Robbie Coburn reviews Paths of Flight by Luke Fischer
Paths of Flight
by Luke Fischer
Reviewed by ROBBIE COBURN
The philosophical subject of Luke Fischer’s poetics aligned with his astounding use of language and form create a poetry born of beauty and existential exploration. In Paths of Flight, his debut collection, the natural world and the internalized world of the poet collide and create a space beyond both.
Often, when a poet intends to create the perfect poem technically and structurally, the emotional drive that stimulates the reader can become quickly buried beneath the words, and the balance between quality writing and emotional honesty is undoubtedly a difficult one. Fischer himself ‘regards poetry as a mediation and articulation of truth’, and this book embodies this while still standing as a technically impressive body of work.
Fischer’s work has appeared in various places and has been appropriately acknowledged for its beauty and skill, but to categorize this as a “first collection” seems impossible. The poems demonstrate assurance, control, balance and precision, without becoming forced at any time. One of the most interesting aspects of Fischer’s poetry is the approach and careful execution of the work. A highly-regarded scholar, his work is deeply rooted in philosophy, with a focus on the work of Rilke.
‘I follow the fluent sequences’, a line quoted on the back cover of the book, indeed evokes the sequence of both living and poetry, seamlessly tied to the flight of birds as the poet watches two black birds ‘arcing more smoothly than figure skaters’. The startling imagery, which is characteristic of Paths of Flight, is deployed with immense subtlety and control, while detail is used as a device that evokes complexity and depth, such as in ‘Aristocratic Party’:
I notice in one corner
a hem of brittle lace
not quite hiding
Fischer’s poems notice aspects both prominent and hidden within the natural and the internal. There are a great many forms taken on, though the imagery that characterizes Fischer’s poetry has a way of pervading his oeuvre. The presence of birds, as the title suggests, is a recurring feature. Much like the work of Robert Adamson, Fischer views the bird as an intelligent, endlessly beautiful creature, despite acknowledging its capacity for violence out of necessity and survival.
Sometimes the bird is a vehicle for metaphor, or could describe an emotion, an experience or a landscape, such as in ‘Swift’:
Hawkish face and eyes,
pared to necessity;
planed by supernal winds,
The image of a ‘feathered-bullet’ to describe a bird is a breathtaking example of the way Fischer uses the man-made world to explore the subjectivity of birds, with ‘pared to necessity’ describing the bird in flight, doing as it must beneath the drive of nature.
Birds and landscapes are, also, often linked to history and mythology, demonstrating the immense knowledge possessed by the poet and his skilful ability to use it as a device in his work.
The excellent ‘Everything is water’, the title of which is itself a quote from the Pre-Socratic philosopher,Thales, uses nature as a metaphor for the body, while creating a history of understanding the ways in which the body operates in the natural world as ‘a system of currents/wrapped around the body/and limbs of a goddess/defying gravity’. This serves as a meditation on evolution and discovery in the ancient world, and contains some of Fischer’s most beautiful lines
They must have learned from water
and with fluent strokes
imparted their knowledge to marble
until the river itself stood up
Some of the poems that rely less on imagery are equally as powerful. These poems flow with sincerity and honesty, the seasons and landscape almost always still entering the poems minimally. In ‘Reverie’, the poet reflects on a simple moment of peace and clarity, sitting beside what appears to be a partner, watching the sun, celebrating the beauty of this moment and the solace it provides:
After a long winter,
imitating the lizards on their stones
we rest on benches strewn along the river
with our faces turned to the sun; closing our eyes
we dream of golden palaces forged by Hephaestus.
One of the finest poems in this collection, written from the point of view of a hermit in the 15th century, is so precise and haunting, so free of any excess, that it leaves the reader startled. Fischer writes starkly, brilliantly affirming his speaker ‘when the inner sun/dawned my mind turned/into the glittering face of the sea’. This is a moving, somewhat troubling piece, as the hermit contemplates the fact that his diary may never be read and his words may never be heard as he ‘[speaks] and does not speak’:
Even as I write
(“Transcription from the first page of a hermit’s diary (c. 1500)”
A stunning achievement within a book of many, the poetry of Luke Fischer is unquestionably diverse and unique. It is testament to his range, skill and depth that he can evoke and marry the natural landscape with the internal landscape, while also exploring many states of mind, and aspects of what it means to be human. Intelligent and filled with a deep sense of humanity, Paths of Flight shows us there is as much need to look into the sky for meaning as there is to simply look into the sky for beauty.
ROBBIE COBURN is a Melbourne-based poet. His second full-length The Other Flesh is due out in early 2017.