Coleman, Aidan. Mount Sumptuous. Mile End: Wakefield Press, 2020. RRP: $19.95, 55pp, ISBN: 978-1-743056646.
Australia enjoys a plethora of great poetry published by small presses. So, while they may not quite get the recognition they deserve in terms of mainstream media coverage, these poets do enjoy a certain amount of notoriety among readers and their own smaller literary community. It would appear, however, that few are as well versed as Aidan Coleman. Over the course of his career, Coleman has authored two other poetry collections, Avenues and Runways and Asymmetry. The latter was shortlisted for the Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature and the West Australian Premier’s Book Awards, while Avenues and Runways was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Kenneth Slessor Prize.
Coleman’s latest collection, Mount Sumptuous, is on a similar path of recognition. Fellow Australian author and poet, John Kinsella, says, ‘The work leads us through the artifice of art and aesthetics, confronting our cultural certainties and prejudgements. Satire with compassion, wit and deep insight. His is a unique voice’ (cover material).
If you had asked me if I thought a poetry collection inspired by Shakespeare, Blue Light Discos and Best & Less would work, I’d have laughed and answered with a resounding ‘No’. But Mount Sumptuous is that poetry collection. And even though it shouldn’t, themes inspired by these subjects do indeed meld together rather fantastically. ‘Logos, as in Brands’ is just one example of this:
Hips on stereo in all their veracity:
could poetry be that inflatable logo? …
Flammable as Best & Less
and more difficult to return
your feelings …
You catch yourself in the cast
of The Thinker, bored
on the cover of Why? (16–18)
Another example of the diverse themes and references Coleman makes in this collection comes in ‘Courtier’:
Say you’re a goldfish in the late ‘80s
with no more room to move
than a Blue Light Disco.
The torture of yard and given names
from soaps selling dads at the Weber. (22)
Almost immediately, readers—regardless of age—are filled with vivid memories sparked by the imagery in this one stanza alone. Almost all of us have at one point attended a family barbeque at one point and associate a sense of nostalgia with the idea.
I think Lachlan Brown says it best on the book’s back cover, ‘In lesser hands such a dizzying array of references could lead to a kind of vertigo or even a sense of self-indulgent-over-referencing. Yet Coleman’s omnivorous poems handle disparate elements superbly, holding an openness in tension with their erudite clarity.’ There is something so uniquely refreshing about Coleman’s turn of phrase that, when mixed with these modern references, give the poems within this collection a stirring sense of immediacy and relatability that is rare, even in other collections I have read.
While a lot of the poems within Mount Sumptuous do contain these meta-references to places and ideas (hence why the book has four-page glossary of terms), they don’t take up the whole collection. ‘Holiday Skies’, for instance, is one poem that is more conventional in its structure and imagery. And it is also a highlight of the collection, in my opinion.
Between the poems to help
and the news
that isn’t this day
humming like unopened mail …
Late and wary parents balance
keep-cups and disposables,
kids run rings
around the playground’s
bright entanglement. (8-9)
What I like so much about this poem is how it’s so observational of the mundane things in life. Another favourite is ‘Diagram & Leaf’, which has none of the modern references and meta language Coleman’s other poems feature, but is still just as powerful. Take the opening lines, for instance:
at the wrong hour
the street turns out its pockets
kings or cowards will be
named … (19)
The use of line breaks in this poem is just superb. It provides pause and gives the reader breathing room in all the right places, allowing the reader to not only take in the poem itself, but also to reflect on their own memories and things that spark nostalgia. It’s like a soliloquy in places; you can almost hear an actor on a stage reciting it as if it were Shakespeare. It’s quite visual, in that it stirs the memory and elicits that nostalgic thread that runs through most of the other poems that feature in this collection. With reference to kings and cowards, it gives a certain feel of another time, which alludes to escapism. But, in comparison to other poems, such as ‘Logos, as in Brands’—which spans a few pages—there’s a brevity to it that makes you sit up and take notice.
Mount Sumptuous is, in a word, spellbinding, much like the fictitious mountain Coleman alludes to. It captivates the reader and transports them to a place of pure escapism that is at the same time ever so real and current. Every word choice is carefully curated and it still seems so effortless, even with ‘Logos, as in Brands’. That’s the mark of a great poet. If you don’t read this poetry collection, you’re missing out.
Jackie Smith is a freelance journalist, editor and proof-reader and marketing graduate based in Brisbane. Her work has been published through a variety of local and national media outlets. Follow her via her blog, Jackie Smith Writes, or Twitter (@jasmith_89) for regular updates.