Review: Songs for the Band Unformed by John Passant

I would not describe myself as a poetry person. I imagine I’m joined by many people in my trepidation towards a form that can appear to waver between highly technical and utterly inscrutable. But I need not have been daunted at the prospect of reviewing Songs for the Band Unformed, John Passant’s first collection of poetry. Passant, a current ANU PhD candidate, writes verse that springs off the page with a natural, unforced rhythm. With a diversity of subject matter – from elegiac reflections on war violence to depictions of mundane supermarket trips – there is truly something in Passant’s collection for even the most hesitant poetry reader.

The first poem, ‘Our bombs are love’, sets a strong social conscience that underlies the rest of the collection. It opens, ‘Our bombs are the bombs of your freedom / Raining down our reign / On all, the children, women, men’. The springy repetition of these opening lines introduces the reader to the deftness of Passant’s writing – his careful yet unforced use of rhyme produce poems that scan with ease.

Songs for the Band Unformed ranges in tone from a general social conscience to the overtly political. This is seen in ‘To vote, perchance to Dream,’ a whimsical parody of Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy. ‘For in that vote of death, what dreams may come, / When we have shuffled off this electoral coil,’ the poem entails while displaying a dark humour that underlies many other works in the collection. When set against works such as ‘Daylight saving again’, which appears to take aim at former Prime Minister John Howard, the political discourse that concerns Passant shines through, brightly. It makes sense that Passant, whose PhD is focused on Marxism and tax, would include a political message within his work.

Yet, Song for the Band Unformed is more than political commentary. From ruminations about buying tofu in ‘I will be shopping, today’, to a remembrance of love lost in ‘I saw you at the mall’, the collection encapsulates Passant’s life thus far – from the every day to the highly controversial.

Songs for the Band Unformed reflects a broad scope of modern Australian life, exploring the personal, the political, and often tying the two together with a dark sense of humour. Passant, with his inviting poetic style, has successfully produced a collection that can appeal to even those, like me, with an ingrained apprehension towards poetry.