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Presenting work that John Mateer has previously published in South Africa, Australia, Indonesia and Japan, Elsewhere is an introduction to a poet whose work has been steadily receiving international attention over the past decade.
Elsewhere is divided into three sections: “Azania”, “Medan and Zipangu” and “Americas”.
The poems of “Azania” describe the poet’s memories of South Africa and his impressions when he has revisited the land of his birth, encountering animals, ghosts, Zulu and Maori poets, goldminers, gambling ‘madams’ and the urban ruins left in the wake of immigration.
“Medan and Zipangu” contain work written and published in Sumatra and Japan. More metaphysical than the South African poems, these poems capture the spiritual turmoil of one who finds in the act of encounter the means of undoing the psychic violence of the past. Sensual and detailed, they are steps towards the healing of a traumatized psyche, the rebirth of a wandering ghost.
The section concluding the book, “Americas”, reframes Mateer’s world through reference to those other New Worlds that are actually Old Worlds: the United States and Mexico. More ironic than any of his other work, these poems are pointed and political – one about Ground Zero, another about a Slovene poet who, with the poet, seeks out a shrine dedicated to Saint Death – and some with a deft sense of humour and surprisingly sexiness.
Elsewhere is as much a personal vision of today’s world, its excitements and plentitude, as it is a moral accounting of the history of the past five hundred years of Western colonization. John Mateer is a lyric poet for our global age.
‘In an age when internationalism and globalism all too often reduce to imposed concepts and standardized styles, John Mateer takes us authentically into the large, many-languaged contemporary world ... Engaged, at times anguished, always finely tuned, these are poems written as much at the frontier of a language as of a psyche.’ —Martin Harrison, poet and critic
‘No one writes like John Mateer ... And no one combines observation and metaphysics in quite the way he does.’ —Kevin Hart, author of The Dark Gaze: Maurice Blanchot and the Sacred
‘Mateer's manner and the complex resonances of his work reminded me a little of the prose of his compatriot, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist J.M. Coetzee. The poems are inquisitorial, ethically preoccupied and sometimes powerfully intense.’ —David Burleigh, The Japan Times