Books

Cover of book: Monster Field

Lucy Dougan
Monster Field

The title of Lucy Dougan’s latest poetry collection quotes the surrealist artist Paul Nash, for whom the“monster field” is that “elusive and ubiquitous” place glimpsed in passing, which makes a profound impression but which cannot be easily found again.

In these poems we encounter discarded office furniture in a public park, a strange plant growing “between the wall and the ceiling”, old dolls with their “loud silence”, a discontinued shade of lipstick – objects that stand out from their mundane background, as if whispering something significant. Dougan draws near to them with an affectionate yet unnerved curiosity.

The voice of the poems is somehow both casual and composed, so the slippages between the everyday and the realm of memory feel seamless. Phrases such as “I still remember” or “to this day I recall” brush up against questions such as “How can I run through this still thing / the photo of the figures in the chairs / and disturb its dense patina”.

Here, the self that remembers has reached that stage of life where they might “lie on the couch / like a beaten dog” or identify as “crumpled” or “fading”. It’s a midlife perspective on family, home and experience that is not judgemental, but rather inquisitive and porous. Poems such as “Down to the corner” and “Lover Lover”, which evoke the uncanniness of the mortal body and its traces, land with a punch and linger.

The cultural references gravitate towards European literature and visual arts – English art dealer and television presenter Philip Mould, William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, and contemporary film directors Arnaud Desplechin and Luca Guadagnino. But Dougan isn’t one for either reverence or irreverence. In these poems, everything is an aperture, a way of reaching towards the uncapturable.

There is a curious, unresolved tension in the poems between the desire for resolution and the realisation that it will always be just out of reach. Where the book lands is perhaps captured most clearly in the poem “Aspete/Wait”. Set in Italy, it moves from a vision of washing flapping in the wind, “as if the streets are breathing”, to a sculpture of the veiled Christ, then to a “darkened shop” where a translated word reminds the poet of clouds. It ends: “What did I wait for here / but the fine white / of not knowing / falling all over me?”

Giramondo, 96pp, $25

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on January 21, 2023 as "Monster Field, Lucy Dougan".

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