The starting point for much of Ian’s poetry is that language fails us all too often: the feelings and experiences we cannot put into words; half-remembered details of events in our past or imagined in our future; missed fragments of conversations… So how can we portray, reproduce, explain these failings using only the language we have?
The poetry covers many styles. It often consists of inter-linked sequences with multiple points of view. The language itself may be vernacular, or archaic, based on latin and old english roots, or it may have technical elements, derived from the world of science. Ian regularly uses sampling and translational techniques to generate new texts from found sources.
Much of Ian’s writing has been project-based, often in collaboration with other artists, resulting in sequences of poems, images, audio and video with specific style and content suited to the project.
Ian’s work has been widely published in-print and on-line. Several poems have been short-listed for major prizes. To date, he has produced three full books of poems: urban biology (2012); The Microscope Project: How Things Work (with Catherine Truman and Deb Jones, 2014); and Floribunda (with Judy Morris, 2015). Each of these books has an accompanying CD or electronic music installation. In 2018, a chapbook, A Skeleton of Desire, was published by Garron Publishing in their Southern-Land Poets Series.
Performance is a big feature of Ian’s work, often accompanied by his music and videos. Apart from regular appearances around the Adelaide live poetry scene, he has featured at the Queensland Poetry Festival, Adelaide Writers’ Week, the Adelaide Fringe Festival, and the Adelaide Cabaret Festival Fringe.
Ian often works collaboratively with other artists including musicians, dancers, and visual artists. This has led to several productive projects, including The Microscope Project, Floribunda, and two collaborations with the Australian Dance Theatre: Be Your Self, and Proximity.
Field Guide was one of Ian’s first poems to gain major recognition, having been shortlisted for the Australian Book Review Poetry prize in 2007 and was selected for Best Australian Poems 2008 (Black Inc). It is included in urban biology.
I could, if you prefer, create a list
like a birdwatcher, concealed
in a reedy hide, with binoculars,
field guide and record book, a mnemonic
of migration lines, our lines of sight,
a cladogram of our evolving past.
2.1 Comb jellies (Ctenophora)
Our nerve net
ripple through the rain of light.
2.2 Spotted eagle rays (Myliobatridae)
If we had feet, we would dance;
if we had hands, we would hold them.
Instead, we reel and dip our leisurely trefoils.
We have stars on our backs;
they travel with us,
untouchable reflections of an untouched sky.
2.3 Parrot fish (Scaridae)
With all their fancy feathers
I suppose the lorikeets and rosellas
can be as brash and noisy as they like.
I would rather take my time
and, gliding between the staghorns,
arrive in rainbowed silence.
2.4 Hawksbill turtle (Chelonidae)
Down here among the soft corals,
the ocean moves less.
Ever so slowly, I eke out my oxygen,
await the incoming tide
to clear their unguents, their crèmes,
and salve my shadow-sharp eyes.
3.1 Blue tigers (Nymphalidae)
Somewhere between the clouds and the earth
unaccountable corridors of attraction lure us,
tasting the eddies and wakes of falling leaves,
of the trails left by every one of us,
until we metamorphose, finally, into cool
ether streams, veiled with weeping mists.
3.2 Black fruit bats (Pteropodidae)
This would be a great place to hang around
making bad puns and not much better jokes,
were it not for the mosquitoes, thirteen to the dozen,
twisting and turning us back to front
and upside down, the webs between our fingers
itching in expectation of sweet and sticky flight.
4.1 Sooty shearwater (Procellariidae)
You really have to agree
that when the southeast trades blow so hard,
when the air stings with so much salt
that the sun turns as white as a pearl,
when the landlost cry for their atropine and ginger,
you can see all the way to Alaska.
4.2 Striped dolphins (Delphinidae)
We have no knowledge of aerodynamics,
fluid flow, or the diffusion of soluble gasses,
but from below the clicking interface of our sonar horizon,
Awash on the reef,
days at an end,
secret unhurried returns.