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Words and images

  • 06 June 2006

In this, his latest book of poetry, Peter Steele shows us through the art gallery of his mind’s eye. In a beautifully produced folio–sized edition, each of his poems is like a written meditation on a particular work of art, and is accompanied by a coloured plate of the painting, drawing or shard of pottery that is its source. Thus, for example, a late medieval painting of the expulsion of Adam and Eve depicts God pointing at a globe, which Steele then transforms for us into a poem entitled Beginnings: To the high Lord fledged with angels, Earth/ nests in a roundel propped at the butts/ of nothing at all. He taps it gently for soundness. As readers we are then startled into looking again at the painting and seeing in it a God who is indeed tapping the world as if it were an egg hanging in the middle of nowhere. The poet David White describes The Society of Jesus as having ‘its own brand of fire’. In the Jesuit poet and academic Peter Steele, this fire is burning bright. His is the kind of intense visionary poetry where sacred groves filled with tigers will appear in dreams and transfigurations can occur on street corners or down at the local pub. He sees things which most of us cannot see. He draws out the fire.

Plenty: Art into Poetry. Peter Steele sj. Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. isbn 1 876832 97 5, rrp $77.00  

Kirsty Sangster is a poet. Her first book Midden Places is soon to be published.