Andrew Sant’s eclectic new collection perfectly enunciates the quirks of being a curious boy in the body of an aging poet.
A gorilla imagined as an anthropologist, a lost postcard serendipitously arriving where it was always supposed to go, a rumination on the symbolic and practical usage of islands, and a shopping list as a manifesto for middle-age. These are just some of the subjects of Andrew Sant’s eclectic new collection, in which he uses a lot of words to construct a kind of prose poetry which perfectly enunciates the quirks of being a curious boy in the body of an aging poet.
If the objective of The Bicycle Thief is unclear, it’s certainly not for an evasion of meaning or a dearth of ideas. Sant insistently (and sometimes literally) leaves no stone unturned in creating lyrical portraits of his Wes Anderson-like worlds. It’s just that between the autobiographical tales, the ruminations on history big and small, the memoriams, the experiments, and the dalliances with the offbeat and fantastic, it’s hard to get a grasp on the tone, the subtleties, of where the work is coming from.
A place to start might be the poems bookending the collection – ‘Lost Things’ and the titular poem. ‘Lost Things’ ponders the lives activated by spaces all the lost, forgotten and missing things open up, while ‘The Bicycle Thief’ begins with the narrator’s factual bicycle and ends several suburbs, generations and social classes away at the hands of its fictional thief.
These poems, like much of the collection, to an extent examine the secret lives of the world passed by and the secret worlds of lives passed by. This can mean telling a speculative yarn about how life might have been had Sant never emigrated to Australia, an unreliable recounting of a relationship, or a reverential yet irreverent vignette about time spent at a residence of D.H. Lawrence – ‘a shrine/ that isn’t , private behind a high fence’.
All of which makes for an engaged reader/listener, though often an unmoved one.
The problem with the collection is twofold. Firstly, Sant is prone to over-telling, to the extent that there is no imaginative space in the poems and the poetry is rendered entirely cerebral. That this has no aesthetic function – the phrasing is clunky and rarely memorable – makes it doubly difficult to digest.
Secondly, there is a conviction that small details denote emotional/intellectual heft, which ultimately comes across as a bizarre fixation on banal moments that too often fail to make the intended leap to the sublime. This, combined with the juvenile navel-gazing, can make the otherwise riveting subject matter a little trite, Sant often showing himself up as the person asking a question just after it’s been answered.
Which isn’t to say that the poems don’t have purpose – they are well-conceived, playful explorations of the distance from the quirky to the eternal, and resonate with an intellectual clarity which keeps them alive once the excesses of the explanations are forgotten. Sant has plenty of wonderful, clever and durable ideas, but they just might be better served by an economy of language which gives some credit to his audience’s own intellects and imaginations.
Rating: 2 ½ stars out of 5
The Bicycle Thief
By Andrew Sant
Paperback, 84 pp, RRP $22.95
Black Pepper Publishing