The following is an edited version of Pam Brown's review of Kate Lilley Versary. Look for the full review in a forthcoming issue of Southerly, published by the English Department, University of Sydney.

Kate Lilley's poetry is resolutely 'literary' and although it's probably preferable to have some knowledge of rhetoric, semiotics, and postmodernism it's also quite possible that you can get a huge variety of pleasures from reading "Versary" whether or not you know anything at all about poetics and its influences. [continue reading here]

The poem "Sapphics" begins with a psychoanalytic axiom – "Transference fucks with your head" - and can be imagined as a kind of minor mental breakdown. It uses fragmentation - stanzas and lines that are like diaristic scraps. But it's fruitless looking for pentameters or dactyls in this sapphic. It seems that Kate Lilley makes a conjecture of her own practice. It is as if she tells the reader 'I know the terms of reference but these are the poems I want to write, this is the way I use them.' Many of these poems play on traditional and sometimes rare poetic form – for instance, "Mid-century Eclogues" , "Elegy" and "Georgic". There are also many examples of stanzaic structure like the tercets that comprise "Black Letter" and the apparently incomplete poem of only two quatrains, "Formes Frustes", where the incompletion exemplifies the title, and a set of pantoums called "Mint in a Box". Mostly though Lilley ditches fixed stress, syllables and rhyme schemes and opts for a kind of allusive jumbling of tradition so that the reader is neither distracted by it nor has to tolerate it.

One of Kate Lilley's academic areas of expertise is seventeenth-century English women writers and in "Versary" Lilley demonstrates a certain relish of the language of seventeenth-century poets. She quotes from Thomas Browne's "Urn-Burial" to open her own poem "Sapphics" – "Time hath endless rarities, and shows of all varieties". In "Black Letter's" ten scant stanzas Lilley delights in using arcane italics and capital letters and in reclaiming obsolete words from Browne like 'diuturnity' - meaning, according to the O.E.D., 'lastingness' or 'long duration'.

Lilley's playful, celebratory use of language is rich yet never dense or florid – the poems are actually all economical and sparse – each phrase or sentence is deliberated with finesse. Lilley's lingo-revelry is often camp, incorporating bizarre advertisements ("The vanishing SOLIDA Non-plus-ultra Hairnet with Transpa-Knit makes all other hairnets obsolete") and objets d'art which reveal an interest in kitsch. The author's notes say "Nicky's World is the name of a collector's plate commemorating the long-running American soap opera, The Young and the Restless". The poem "Nicky's World" (which is the book's opening poem) is a darkly comic and pleasurable critique of the tv soapie.
There are so many wonderful ideational lines and phrases in "Versary" that I could end up quoting most of the book – "Spackle what you can't amortise" , "a festival of moss", "busy accents cheapen off the rack". There is a sensuality throughout the collection that becomes sexy in poems like "Spruce" – "Cancel my vendetta vanilla me" - and in the sardonic "Affect Ensemble" where Lilley simultaneously undermines received notions of femininity and retains sexiness – "You can scan my glowing interior/and write down what you see there/thou hast curiously embroydered me". Lilley can also be very funny – in "Finally" "I hear the voiceover from the start of Dirty Dancing/playing in the lounge and feel sedate/sedated/ like one more krispy kreme would set me up for life" ; "In the Sun" – "Talk as long as you like, /the x-ray believes my story/is an anagram of yours" ; "Mid-century Eclogues" – "A nest of tables is a talking point/when friends drop by uninvited/instead of making yourself a nuisance/pass the finger food" and in "Post" – "Can modernism get any later?"

Many of these poems are rooted in the white blues music of Country & Western. Many of the poems are performative. That's not to say that they'd always work well or "better" in performance than on the page but that Lilley is signalling performance via titles like "Illocution" and "Prosopopoeia" and that she revels in the awkward romantic theatricality of Country & Western - a genre of disappointment and lost love - "When she holds the microphone to her lips/ and whispers mine is a lonely life/ it sounds like a radio tuned to the end of the world". It's also a genre of desired escape and transition through travel. Hank Williams' song "I Can't Help It If I'm Still In Love With You" provides the first line in Lilley's poem "Hobohemia" –"As I brushed your arm and walked so close to you". The title "Hobohemia" itself invokes the 1930s songs of Jimmie Rodgers about unemployed itinerant "hobos" jumping freight trains in the USA to find work (the Australian version of this being the swagman). And the cover image suggests the travelling side-show – an aerial carnival ride with little decorated cabins suspended aloft above the world, awaiting spinning. "Versary" puts paid to the widely-expressed complaint (in Australia) that cultural studies has pushed poetry off the list in the academy . This is a poetry that combines a multifaceted pop culture and the higher arts of poeisis in a refreshingly uncontrived way. They seem to have been written effortlessly.

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