Book Review / apparently by Joanne Burns

“If Burns wrote music, I would say she does not miss a beat, whether she raises issues about the past or the present, she does with conviction, with vivid imagery and poignant comments.” – Beatriz Copello reviews apparently by Joanne Burns

Burns’ apparently is a cornucopia of poems where there is a tunnel and the readers enter at their own risk: the risk of being transported into the author’s subliminal world. Perhaps better described as a parallel universe where one encounters the amalgamation of the abstract and the concrete, which travels within the confines of meaning, purpose and beauty.

apparently is divided into four sections. The first section titled “planchettes” was inspired by crossword puzzles and the result is a collection of short poems which reflects Burns’ talent with words. The poems are short but not divorced of conundrums, philosophical thoughts or politics. Here is an example:


world politics gone queasy

the  oligarch skates through

reclaimed savannah in his

alopecia jumpsuit, improvisation

shrewd as hoodwinker monk

time to hoist the vinyl archived

at the alpine sanitorium, all night

jam sessions over lake basson;

eventually treaties discreet as miniature

cutlets, abacus beads abandoned like

out of date beluga    a quarter of

cartographers flown in like sympathy


Some of the poems in “planchettes” are adorned with humour like Rainbow Sprinkles on Fairy Bread, a humour that is colourful yet subtle. Burns plays with words; she controls them and arranges them in delicious brain morsels. The poems lead the readers not only to understand the sometimes difficult meaning of the poems but also to reflect on what is being said. Judge for yourself:


the première of alcopops

on the astroturf —

the odometer was no tamer

of jellyfish larceny tenderloin

moments in the harlequin surf

the revamp alumni executive

booked a course in psychoflorescence

in the yukon, etymology more

demure than balderdash

The second section in “apparently” shares the same title and contains short pieces of narrative prose/poetry. These are very concise and meticulous pieces inspired by Burns’ dreams, allowing a glimpse into the phantasmagorical, if not disjointed, dream world of the author. As a psychologist, I became enchanted by the words trying to find the occult messages elaborated in the deepest chambers of the brain.  In her dreams, Burns visits the Sanctuary of Asclepius, a Californian Bungalow, a vaulted hall…what enigmas are hidden in these places? I had to force myself to the next section.

Burns undoubtedly has a very skilled penmanship and the talent to say much with very few words, like in the third section of the book titled “dial”, where we find very intelligent similes and other literary devices. In “dial”, Burns touches terra firma and brings up issues of earthly concerns.  If Burns wrote music, I would say she does not miss a beat, whether she raises issues about the past or the present, she does with conviction, with vivid imagery and poignant comments, like in “nod”.


the breath or history

the mumur, roar

the silences   deep and

full and fresh   the dark

bush across the harbour

the rocks   the headland

the swimmers   the seagulls on

the shore    a twilight moment

backdropped by all the smug

and lavish houses that recede

as you sit and sense the place

long before the tall ships came;

the notches in this blue ribbon

belt of harbour off like

discarded fancy dress

In “dial” we found longer pieces of narrative poetry, even one set as a script piece; in these the words are crammed together, dense and suffocating where the reader gets sucked into them like in a sink hole but you do not want to escape because you have been mesmerized by the poet.  In “swivel” the author says:


the swivel chair. its screws are loose. it sits and stares. it

roominates. who is the lodger of this room. packed to

the ceiling with cupboards, tables, book shelves, cabinets,

ziggurats of books and papers lurching across a cluttered

carpet.  a room spilling with ornaments, clothes, shoes,

luggage,  icons, jewellery, pictures, photos, medicine,

documents and decorations, perfumed oils, paper clips,

machines and manuscripts and embarrassed emporium.

a reckless junkyard. is this an autobiography, does this

room own itself. the original owner shoved out the door.

a refusal to change.  its peeling ceiling, dusty carpet,

creaking floorboards.

“the random” couch is the final section of apparently and it is explained on the back cover that the poems found here were ‘written while the poet was lounging on a sofa’. I was very surprised to find in this section a cliché in “turret” but what is a spot on a pristine text? Absolutely nothing. In this section, the mundane and the domestic shine as if polished with Mister Sheen. The reader will wonder more, reflect more and read words to savour slowly – relaxed on a couch.

Dr Beatriz Copello, is a former member of NSW Writers Centre Management Committee and writes poetry, reviews, fiction and plays. Beatriz’s poetry has also been published in literary journals such as Southerly, Australian Women’s Book Review and in many feminist publications. She has read her poetry at regional and international events and festivals.

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