and Not Over,
    does not miss the mark of the edge in common to all these poems. Their author has survived suicide attempts; indeed he has been to the edge, and writes from that perspective, also from the perspective of father, son, brother, romantic partner—with people, things, and places he loves. Suicide, he does not flinch from writing about his suicide attempts. To sit down and really read this book is to admire his courage in living and his skill with language. Cactus, this collection of 42 poems, lives in fertile ground. Hall laments, but has no delusions; if truth is beauty, there’s beauty here.

    The theologian Paul Tillich authored the book The Courage To Be. The great lesson of poetry is: be yourself. Sound like yourself. Hall sounds like no one else. One constant is that he writes listening to music, and his tastes are eclectic, ranging from blue grass to classical. But what do his poems look like? His varied, often indented lines are reminiscent of Maryanne Moore, Amy Clampitt, and A.R. Ammons, whom he alludes to. Poems sound and look different from prose; that’s clear on these pages, in these lines. Their diction ranges from high style to the plain spoken. No poem is more plain spoken that “blood lust,” an unflinching look at the self, that concludes: but I still want my children (&/ their partners) to process/ past the naked scarred stiff trunk/ and see me.

    Who is Phillip Hall? The speaker in these poem, and a person of depth and complexity, like his readers. But also a survivor, as was previously mentioned. While many have not attempted suicide, they likely know people who have. In “kith ‘n’ kin” he says “I stay alive/ only for others in a family..” In the next poem “Gongoozler’s Lament” he says “I have my own/ rhythms for approaching swing/ bridges and locks..”

    In “Dark Matter” an early image “the underside of prickly/ bushes” accents the book’s title. Further down the page Hall says “I have been blessed/ with so much, ring those bells/ like an air-conditioned road train captain roaring/ and a top paddock clipped/ to bulk billed order..” The simile surprises; the lines, seen, heard, felt smack of a journey. The book’s last section, Set Shots” are notes on many of the poems. The set shot on “Dark Matter” begins: “I love dirt (or acoustic) music, especially bluegrass & classical.” From Australia to America, one bluegrass musician comes to mind Keith Whitley, who fought his own demons, and whose music is renown, sounding like no other. “Dark Matter,” the poem concludes with “the bent of dirt/ music, guitar and banjo picking circles, fiddled/ improvisation where even the sinking broke/ tremor deeply/ like a double bass doghouse bulging/ at the seams. These lines, like the ones that precede them, “speak for themselves,” no comment needed. They’re at the center of this book.

    In addition to family, loved ones, and self, and the loss of loved ones, other concerns are religion, football, painting, sculpture, of course music, politics and animals, namely greyhound dogs. “Animal Liberation” consists of two parts, Hounded, dedicated to Charlie Brown and Sir Jay Jay Raids Rich, for Billy Blue. Both are rescue dogs, meaning in fact Hall saved their lives (in turn they saved his.). It’s a fact that, at least not terribly long ago) many greyhounds, when racing days were over, were, to use the euphemism, put down. Phillip Hall doesn’t say he’s done something noble, but he has, and he’s written about his rescues “as Billy Blue he is my knight/ in shining brindle” with great affection, no hint sentimentality, because the fine, original writing “doesn’t go there. Such a beautiful, powerful poem! From the first part, Hounded: “I could cup the palm/ of my hand over your cranium, fingers scratching/ that spot/ behind your ears, courting for you/ a ceasefire in this alien/ space of comfort & love & treats..” Nothing serves like an example. Can it get any better than this? Poetry. This poet, at his best.

    Much could be said. Hall’s concerns, like his forms, the shapes the poems take, are varied. Note the indented lines of “Sacred Ground,” and in the longer poem “Unhinged,” the latter have a formality that is lacking in the plainer forms of “What I Would Have Missed” and “Bloodlust.” Not to say one form is better. In all the poems the form suits the content. The longest poem, “I Am the Vine!” has a prologue, an epilogue” and six sections. Judeo-Christian, and Greek and Roman in its concerns, the prologue’s narrator talks of “anxieties arching over us/ like bond:/ In this book I met Norman’s feckless charm and formidable saintliness dressed as an irascible devil’s scamp;” The book is “a personal memoir/ of Springwood Olympus.” The poem talks of religion and mythology. Norman Lindsay, alluded to in the prologue, is significant, as are sculptors, painters, photographers named at the start of each section, and the poet Judith Wright, in the epilogue. Art is also a concern “Where the Bee Sucks ” that has a journal feel in Hall’s mention of neighborhood, sports, politics “on a day when Trump has won,” and literature, Under Milkwood’s village surrealism:” While “Bee” is personal, the form, the indentions and varied line lengths evoke the sprawl of a village.

    At the heart of the poet’s emotional landscape his partner, his daughter and other family and loved ones. His love of life, if you will. He has said bluntly he stays alive for them. He has also said, in several poems that the isn’t enough. However, on the page he is enough, for readers who want the real thing: poems beautiful for their honesty and elegance. Cactus is a book like no other. Phillip Hall sounds like none but himself, human: afraid, illuminating, celebratory, grateful in poems worth reading and reading again.

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