New and Enticing Shapes: Andrew Galan’s That Place of Infested Roads (life during wartime)

That place of Infested RoadsReview by Nigel Featherstone

What is it that we are to make of poetry, especially in an era when even well-written and relevant fiction is being ignored for reality cooking shows on commercial television, YouTube videos of skateboarding mishaps, the endless electronic chatter of Twitter, and cats doing allegedly totally you know hilarious things on Facebook?  No doubt it is a question that Andrew Galan has asked himself.  Or maybe he hasn’t – he’s just got on with the heady business of being a poet.

The Canberra-based Galan is best known as a performance poet who has scored gigs in many Australian festivals as well as overseas.  He is also a literary mover and shaker, organising the regular and popular BAD! SLAM! NO! BISCUIT! performance-poetry nights in a pub, and is the founder of The Tragic Troubadours, who, amongst other things, wander the streets sharing poetry with unsuspecting – and probably very nervous – commuters.  Quite frankly, the world needs more people like Andrew Galan, so we can be reminded of the sort of magic that can happen when two words are put together with care and craft.

And there is a stack of care and craft in That Place of Infested Roads (life during wartime), Galan’s first physical collection.  His work has already been published in a number of literary journals and anthologies, including Best Australian Poetry and this-here steam-driven e-rag, so clearly he is interested in how poems can be formed on the page as well as performed in front of an audience.  But this is not easy poetry; it requires – deserves – multiple readings before meanings are revealed.  Take these few lines from ‘Real Gone Lee-on’:

I Real Gone into the bar – and stop
there he sits
Atlas slumped over a pint of cider
chickpea in the froth
of the drip tray
his arms end in taps

Or this from ‘Wrong side of the road (an autumn poem)’:

Silver escalator going up, red struck stick going down
seized ebon ink trip stair, stainless dimples on fire

 Galan’s interest in putting words together to create new and enticing shapes is obvious – and attractive – but for many accessibility will be an issue.  Exactly how much effort should be expended on unpacking a poem so its power and resonance is able to come to life?  For some, the sheer musicality of the words and lines will be more than enough.  ‘Bag Bog Cat, the Caterpillar an’ the Glue Man’, published in Verity La back on 14 December 2011, is a good example – it is deliriously and deliciously shanty-like.  But Galan can also do simple and unambiguous – this is a haiku called ‘Untitled’:

Blue Converse shuffle
amid zombie leaves, brand
new on undead feet

Overall, this collection explores issues of urban violence, ultra-masculinity (fights are almost always about to happen), and hyper-realism.  In parts characters and scenarios come across as entertainingly cartoonesque.  Here is the first stanza of ‘Plod’:

Bob, ya don’ want’a do this | ya know Rex | ‘e ‘as it made | eats where
‘e wants | drives what ‘e wants | strides these sidewalks | wit’ who ‘e
wants | she was nut’in’

By the end of That Place of Infested Roads (life during wartime), Galan’s poetry has hinted at the dark (over)dramatics of Nick Cave, the great play of ee cummings, and the grim humour of films by Tarrantino and the Coen brothers.  Perhaps the poet is still synthesising his influences – he has a tertiary education in the classics – and finding his way to put words down on the page so they truly sit up and sing in a solitary reader’s mind.  However, there is no doubt, none whatsoever, that Andrew Galan has a long future ahead of him in the poetry game, and that future should have every chance at becoming as real and as lively and as affecting as possible.

That Place of Infested Roads (life during wartime)
Andrew Galan
The Knives Forks And Spoons Press, 2013
57pp. cost variable

Andrew Galan’s poetry appears in print and online across the United States, Chile, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Ireland and Australia—including in The Best Australian Poems 2011, Verity La, Jet Fuel Review and Cordite. He has had guest and feature performances in the US, Spain and Australia, including Woodford, the Australian National Folk Festival, You Are Here, Poetry Slam Madrid and Chicago’s Uptown Poetry Slam. With Amanda, Hadley and Joel, he founded BAD!SLAM!NO!BISCUIT! at the Phoenix Pub. His first book is That Place of Infested Roads (life during wartime), Knives Forks and Spoons Press. 

Nigel Featherstone is an Australian writer of contemporary fiction. He is the author of 50 short stories that have been published in Australian literary journals such as Meanjin, Overland, and the Review of Australian Fiction. His critically acclaimed first novel, Remnants, was published in 2005 by Pandanus Books. His award-winning series of three novellas was published by Blemish Books between 2011 and 2014. Nigel has held residencies at Bundanon, Varuna, and in 2013 he was a Creative Fellow at UNSW Canberra / Australian Defence Force Academy, during which he explored different expressions of masculinity under military pressure. Nigel is represented by the Naher Agency in Sydney, and he lives on the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales.