Intellectually ambitious and culturally engaged, these poems speak of Sartre, Zola and Jackson Pollock, of Western Australia’s firewatch trees and Dubbo’s gibbons, of the poet-batsman Stevie Smith, of youth and age. Ranging in form, James Lucas’s poems ask to be reread rather than assented to, and are written in the belief that poetry is both solvent and fresh lick of paint.
James Lucas has cut and polished each poem to perfection in this astonishing first collection. He demonstrates compelling mastery of form, returning light and fire from each line the way a diamond disperses light from its internal facets. This is a poetry of rare wit, of linguistic fluorescence that few can match. Landscapes shimmer, the mined rough of experience becomes dazzling, the world shines. From the temperature and pressure of his intelligence and skill, Lucas has made this gem of a book out of the host rock of language. This is a book I’m certain will endure.
In the vivid Rare Bird, Aphrodite, Patrick White, Squirrel Nutkin and other ‘cognoscenti’ share binoculars, field guide and camera. ‘Feather-wrapped’ but ‘body-piercing’ observations of the relationships between the worlds of humans and nature, of art, family, politics, sport and travel, of the dead, the living and the dying, yield beautiful, compelling and unusual ‘love songs on a loop’, pantoums, sestinas, sonnets, villanelles and more forms ‘born of origami folds’. James Lucas’s poems explode with brilliance, warmth and music—‘it seems inevitable’.
James Lucas’s poetry, integrates intelligence and emotion, lyricism and wit and assurance. These poems effortlessly move from matters as diverse as the ordinary beauties of parenthood, cricket and jazz to the life of the mind and even the extraordinary challenge of mountain climbing. He does so with an easy, confident flourish, as if the poem had arrived fully formed. Most impressive, though, is his control of form: in his villanelles, sestinas and particularly his sonnets, he shows such a mastery of craft and fineness of touch. Lucas is, indeed, a rare bird.
‘This is a work of dexterity, musicality and invention. It handles language judiciously and is highly crafted, with clear command of form. There is an urbane, wry voice driving these poems, a clear understanding of canonical works, and the poet’s impressive control of form and technique.’
Judges Comments, 2021 Anne Elder Award