Cassie Lewis’s High Country
(Adelaide: Little Esther Books, 2001)
Cassie Lewis is a young Australian poet currently living on the west coast of the USA. Her new collection, High Country, follows a pamphlet of ten poems Song for the Quartet (Melbourne: SOUP, Melbourne 1997), and was published a little earlier than Potes & Poets’ Winter District: a booklet that combines work from both chapbooks together with some new material. High Country is a distinctive looking book, with a black & white cover photo of wooded hills and vales subtly brushed by misty chiaroscuro: the background to a dramatic sheer orange typeface for the title and blurb. Its pocket-size format enhances the attractive, yet simple design.
Cassie Lewis’s emotional range is broad — nothing here is solely elegiac, although, on first appearances a reader may think so. The opening quotation from John Giorno reads, “With a brilliant sun causing his tears/to glitter like strange jewels”
But moving into the poetry soon reveals the application of an analytical process that restrains any saccharine sentiment. From the title poem:
This lake, a toy for wilderness, a call to other duties.
Cassie Lewis’s poetry has a modulated quality. These poems are considered, thorough.
Rhythm, sometimes a ponderous or old-fashioned notion in contemporary poetry, is essential to Lewis’s method and is revivified in this set of poems. The pace is measured so that nothing overtly irruptive or experimental occurs. Her writing is temperate, thoughtful, gently psychological, and definitely coded, accumulating like a series of notes to a poetic self, as seen in this excerpt from Temple:
Waking up to whitewashed plasterboard,
Cassie Lewis engages with ‘the elements’ as distinct from ‘the weather,’ and this and her attention to detail and her interest in the descriptive is sometimes reminiscent of another Australian poet, Judith Beveridge. Especially in the poem Denouement:
There is an undercurrent thread of ‘Australianness’ in these poems:
And in one poem, Mandolin, Cassie Lewis sounds like the late John Forbes:
Way of poppies, I climb upstairs — hurts to think,
Almost ten years ago, as a teenager, Cassie Lewis responded to a handwritten note posted in the window of an inner-city Melbourne bookshop offering poetry lessons at an hourly rate from “John Forbes, Australian Poet.” John directed Cassie towards poets like Frank O’Hara, Ted Berrigan and David Shapiro among others. Cassie credits Shapiro’s poem For the Princess Hello with having symbolically propelled her to first publication. John Forbes commented to Cassie that poetry should “look out, not in” — that by looking out you discover what’s in you. This suggests a view that poetry is linked continually to a state of consciousness or that the act of making poems involves a kind of extension of consciousness. This confident first collection, High Country, reflects and tests that suggestion faithfully.
Bio: Pam Brown is the poetry editor for overland magazine and the author of thirteen books of poetry and prose. Her next collection Text thing is published by Little Esther Books. Pam Brown lives in Sydney, Australia.
High Country is available from Dark Horsey, P.O. Box 8091, Station Arcade, Adelaide, S.A. 5000 Australia.