Unsettled is Harry Laing's third poetry collection in almost 30 years.
Originally from Scotland, Laing lives just outside Braidwood, and is also well known as a comic performer and children's book author.
This new book is divided into five sections which show off different aspects of his work.
The first refers to his Scottish ancestry and the last years of his Scottish father.
The second, "Unsettled", is a fairly comprehensive and balanced look at the achievements of some of his ancestors, particularly on the Victorian and Van Diemen's Land frontiers.
The third comprises a dozen pages all around the experience of driving and the road.
The fourth section, "Narcissus is Us", presents Laing's comic side, as does the fifth to a lesser extent where he occasionally employs satire, if not comedy, in the service of some unusual poems about the impact of climate change.
The highpoints of Unsettled are scattered throughout.
They include some poignant poems about his father suffering dementia, several subtle and evocative poems about his 19th century forebears, the best of the comic poems (always a challenging genre) and a few of his idiosyncratic eco-poems.
The tone of the four-poem sequence about the poet's father, "Born Again", can be heard clearly in the following excerpt, which also illustrates a sardonic tone heard elsewhere:
"You're a shuffle-man in slippers / though still carefully buttoned / into your old-time manners. // Such a gentleman they call you / and I think little do they know / but why bring that up now, in here / where no one's got a grip on what they were..."
A fine example of Laing's ancestor poems is "Gallery of South Australia" in which the poet , examining an early family portrait, casts
"a line across water and time / making a ripple in the gallery calm /weather banished here/ no squalls off the Southern Ocean / nothing to stir the temple air / no dirt certainly no blood / nothing to ruffle those ivory faces / the past so carefully lit ..." It's a nice use of understatement and implication.
The "Narcissus is us" section reminds us of how there is not nearly enough comic poetry in this country at the moment.
Clearly, all Laing's poems here would go well in performance by the author but not all of them are so funny on the page.
Strangely poignant though, and to some extent typical, is "Hair, hair" which begins: "I'm in recession / my hair is waving goodbye politely and whitely ..."
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