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REVIEW: John Passant's 'Whose broken is this? and other poems'

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John Passant has packed 58 remarkable poems into the 108 pages of his second volume of poems, Whose broken is this? and other poems.

On the one hand, this heroic anthology reveals great contemplation of his personal life. On the other hand, it is an outspoken anthology which reveals his political stance. This heartfelt poetry collection offers food for thought, humour, word-play, insight, inspiration, compassion and much more. This masterpiece of paradox will undoubtedly provide years of reading pleasure.

Rich in allusion and imagery, a legion of nuances will keep readers enthralled as they make a close inspection of the mirror before their eyes. Much of the delight obtained from these poems derives from resolving the divergent elements of each piece. Here a double-edge cuts through the personal and exposes the social. There the double-edge dices the social to let loose the personal. Laden with life and politics, and clearly showing the author’s stance, these poems also expose the reader’s personal attitudes and private opinions. And yet, despite coming face-to-face with our self, we can derive a good deal of pleasure and many insights from our responses to the commonplace and the provocative.

These poems play out on a range of levels that include the knowable, the emotional, the historical, the semantic and the structural.

The beach walk takes us from a note of love to a communal moment that ends with a touching lament. In 'The poetry of tax',  humour leads to a crescendo of indignation that resolves with a biting realisation. The request of 'Do not play cricket with my soul' weaves a surreal web from the themes of love, life, death and sport. The ironic imagery of 'The butcher reigns' depicts a macabre scene with sinister overtones. 'Sing with me in the rain' combines the contemporary with the historical in a direct and moving address to the reader.

This expanse of topics and tones, punctuated with myriad concrete details, provides many opportunities to respond with our own emotions. In those poems narrated in the first person, we see the author’s personality. We peek behind the author’s narrative persona. But we do not see a catalogue of traumas, polemics on ideology and exposés of scandal. Instead, we see the worldliness of life. We encounter epigrammatical language and enigmatic sketches that urge compassion, provoke empathy, fuel outrage and incite humour. We travel through a familiar landscape that often eludes our immediate perception. On the way, the free-verse conjures moments of personal reflection and tugs at our social conscience.

A wide array of voices attests to a mastery of the language as we laugh and sigh, ponder and vent. With great dexterity, the contemporary, the familiar and the historical congeal. Here, among the social, we meet humanity within the personal. And in the background, we can discern signs of home — the land down-under is never far away. Pain, anger and sorrow give voice to the silences that fill the media in the mainstream. Here, asylum is not a dirty word — refugees are a symptom of a systemic disorder. We meet figures of history trashed by the victors and find reason to review our opinions.

This timely and brave book captures the contemporary moment. It wrestles the articles of our faith. It shines a compassionate light in our dark corners. It dares to shake the foundations of our moral fibre. Strident poems exhort us to forsake the comfort of political indifference. Heart-rending poems confront our scruples. Equivocal poems reveal the profound within the ordinary. In these poems, we see what connects us to one another and the hidden hand of power that shapes our daily life.

John Passant reveals a depth of contemplation, exercises the power of language and rewards the reader with years of reading. This collection of poems is a safe bet on the trifecta of private, political and public insight.

Dr Paul Burger is a social scientist and author. 

Signed copies of John's newly released second book of poetry, 'Whose Broken is this? and other poems', are available for purchase from the IA store HERE.

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