Reviews of Chains of Snow
Jakob Ziguras is a very different sort of poet and it is no surprise to see the imprimatur of both Kevin Hart and Stephen Edgar on his first book Chains of Snow. They are both poets with whom Ziguras has a deal in common, namely a religious and philosophical conern (Hart) and a predilection for the formal (Edgar).
Still relatively young (b. 1977), Ziguras is a poised and deliberate poet who can effortlessly range across the millenia for his material and imagery while remaining recognisably contemporary. It is no surprise to learn that he teaches philosophy in a Catholic university. A sense of the religious is all-pervasive but there is no clumsy attempt at proselytising.
On the other hand, there is a confident attempt here and there at rebuttal of alternative views, e.g. Wallace Stevens’ agnosticism in Ziguras’ poem Imagination as Value. Here the poet begins with an epigraph by Stevens (“The poem of the mind is the act of finding / What will suffice…”) then opens resonantly by declaring that: ” ‘What will suffice’ will finally, not suffice; / unless a puddle with a petrol spill / suffice to read the gestures of the wind.”
No less striking than this religious dimension is Ziguras’ use of traditional metres and rhyme schemes. As his supporter Stephen Edgar has demonstrated, the bar for this kind of writing is extremely high. Generally, Ziguras soars with ease, seeming not the least bit dated despite these devices having been around for centuries. Only very occasionally does a forced word order inversion let him down. In On the Ancient Quarrel between Peotry and Philosophy he writes: “. . . until is hushed // The sappy babble of the leaves . . .”, a contortion too obviously necessary to rhyme with “crushed” two lines earlier.
There is also the risk with the extensive use of pentameter and traditional rhyme that these techniques will set up an almost accidental, even somewhat detached, resonance of their own – which may or may not support the point of the poem itself. Again, it is a mark of Ziguras’ skill that this hardly ever happens. He is also careful to vary his line length somewhat from poem to poem and to, very occasionally, employ some freer forms.
All this suggests a remarkable sophistication in a debut collection which, in many ways, sets itself resolutely against contemporary fashions both in form and substance. After 98 pages, one beings to see that the understandable praise of his seniors, Stephen Edgar and Kevin Hart, is deserved and that we hear, as Hart says of Chains of Snow, “a mature, deeply thoughtful voice which gives immeidate pleasure and which will be heard with respect by all.”
Geoff Page Canberra Times Saturday November 30th 2013