Storm and Honey, Judith Beveridge’s fourth book of poems, is in some ways a recapitulation of many elements of the work that it follows on from. This, though, is too consistently powerful, vivid, various and viscerally persuasive a book to be seen simply as a consolidation. If some poems in the book revisit and reconsider earlier moments, they involve a deepening and broadening, both technically, and in terms of subject matter. As it seems with Judith Beveridge’s best work, there is always something more, there’s always a complication which comes simultaneously out of the meeting of non-attachment and a gentle if relentless certainty.
Storm and Honey is structured similarly to Beveridge’s previous book, Wolf Notes, in that it is centred on a long sequence of poems, in this case “Driftgrounds: Three Fishermen”, written in the voice of an unnamed third fisherman working alongside Davey and Grennan. Where Wolf Notes was divided into three sections, with a set of separate, stand-alone lyrics either side of “Between the Palace and the Bodhi Tree”, Storm and Honey opens with nearly fifty pages of “Driftgrounds” and closes with “Water Sapphire”, a shorter group of twelve largely unrelated poems. Of course when I say “largely unrelated”, these poems are necessarily knitted together through Beveridge’s poetic of webs of interrelation and connection. These webs are not simply linguistic, imagistic or rhythmic: a number of these poems engage in various sorts of conversations with other writers including a pastiche-cum-homage to Robert Gray (in “The Harbour”), Kenneth Slessor (in both the book’s title from “Captain Dobbin”, and a sly re-write of “Five Bells”), James Galvin, Andrew Slattery, David St. John, Robert Pinsky, and Stephen Edgar (“The Aquarium”). Also, somewhere in behind the boats and fishermen of the frightfully accomplished sequence, “Driftgrounds”, is Robert Adamson. Nonetheless, among all this dialogue, Beveridge remains entirely her own poet, her voice unmistakable.
Before moving onto the very impressive “Drift Grounds”, I’ll talk about the poems in “Water Sapphire”. As is the case with Beveridge’s work, the strongest of these poems are coiled tightly around the rhythms of language and imagination, observation and description, the music of immersion in her subject matter. While there are a couple of poems that aren’t especially striking, these remain playful, enjoyable romps through language: “Appaloosa”, “Cockatoos” come to mind. “Rain” is in some ways similar to these poems, but the constant flow of imagery becomes a torrent itself – it enacts itself in a way that these other two poems don’t seem to do. On the other hand, “The Binoculars” appears one of the most understated and moving poems in all of Beveridge’s books. The poem recalls the death of a friend of the speaker’s father and their shared years of birdwatching. Quoting the surprising and devastating final lines does not quite do the poem justice (I’d have to quote it in its entirety), but I may as well. Her father has kept Harvey’s binoculars, and “Years later”, perhaps after her father’s death, she attempts to use them, and sees only grey. Only then does she suddenly remember him “slowly sealing into each intricate/ chamber as much as he could of Harvey’s ashes”.