Book review: Revenants, Adam Aitken

From past to present, a poetry collection that travels the globe.

Revenants creates a strong sense of place with its visceral descriptions, each of its three sections thematically linked to dominant influences of poet Adam Aitken’s life and familial history. 

Part one is inspired by 1950s letters from Singapore, from the author’s father to his mother. Extending to other Asian countries, Aitken contrasts the tangible cultural differences between the lifestyles of expats (in his father’s case, working for the British Empire) with the preoccupations of the locals: ‘I was on my porch enjoying a G&T / when the lungfish made it to the mudflat’.

The second part of this slim volume explores the author’s childhood in Sydney, an Asian outsider growing up within a Caucasian culture. Childhood influences which shape the man that Aitken grew into are evident in his analysis of self and family. He writes of his father, ‘Illness was normal, almost predictable. / One day the illness was anger’. The author’s response at his father’s hospital bed demonstrates his unrealistic wish: ‘I was able to tell him to get better /… it was magical thinking’. Extending to Aitken’s travels in Asia and France as a young adult, carefully-chosen words produce endearing images, such as his ‘Pilgrim Brother’ who has ‘a Kelpie on long-term love’.

Read: Theatre review: Solas, La Mama

The final section features the author’s poems from his time at the Nancy Keesing Studio in Paris. Aitken connects his outer and inner worlds within the foreign cultures he explores. Colliding against the legacy of prominent historical sites, he ‘settled where the cellphone feed starts / at the parade ground of [his] desires’.

Particularly effective are the reflections of his own humble life in comparison to the weight of events that changed the course of history. Integration of everyday happenings within monumental world wars reminds the reader that life goes on for the everyday person, no matter how significant the backdrop. The poignant listicle poem, ‘Bootsale, Chateau St Victor’, contrasts items ‘For sale: … / one framed photo of Pope Pius XII / shaking hands with the Führer / three villagers lounging in fig tree shade, relaxed’, a reminder of the immediacy of day-to-day normalcy subsumed into the gravity of extraordinary situations. This big picture-little life contrast prompts readers to ponder what is truly important, and how the impact of their individual lives fit into a broader landscape.

Aitken’s collection is worthy of its title, the poems breathing life into times past. The beautiful imagery within interesting framing will surely invite the audience to smile ‘in a blazon of embrace’. Revenants is a commendable collection: the snapshot images of daily happenings, observed with detail, are sure to delight readers by invigorating their senses.

Revenants by Adam Aitken
Publisher: Giramondo Publishing
ISBN: 9781925818932
Format: Paperback
Pages: 96 pp
Publication date: 1 February 2022
RRP: $24.00

Annabel Harz is a career teacher, burgeoning editor and an emerging writer. She released her first book in 2017. Her second release, Journey into the Shadow and the Sunshine, was released in October 2021.