This collection of nearly 50 poems is the second for Ivan Head. Dr Head is a West Australian priest, former director of AIT and Canon of St George’s Cathedral, who has spent the last 27 years as Warden first of Christ’s College in Hobart and then of St Paul’s College within the University of Sydney. He and his wife Christine are now moving into retirement in Sydney.
Many of the poems have been published in Quadrant (where Les Murray is the poetry editor), the West Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald. Their presence in those publications suggests their high quality.
Ivan is a poet who celebrates birds and flowers, trips by train and trips to London and the US. In some the words tumble just to celebrate language:
Montezuma met a Puma going to the fair Said Montezuma to the Puma let me taste your ware. Said the Puma to Montezuma No I prefer my fare rare and so he ate him then and there.
Many of the poems are complex with multiple levels of meanings. I enjoy recognising the double- or triple-meaning, but also knowing there may be more levels that I don’t get. In Swan River, Ivan reflects on boyhood memories of throwing a kylie, or thrusting a home-made gidgie towards a Cobbler. And then:
Aboy knows that prawns rest beneath the sand by day. It is like knowledge of the Pleiades. Under the Narrows Bridge I stood for hours and left a line out all night just in case Something big went past.
After the series of Noongar words and the reference to arcane knowing, the pleasure of ‘Something big’ might mean a fish to catch, or, it might mean deep knowledge of culture, Aboriginal and Western. And it might mean something even bigger.
An undercurrent of Christian faith and theology, which on occasion rises to the surface level of the poems, holds them in a strong web of meaning.
Ivan has a strong ear for the music of words, their sound and rhythm. All his poems are free-form and show the influence of modernist and Beat poetry.
I found real pleasure in their Australianness. The poems are about the plants and animals of Cookernup (near Bunbury), Perth and Sydney. They are about our childhoods in the 1950s. Even when the subject is not directly Australian, Ivan’s attitude is. He punctures pomposity. Here he reduces the English Reformation to Henry VIII’s armour.
…. And now he’s gone, the ghost isn’t in the machine. Just the carapace remains
And what the commentator gawks at for the screen is the gigantic iron cod-piece
With nothing in it.
The Magpie Sermons is printed on quality high-gloss paper and bound simply in a hardcover embossed with gold leaf.
Poetry lovers will enjoy reading, and re-reading, these poems of celebration, irony, contemplation and joy.
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the sky!
Praise him in the heavens! 2 Praise him, all his angels!
Praise him, all his heavenly mob! 3 Praise him, O sun and moon!
Praise him, all you shiny stars! 4 Praise him, O Milky Way,
and you Southern Cross at the heart of the skies! 5 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for he gave the command and they came into existence. 6 He established them so they would endure;
he issued a decree that will not be revoked. 7 Praise the Lord from the earth,
you orcas and all you great whales, 8 O fire and hail, snow and clouds,
O stormy wind that carries out his orders, 9 you Porongurups and all you Hamersleys,
you quandongs and all you karri trees, 10 you merinos and all you cattle,
you bungarras and you emus, 11 you elders of the Wardandi and all you Noongars,
you Aunties and all you Yamaji and desert folk,
you refugees and you fifth generation Australians, 12 you young men and young women,
you elderly, along with you children! 13 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his majesty extends over the earth and sky. 14 He has made his people victorious,
and given all his loyal followers reason to praise—
the West Australians, the people who are close to him.
Praise the Lord!
1 How lovely is the place where you live,
O Lord who rules over all! 2 I desperately want to be
in the courts of the Lord’s temple.
My heart and my entire being shout for joy
to the living God.
3 Even the birds find a home there,
and the blue wren builds a nest,
where she can protect her young
near your altars, O Lord who rules over all,
my king and my God. 4 How blessed are those who live in your temple
and praise you continually!
5 How blessed are those who find their strength in you,
and long to travel the roads that lead to your temple! 6 As they pass through the Sandy Desert,
he provides a spring for them.
The rain even covers it with pools of water. 7 They are sustained as they travel along;
in their hearts is the highway to Zion.
8 O Lord, sovereign God,
hear my prayer!
Listen, O God of Jacob! 9 O God, take notice of our shield!
Show concern for your chosen king!
10 Certainly spending just one day in your temple courts is better
than spending a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather stand at the entrance to the temple of my God
than live in the houses of the wicked.
11 For the Lord God is our sovereign protector.
The Lord bestows favour and honor;
he withholds no good thing from those who have integrity. 12 O Lord who rules over all,
how blessed are those who trust in you!