Yvonne Adami reviews Scanning the Horizon by Mark Miller

Mark Miller, Scanning the Horizon. Port Adelaide: Ginninderra Press, 2018. ISBN: 9781760416379

 

Yvonne Adami

 

Mark Miller was born in Warren in western New South Wales. He attended school in Orange before graduating with an Honours degree in English Literature at the University of New England in Armidale. His first book of poems, Conversing With Stones, won the Fellowship of Australian Writers Anne Elder Award in 1989 and his second, This Winter Beach, was published in 1999. Scanning the Horizon is Mark’s third collection, featuring many poems which have won national awards, including the Henry Lawson Open Poetry Prize (2015, 2018), the Rolf Boldrewood Open Poetry Prize (2008, 2016), the Queensland Fellowship of Australian Writers Poetry Prize (2008, 2015) and the Vera Newsom Poetry Prize (2009).

Scanning the Horizon is written in two parts: ‘Approachings’ and ‘Scanning the Horizon’. Its cover features The Road to Berry by the Australian landscape painter Lloyd Frederic Rees (17 March 1895 – 2 December 1988). Berry is a town on the south coast of New South Wales. Most of Rees’s works are preoccupied with depicting the effects of light and emphasis is placed on the harmony between humans and nature. Rees’s painting complements Miller’s themes of place and identity.

Miller’s poem ‘Scanning the Horizon’ references Rees’s painting:

I drive the back road

from Shoalhaven Heads to Berry,

winding past Seven Mile Winery,

the bronze-yellow scarring

the ocean’s line of horizon,

The collection opens with the poem ‘This Estuary’. It invites us on a journey of exploration and discovery; of rivers, seas, drought and fire.

This morning the mist

comes apart before me,

like fabric; like ashes –

Scanning the Horizon includes a number of haiku. The final poem in the collection: ‘Haiku Sequence: In the Zen Garden’ demonstrates the transience of life:

In the Zen Garden

this falling cherry petal

this moment passing

Miller’s subject matter and inspiration are steeped in landscape; its moods and elements, the rhythms of the seasons and weather.  In ‘Haven’ he writes the landscape as sanctuary and retreat:

Five o’clock

on this pewter morning

I take the winding track

And

here, nothing else matters

but the sound

of my own breathing

Written with detail and spare, precise imagery, poems in Scanning the Horizon are acute observations of the natural world, especially the Shoalhaven district of the south coast of New South Wales. They are also of loss and ageing, celebrations of family and of human interaction with nature. In ‘Returning Home’, a worker walks the familiar path home;

I am coming home

to the shrill call of birds

skittering in smudges of dull brush;

The poem Somewhere in Central Australia, recalls the Australian Government allowing British scientists to explode atomic bombs in the central Australian desert near Maralinga between 1952–1956. A Royal Commission thirty years later found that safety standards for Aboriginal peoples there had been inadequate.

Rattling,

shaking through dust

in the old truck-

 

in the back

with empty petrol barrels

two Aborigines

 

a young mother

and her daughter

crying

scratching the red

welts of her skin.

The collection includes poems based on personal memory, of parents, childhood and a tribute to the Australian poet Dorothy Hewett 1923 – 2002. Miller’s poem ‘The Return’ (after Dorothy Hewett) is a reflection of her poem ‘Summer’. Both poems trace early family life; daily comings and goings. It is poetry of meditation of the living world and of connection to the earth.

I will walk up the moonlit path

between  the peppermint bushes

to the little weatherboard house

with the rusty windows facing the bay  (Hewett)

 

I’ll walk through the open door

without knocking,

there’ll be two boys in shorts

lying on the lounge room floor,

listening to the radio (Miller)

These poems are narrative journeys; reminiscing on place and time. Mark Miller is a poet of the geographic and spiritual landscape.

 

Yvonne Adami’s poetry chapbook, TIDAL, was published by the Melbourne Poets Union in 2017. She assists in the organisation of literary events, workshops, readings and author talks in her local community.

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