Phillips, Glen. Slings and Arrows 2. Shenton Park: Platypus Press, 2016. RRP $20.00, 78pp, ISBN: 09780994597878
Phillips, Glen. Slings and Arrows 3. Shenton Park: Platypus Press, 2019. RRP $20.00, 80pp, ISBN: 09780648214434
Glen Philips’ Slings and Arrows 2 and 3 display poems on a huge variety of topics and viewpoints, mostly in comical and light-hearted verse. The title indicates Glen Phillips’ modesty—it suggests the phrase ‘outrageous fortune’, as it reminds us of Hamlet’s ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’. Here will be found poems about childhood or its end, observations on nature, events in other countries, ageing, current events, chance meetings, and sex.
Philips is able to alternate between serious observations and pieces that demonstrate his comical mastery of the Australian vernacular. On the serious end of the spectrum, the poem ‘They Laughed When I Sat Down to Play’ has these amazing lines, in which two disparate images are fused together:
Emperors are among
those who have concealed
themselves, to know
what citizens really think.
In love we pause
embrace, torn by doubts
that our subject’s love
matches our own servitude. (25)
Here the word ‘subject’ is a brilliant link to the image of the emperor, which is then reinforced by the irony implicit in ‘servitude’. On the other hand, there are poems such as ‘Vive la Difference’, in which a husband begins by offloading a strong expletive to his wife, before asking:
‘Where’s my dinner, then?’
‘You sexist prick!’ said she.
‘… Bloody men,
You’re all a lot of loafing shits guzzling
Down at the rubbity till ten…’ (38)
The hilarious ending has the husband using another swear-word and colloquialism:
‘Well, bugger me! Short fuse
She’s got tonight.
Something I said, I guess?’ (39)
Many poems are satirical: for example, in ‘Ode to the Beetle that Dropped on You’, the poet laureate’s boasting italics are undercut by a single beetle:
…. Look upon my slim but mighty
volumes and despair! Just then I saw
the poor beetle suddenly fly into the air,
circle once above nodding heads and
perch smartly on the noble laureate’s brow. (35)
This is not just funny, but extremely clever—the double meaning in ‘smartly’ pricks the poet’s bubble, especially after the reference to Shelley’s sonnet Ozymandias (‘Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!’): the line points out the futility of boasting of one’s ‘mighty’ works.
Philips has an ear for poems that come alive when spoken aloud, for example in ‘The Great Croachcock Battle’. This is a poem that depends on the sound play from a distortion of ‘cockroach’, a mistake once made by a Chinese student he knew. He includes a reference to Chinese history as well:
the horde down to left and right, like
those terracotta warriors when the tomb roof
fell in. Till the last croachcock stands aloof
and balefully raises mandibles ready to bite. (52)
Many poems make use of sound-play, for example W.T.F.A.W?, which uses a series of exclamations and interjections, but ends with a restatement of the title: ‘Whoops, wei, mamma mia, Joe, / Where the eff are we, Dunno!’ (61). This poem shows further evidence of Philips’s time spent in China with the incorporation of a Chinese exclamation: wei is how people answer the phone in Mandarin Chinese.
Some poems deal with serious contemporary social issues, such as ‘Thrown Clear’. The narrator of the poem reads his wife’s parting note. She has taken their young son as well. He leaps immediately to revenge and murder because he believes she has left him for another man. But when the other man actually rings him to say all three are now overseas, he threatens to turn the gun on himself:
you want a going-away-gift?
Something so you all three rot
in hell? Well, what I’m gonna do
is raise this here double-barrel ‘til it points
at my head. Just listen for the shot! (16)
The poet sometimes makes ingenious use of a different viewpoint, as when the crow itself speaks in ‘Unvisited’: ‘I know the summons that would turn my head / as we draw straws from the scarecrow’s rotting face;’ (23). And by taking the point of view of a mad old man out in the bush, he unveils a mysterious image:
can’t yer hear them trees the trees growing
just like a rustle of silk? (22)
Slings and Arrows 2 and 3 display a variety of themes, and their focus on the complexities of long relationships is interesting. There are so many sudden twists within poems, mostly humorous, and fascinating word choices. These show off Philips’s acumen with the English language, given that he has been a teacher of English for many years, especially to Chinese students both in Australia and China. Of particular interest is Philips’s ability to weave Chinese motifs and references into his Australian poems, at least in the way he responds to the Australian landscape and animals on an almost spiritual level. With his keen eye, he picks up the most minute details in nature, as well as the most absurd aspects of human behaviour, and then translates them to us in his effortless Australian idiom.
The first book ends with a poem highlighting the poet’s imagination, ‘The Stone End’. The poet poses the ultimate questions, but leaves them unanswered;
And you, with your best bone
and blood bandaged in its film of skin,
stand on the turning surface of a thin, cooling
If you could tell your god
whether this voyage to your taste you’ve found,
think on that gift—that is, your life—
what does it mean to slowly spin though space,
extracting needed gases from a cell of air?
And then playfully the poem ends with a nod to his readers:
And so goodbye. May
we expect to see you this time round? (78)
Colin Young has a PhD in Greek literature, and is interested in mythology, queer identity, the environment, and theatre. He is currently in WAPI’s Emerging Poets Program for 2019-20.
He has had poems published in the online journal Creatrix (nos. 44-47), and in the anthologies Recoil 10, Poetry d’Amour 2019 and the Ros Spencer Poetry Contest Anthology 2016-19.