TEXT review

Working on the night moves

review by Jay Daniel Thompson


Anthony Lynch
Night Train
Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne 2011
ISBN: 9780980712087
Pb 67pp AUD20.00


Night Train is the most recent book for Anthony Lynch. Lynch is a reviewer, an author and an editor at Deakin University Press. This volume is a verse collection, and it does depict a rail trip undertaken during the evening. Lynch’s book also depicts other settings (many of them in rural Victoria) in its compact 67 pages.

To the extent that this collection has an overarching theme, it would be the sheer power and aesthetic presence of the natural world. To this end, Night Train has something in common with Robyn Rowland’s Seasons of Doubt and Burning (2010). However, whereas Rowland’s collection had a distinctly political edge, this is not the case with Lynch’s book. Lynch is more interested in constructing different moods and aesthetics, in making ordinary places seem extraordinary.

Sometimes, the natural world is described in a quirky fashion. One of Lynch’s poems opens thus: ‘Face north where the You Yangs/rise like humps on a Photoshop loch’ (16). Another entry contains the following: ‘The light is thin/the air smoggy/with confessions’ (11). In the latter example, a linguistic act (‘confessing’) becomes metaphorically intertwined with a force of nature (‘air’).

Elsewhere, Night Train contains gothic hues. An example is ‘Blood Plums’, which is also the collection’s strongest entry.

We collect mail, and the years pass
Dark plums swamp the neighbour’s tree
Vampires in the shed she has no key for
Then the starlings, the driveway paved with bloodied stones. (35)

The seemingly unremarkable sight of plum stones on the ground becomes deeply unsettling. The humble garden shed takes on an eerie significance. The poem as a whole suggests the violence and dread that lurk behind images of suburban comfort and safety.
Lynch strikes a similarly grim chord in the poem ‘Ash Wednesday’. The title evokes memories of the bushfires that raged in Victoria and South Australia circa 1983.  So, too, do the references to ‘rainless clouds’, ‘ashen faces’ and a ‘red and purple sky’ (54). The use of colours in ‘Ash Wednesday’ is, as the quotes suggest, evocative. The poem’s theme extends beyond its imagery, though, and can be read as a commentary on the physical and psychic devastation caused by bushfires generally.
Not all of Night Train is bleak. The title poem aptly evokes the experience of travelling through outer suburbia – or, in Lynch’s words, ‘the outer rings of suburban Saturn’ – after dark (12). Lynch describes passing ‘freeway lights’ and ‘the depopulated moons of stations’ (12). This poem has an intense, dreamlike beauty. ‘Night Train’ is followed by a poem entitled ‘Continental’, which begins:

Window shutters fold night away,
a woman walks her dachshund
on the sunny side of the street
and somewhere a church bell. (13)

The juxtaposition of these two poems is astute, and heightens the sense of travelling from night to day, as well as through that grey space between sleep and waking life. Lynch also suggests a change in weather: ‘Outside the sun distils last night’s wetness’ (13). This trip has a slightly uncanny feel about it. The protagonist is staying in a hotel, from where he makes the observation, that ‘even car horns/sound different’ (13). In ‘Night Train’, he concedes that this place (Geelong) is, in fact, the place where he grew up.
Lynch’s writing style is wonderfully sparse. There is not a superfluous word or a shred of overstatement, yet it conveys a lyrical perspective on the beauty and horror of nature. I eagerly await the opportunity to hear Lynch read his poetry in a public forum, and see how this compares with the experience of encountering his poems on a page. 



Jay Daniel Thompson completed a PhD in Australian Literature at the University of Melbourne in 2009. He currently works in research administration at La Trobe University, and is Book Reviews Editor for the Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature.


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Vol 17 No 1 April 2013
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Kevin Brophy & Enza Gandolfo