Circle Work by Cameron Lowe reviewed by Vanessa Page

circle_work_310_440_sCircle Work

by Cameron Lowe

Puncher and Wattmann

ISBN: 9781922186232


Reviewed by VANESSA PAGE


Cameron Lowe’s Circle Work is a graceful collection of poems, with no trace of the masculine, high octane themes that you might expect from a book bearing this title. Instead, the reader is drawn into Lowe’s strange and beautiful landscapes – where there are certainly circular themes at play – the simple cycles of things, seasons, relationships and days.

The circle symbolises a wholeness – a completeness, but also the idea of movement and motion, the elapsing of time. From this perspective, the idea of ‘circle work’ as a broad umbrella to hold over this collection of poems, seems apt.

The sense of movement is one of the most striking features about this collection. In particular, the visual movement that Lowe creates through the arrangement of the poems on each page. The words dance, skip and sometimes yawn and stretch across the pages, leading the reader subtly and deeply into the delicate scenes that Lowe has created.

The arrangement of the poems in Circle Work also appear to follow a loose seasonal pattern. In the opening piece, ‘In Memory of Flowers’, this scene is set, providing signposts to the season, setting up that sense of motion, but also a sense of waiting for the season to change, for the flowers to bloom.

And so, as winter/rain falls steadily/upon bluestone,
again the limits of/patience strain/to make flowers

Precise and seemingly ‘hand-chiselled’ observations and fragments linger constantly on the edge of the ‘domestic world’, melding effortlessly with the ‘natural world’:

a sky so blue
it dissolves
the noise of cars

This interplay of the earthly and the other-worldly through razor-sharp observations is at its most mesmerising in the piece ‘The skin of it’ which is told in six parts.

These observations, on the surface appear quite simple, but the poems are deceptively hypnotic, and have a way of working under your skin, with a gentleness, and sense of calm that makes the reading of them a pleasure.

The lapping of light over light – and the clock ticking in the kitchen, rhythmic as the dripping tap.

From this distilled beauty, Lowe shifts effortlessly into a contrasting space in simple vignettes that provide pockets of relief. I liked ‘At the Geelong Art Gallery – a great Australian poet discovers a potato cake in his pocket’ – a funny, simple poem that reminded me of one of major reasons I love the art form of poetry – the way so much can be said with such few words – this brevity, combined with Lowe’s seductive knack for opening windows onto crystal-clear and carefully painted scenes is on display here. A fantastic and tongue in cheek poke at ‘poet-types’’.

The book’s moments of beauty are frequent and lead the reader deeper into the collection. I found myself wanting more of them.

There are numerous references to sparrows and birches, flowers, the sky and the behaviour or light as it slips between the seasons, creating a strong, botanic thread throughout the collection.

In ‘The’ Lowe’s mastery of observation is at its beautiful best, as he once more leads the reader in the natural world through his keenly focussed viewfinder.

binding sunlight to bird/to blue sky/to the honey-cream colour/of dry grass – / a tuft of white wool/caught on a barb (31)

There is some repetition in references to onions frying, white pickets, powerlines and aerials even the presence of sparrows. While these references are evidence of the domestic mooring for many of Lowe’s poems their repetition is not enough to distract from the collection. It is, however, noticeable enough to provide little speed bumps that I found made me slow down while I thought back to the poems where I’d heard them before.

Still, it seems Lowe’s poems seem based on familiar aspects, scenes and surroundings and it is this consistency in the setting for many of these poems that helps to bind the collection together.

There is something very domestic about this collection – you could almost imagine the poet writing these poems while looking out upon the same familiar scene, perhaps in his own home, perhaps in another frequented place.

This domesticity is at play in ‘Practising everyday life’ where simple meal preparations, the narrator’s scene from the balcony hooks the reader into a much deeper internal conversation about his own relationship explained in the context of this ‘keeping on’ this cycle of things – both natural and domestic.

It’s there/in the no need to really think ease of the balcony
Or the clean, taut/ lines of aerials/at dusk

Wherever the setting, it is clear that Cameron Lowe knows how to document beauty and weave these moments into delicately powerful poems with transportational qualities.

I found the book to be accessible –this is simple language, done well. The type of writing offers a bridge to readers, whether they are regular readers of poetry or not. This is the type of poetry I like to read – where I can experience an emotion, open an imagined window onto a scene so clear and so precise that I could be standing in it myself.

Night sweeping by, the moon hidden, not a star to see
and you twisted suddenly in your sleep
as if something hurt or scared you

As all great art has that point of connection, it is here in the lines of Circle Work – in the relationships, the emotional responses, the observations and the sense that as a reader you are forgetting yourself.

This is a gift and Circle Work succeeds on this level. And while the repetition of scene, some references and subject matter is present, there are also cleverly placed moments of humour and relief to provide balance. Certainly the strongest poems in this collection draw the reader in, walking them along that tightrope between the natural and domestic worlds and offering  up countless opportunities for connection.

Find it, noting its shape that is something like a heart but more comely, something like a thought but more defined, something nurtured at the margins of the leaf itself.

VANESSA PAGE is a Brisbane poet who has published two collections of poetry: Feeding Paper Tigers (ALS Press, 2012) and Confessional Box (Walleah Press, 2013). Confessional Box won the 2013 FAW Anne Elder Award. She has previously been shortlisted in the Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize and the ACU Poetry Prize, and blogs at