Year of the Wasp (2016)

Won the Vincent Buckley Poetry Prize

Shortlisted for the Prime Minister's Literary Award 

Shortlisted for the John Bray Poetry Award

Shortlisted for the Judith Wright Calanthe Award

Named one of the books of 2016 by the Weekend Australian

It is rare and electrifying to read poetry with this much at stake. Wrath and rapture: from the full-bore first poem, Joel Deane here declares that the creatures of myth are let loose in our days and that his poetry will be equal to it. These poems are ‘written in blood ink’: everywhere charged with terror and longing. Written after a stroke, this collection line by line reflects the rage, strangeness and transfigurative power of coming back into language and, by that, into the world again. This is Joel Deane’s masterwork. Wild, bitter, rapturous, it is his ‘Howl’ and ‘Book of Revelations’. Magnificent!
Joel Deane’s poetry gives us striking and perceptive images of the world he moves through: actual local places like Melbourne’s West Gate Bridge to distant locations he either visits or imagines and recreates. He charts his experiences with a vivid precision, dissecting his thoughts in ways that pay delirious tribute to the many possibilities of the poetic form. Year of the Wasp is partly a chronicle of Deane’s recovery after a stroke. The loss of language here becomes mythological, and is regained with an acute and critical awareness of the everyday world. Deane’s poetry can turn to political matters on the one hand, while burrowing into the most intimately fraught experiences on the other: the lonely nocturnal killing of a fox, for example. But these glimpsed moments of cruelty and suffering sit alongside a series of touching insights into human love and warmth and the celebration of a human capacity to survive and endure: ‘we love this life we are leaving’, he writes, ‘and are unafraid of the next’. The sheer vitality of Joel Deane’s poetry will no doubt invite an energetic and creative engagement with Irish poets and place through the Vincent Buckley Poetry Prize.
There is a visceral sense of the poet reengaging with the world through language and imagery. ... There is no self pity here; rather Deane uses the occasion of his stroke to reflect on life more broadly with moral, political, literary and biblical allusions. The wasp motif is used repeatedly as both an internal buzzing in the author’s head, a distortion of the reality around the poet, and ultimately a marker of transcendence. This is a poignant and powerful collection that confronts the reader with the impermanence and beauty of life and the restorative power of poetry
The Year of the Wasp is a searing work that etches beauty into the open heart. The experience and depth in Deane’s work illustrates that doubt and memory must co-exist in order to write poetry that wrestles with self and circumstance. This is a book that awakens the reader’s gratitude because the painful gift given to the author has been shared in the service of understanding
Joel Deane’s haunting collection is a reminder of Susan Sontag’s ‘night side of life’, with the body beset by illness as alien and captive. ... Deane’s leitmotif, the wasp, gets inside the ward, ‘scrawling graffiti in negative / space’, and inside the patient’s head. ... This is followed by a nod to Robert Lowell’s ‘Skunk Hour’, which holds its own and then some: ‘My mind’s not right, Cal,’ mutters the poet to the dog, Caligula, while searching for words or communication with a willow tree as next door ‘a barbecue is burning flesh’. ... It is as if the buzzing, sonorous multitudes of being create a music on the edge of annihilation that finds no easy lines of release
A volume of rare, terrifying beauty. ... The speaker leaves a light on for a reader cast out in the darkness of cognitive dissonance, body trauma, neurological confusion and existential crises. The rendering of these traumatic physical events, and Deane’s journey into reclaiming self through language, is also a mediation on mortality told in extraordinary poetics
[Deane’s] impressive armoury of genres is used to full effect in Year of the Wasp, especially in the breathtaking opening section. It makes an argument, tells a story, tries to illumine, using all the tools and allusions available. ... The book is a kind of proving ground for love, and no reader could doubt that it holds up
Not many poets, nowadays, are committed to a poetry of open documentation. In the case of a recent book by Joel Deane, Year of the Wasp, written in the aftermath of a stroke which affects the speech centres and thus is, perhaps, more profoundly sinister for a poet, the option of a kind of symbolic self-myth is taken up
Often startling
There’s a godlike aspect to the book, in the sense of a distant handling of large materials: religion, history, topography, literature, memory, which are then juxtaposed to close-ups of human frailty. ... Year of the Wasp is a testimony to how poetry makes sense
This is not poetry ... as some kind of game. It is a powerful intervention in our understanding of human suffering. ... Images of animals also recur – crows, sparrows – at times recalling the work of Ted Hughes. In one extraordinary poem, the poet remembers accidentally hitting a fox with his car – itself figured as a kind of beast, ‘purring its soft red clouds of carcinogens.’ ... The natural world is transformed into a place of uncanniness or even menace
This is a powerful collection of poems, where you can read the struggle to regain a language, where the finely crafted poems show meticulous work, a labour of love unfurls in front of you, you are imbued with gratitude that your everyday language remains, but at the same time you feel a wonder at the poet’s rediscovery of his voice
The metaphorical energy employed in Year of the Wasp also reminds one of Luke Davies’ long poem, ‘Totem’. ... A willingness to forgo literal coherence in favour of metaphorical intensity also goes back to the American poet, Hart Crane (1899-1933) in his ‘Voyages’ and ‘The Bridge’ sequences. It’s a fine, sometimes risk-taking, tradition. ... Year of the Wasp is a brave book, packed with metaphorical energy, and repays multiple readings
Year of the Wasp is an intense read. ... The last two poems in the book are particularly exquisite, charged by the guilt that precedes them, lightened with the black humour of open source software gods, and concluded with the most tender of couplets. Year of the Wasp manages a perfect balance between the intimate and the political. For its precision, its relevance, and the striking aptness of its metaphors, Year of the Wasp is a tremendously moving collection that deserves close attention
Despite the nightmarish quality of much of the poetry, something fragile but life-affirming emerges from the carnage. ... Perhaps, though, one of the most impressive things about Deane’s poetry is his daring. At various moments in this collection, he puts himself into poetically very fraught situations, just to see what he can make of the difficulty
[Deane’s] poems and his delivery were ‘intense man’, with nightmarish, plague ridden images: wasps, a dying fox, a murderous eagle on Alexander Avenue at 3am that made your skin prickle with dread and foreboding. Visceral stuff. ... His poetry was compelling like cruelty you can’t look away from. And that’s how he stood; very still, looking straight ahead, unflinching
Year of the Wasp
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