Review:

Anthems of Artspace

This is Geoff Prince's second collection of poetry. His work is informed by his experiences as a 'survivor of schizophrenia', and his first collection, Cartoons of Quietness, was highly commended in the 1994 FAW Ann Elder Award.
This new collection is presented in three distinct sections. Chinks In The Armour recounts the poet's experimentation with drugs (primarily marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms), the pressures of university life, and remembered characters from his past in the drug scene and the psychiatric ward, ('... the place ... I earned .../ by doing things that sang/ my private love of anarchy'(p.14)). The title poem of this section, like many of the others, reads like a performance piece, but this is not to deny its power and simple profundity in recounting a time of hashish, Leonard Cohen, excess, and 'Decadence [that] rots your will'(p.13). In Koorie Blues, Prince writes of a young Aboriginal in the psychiatric ward:
'It hurt too much to sit and listen
so I sank into a bottle of sympathy
went on a drug holiday'
(p.15).
In other poems in this section we meet: Gigour, the 'village idiot' of Prince's childhood, who sang rock 'n' roll songs while riding his bicycle; Frank, a cohort in drug-taking who (p.22) became a '...shadow/ ... after recruitment/ into the Taxation forces' (the poet remarking (ibid.) that 'I had become/ so straight/ it must have taken madness to free me). In Quasidomodo and Manhole, we meet physically and mentally damaged women treated by the poet in ways he now regrets, and in Memories of Phil Ferntree, Prince describes a recluse who lives in a bush hut, practices black magic, and is '... as much of an identity/ as a Furry Freak Brother/ or a Merry Prankster' (p.32). These are worthy and often amusing subjects, treated with candour, humour, and pathos.

The second section, Makar, Makar, deals with, among other things, poets and poetry ('Makar' being Scottish for 'poet'). In Since We Have Known the Madhouse, Prince questions whether madness is not a proper reaction to the horrors of '...this world/ of madhouses/ abattoirs and neutron bombs'(p.36), and remarks, 'Sometimes it's easier/ to be normal/ than to doubt'(p.37). In Wordlessness Sucks, he speaks to another poet: '...I wager/ your lines might be better/ imbued with a fear of choking/ on the empty lines you have composed'(p.48), and '...we get tired/ of compositions in which/ the poet can't be seen to be alive/ with all that means' (pp.48/49). Without Words describes the despair of trying to write through the inertia brought on by medication. In On Starting Work at 'Outdoors', the poet visits the alien inner city for, what appears to be, a poetry workshop. The light tone suggests fun and games and camaraderie, but this is all quashed when he goes to the nearby writers' centre afterwards:

' a funny little lady barked at me
and I began to learn to be invisible...'
(p.52).
I suspect this is a poem of protest at being excluded because of the false assumptions of others. Poems on other subjects in this section include Shrinking, where the poet has fun at the expense of a psychiatrist, and To Teach You, where he expresses compassion for a person whose life is controlled by the authorities.

In the third and final section, Prince experiments further with form, rhyme, assonance, and wordplay. I didn't find Variations as involving as the previous groupings—some of the pieces seem a bit too 'clever' or 'glib'. There are interesting pieces about fishing and flying, but when Prince writes 'I pen brown sounds', I become aware that this is yet another poem about the act of writing. I would question the validity of allocating so much space to this subject in a collection for the general reader. Though not one of the strongest poems, I was moved by Connections from this section, in which Prince lambasts the 'independents', whose illusions of strength belie the fact that we are all at some point forced to rely on others: 'they sigh, die and lie dependent' (p.55). Being made to feel less worthy, or strong in facing life, than others is an issue that often arises for people with physical or mental illnesses. Prince's response?
'Our only choice in being—
just which creed, which love, which heart, we're freeing'
(p.55).
Overall, this collection inspires affection and admiration for Prince—not just for his poetry, but for his resilience, sense of humour, courage in voicing the experience of mental disturbance, compassion towards others, love of nature and, above all, his genuine love affair with words.

Liz Hall-Downs