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This review is taken from PN Review 140, Volume 27 Number 6, July - August 2001.

LEAVES OF GRASS ROBERT GRAY, Grass Script: Selected Earlier Poems (Carcanet) £7.95
ROBERT GRAY, Lineations (Arc) £8.95

The covers of Robert Gray's books reprint encomia from other Australian poets. Les Murray calls Gray 'one of the contemporary masters of poetry in English'. Kevin Hart describes him as 'An Imagist without a rival in the English speaking world'. It's a bit of a cheat to quote the cover blurb in a review but Murray and Hart's religious perspective on life and poetry has its direct echoes in Gray's own poems. Unlike the overtly Christian views of Hart and Murray, however, Robert Gray cleaves to a far more Eastern spirituality. This shows itself in the titles - the Carcanet volume contains 'To the Master, Dogen Zenji' and 'Dharma Vehicle' - and also in the forms Gray uses.

Gray has a penchant for the haiku, that much derided form, which he reinvigorates by gathering them into short series with slightly fey titles such as 'Nine Poems', 'Ten Poems' and 'Eleven Poems'. It's diffi- cult to know why Gray is so defensive of this practice because in gathering them together he actually allows the small pieces to refract together like the shards in a stained glass window. Instead of the often precious seeming nature of individual haiku, Gray creates a numinous, epiphanic poetic.

Usually this is epiphany without the kind of 'presence' so important to Les Murray, and thus it is 'epiphany' which might lack the kind of theological depth of Murray's verse. For some readers, moreover, Gray's poetry might seem to consist of exquisitely written ...


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