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   Jacket 34 — October 2007        link Jacket 34 Contents page        link Jacket Homepage

Christopher Barnes reviews
Lemon Shark
by Luke Beesley
soi3 Modern Poets, An Imprint of Papertiger Media Inc.

This review is about 3 printed pages long. It is copyright © Christopher Barnes and Jacket magazine 2007.



Edith Sitwell said, “Art is the irrational spirit contained in a structure of the purest and most logical form”. This seems to sum up the poetic endeavours in ‘Lemon Shark’ nicely. The aesthetics within the boundaries of the poems are beautifully unfixed, the imagery and the juxtapositions make the poems seem bigger than a collection of their statements and scenes.

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The ‘occasions’ for Luke Beesley’s poems seem slight and ethereal but the best poems throw a magical light around a scene or a connection between the authorial voice and a character and imbue each detail with intimate resonance which is concealed somewhat, unobvious but ultimately engaging.


In the poem ‘This Hour’ Luke Beesley begins “Take a title: Breathless”, this is postmodernism, within the poem there is a consciousness of creating an object from an experience, the poem does not pretend to be the experience itself and has rules of its own outside of the original experience. Lines are pared down, the endings of which might be said to tilt pivotally against each other “slanting from the sunlight” there is a subtle discord in the sounds of the last word in each line, “blue” “walk” “and” “touch” “twist” “resist” which gives a feeling of the lines tilting from each other appropriately, where the normal temptation would have been to choose words that integrated the whole.


Like most Australian poets Luke Beesley’s use of colours is implacable, each colour is bald, insistent and has its own distinct emotional value, “blue/pink blue you walk”. “Kiss floodlights touch” is intimate and warm but it is destabilised by the following line “the noticeable twist”. This type of juxtaposition creates a real sense of urgency and excitement. “A slip” has the form following content–this short line is pushed away from the left margin, as if it has itself fallen. In “The lights at this hour/sift the mood of the tea room” we have definite space defused by light into a sort of indefiniteness or openness to chance or change. “The music gathers like perfume” brings the persona, someone I imagine as ‘her’, closer because one implicitly imagines the perfume belonging to her, this makes her ghostly, she is in the music as well as more prosaically in the tea room. I love the fact that nothing really happens in this poem but the significance of these almost accidental details is momentous. ‘This Hour’ is romantic, light, beautifully written but perhaps doomed with the curse of sentimentality. There are no hidden changes of mood to sharpen our feelings or to make us distrust the outward sentimentality.


The poem ‘Milk Teeth’ is a typically postmodern situation. The ‘she’ of the poem has already been immortalised in the pages of a novella where the real ‘she’ has been “thinly disguised”. The authorial voice of this poem who as post modern games go may or may not be Luke Beesley himself, meets the ‘she’ in a ‘real’ encounter in the ‘real’ world after starting to read but before finishing the novella. We could describe the poem as a kind of waltz between real and fictional states pertaining to the existence of this character but in the end she is re-immortalised by becoming the muse of the author’s poem. The fact the poem is written as a prose poem is highly appropriate and helps us to believe that the ‘she’ exists in the novella form. The tone of this poem is of the modern world within which we live.


“What? She replied. Or what the hell? Or just hmm”, is a terrific line if it implies that memory is unreliable but then again is it that he just isn’t interested in her enough to actually be listening? There is never a glimpse into her thoughts or feelings, no real empathy, which puts a distance between him and her, and I think had the poem been written in the third person she might be more alive as a character. The tone of the supposed intimacy is reticent, detached, remembered as if from a distance. “She was very beautiful, had I mentioned that?” Some poems work very well with a persona talking but her beauty (a highly subjective word) is nowhere described, if she is beautiful it takes him a long time to notice. We end back in the novella with her “fictive body” adding to the doubts about the value of this whole postmodern game.


“My Compliment Is Not A Tulip” is an altogether more successful poem. “It’s just I cannot cope/with the sway of your dress/this soft surveillance” is astoundingly good. Luke Beesley is a master of evocative detail and has an engaging imagination. The complexity of undermined feeling in the third line of this verse comes completely out of the blue. The expectation that he sets up in the first two lines pushes us towards the erotic or the thrilling but the physiological impact of “this soft surveillance” is wonderfully oppressive, almost nauseous-making. He’s great at putting a frame around a scenario and colouring the moods within so subtly that they haunt.


In ‘Actress Poem’ the shape and pacing of the line endings gives us the feeling of breathlessness very effectively, which helps to create a real sense of awe about the actress, portrayed. It adds to the occasion of drama and his use of short economic lines contrasting with longer run-on lines gives the poem originality. We have “cameras that catch, like/taking off a silver wrist watch/.../sun falls” the glitter and lights blinding, refractory, and almost visionary, express the richness and glamour of the scene in words which clatter and spark.


Other poems in this collection have wonderful imagery about light too and they are all precisely evoked and beautifully drawn. Other senses going beyond sight are alive and in high receptivity “or honey-coloured alcohol hitting the/glass (with a k or a c)”. I love how these sounds bring the experience alive. This poem is all movements–from the actress to the cameras, from her wrist to the sunlight, from her starriness to “and fell (like a clipping)” and ultimate gravity and in all this movement in light she exists at the centre in the trappings of her own splendour.


‘Lemon Shark’ is an engaging first collection and it seems fitting to end with a quote from Susanne Langer, which is pertinent to the art of Luke Beesley, “everything in a poem has a double character. Each item is at once a detail of a perfectly convincing virtual event, and an emotional factor”.


Luke Beesley is clearly a great talent at subtle poetic imagery, a master of the cropped prism-like phrase. He is always cinematic, photographic, a divider of scenes into moments that come to life through poetry, they dazzle, vibrate and stay.

Christopher Barnes

Christopher Barnes


Christopher Barnes poetry collection ‘LOVEBITES’ is published by Chanticleer Press, Edinburgh. London’s South Bank Centre recorded his poem “The Holiday I Never Had”, it can be heard on
He also has a BBC web page at

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