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This book is divided into two sections: the first is titled “Forest” and deals with environmental issues through a wide range of approaches and forms, including lyrical celebration, satirical and comic attacks upon folly, and explores both contemporary and historical subjects. The second section is titled “Metamorphosis” and deals with relationships, politics and myths. Neilsen is interested in everything – the science of botany, the subterfuges within marriage, the beauty of birds, the evolution of clock-making, bears who attack American campers, New Age exploitation of the vulnerable, workplace bullying, World War Two, the German love of Roy Orbison, Blues music, academic politics, creative writing classes, mortality, and the ancient magic of the forest. He explores or reinvents historical and literary figures such as Oliver Cromwell, Shakespeare, Joseph Banks, George Bush, Robinson Crusoe, Kenneth Graham and Lewis Carrol, Christian saints who battled the pagans, Brunhild and Sigurd, Jim Corbett and his tigers, Harry Potter in restless middle age.
Neilsen uses a wide range of poetic styles, from the formal to free verse, providing the reader with a variety of voices and perspectives – but all his poetry is driven by intelligence, seriousness, curiosity, inventiveness, a comic imagination, passion and wit. He finds no easy answers, celebrating both nature and science, reason and fantasy, but always wary of hypocrisy, humbug and hubris. No wonder his work has been praised by poets as varied as Les Murray and John Kinsella.
‘Philip Neilsen is a master of transformations ... his work may portend a return, or continuation of the Australian sense of poetry as an art for people beyond one’s own narrow cohort.’ —Les A Murray
‘Philip Neilsen [is] an important Australian writer ... as a fantasist he is capable of a literary distancing [similar to] Borges ... a powerful talent.’ —Southerly
‘Philip Neilsen is a writer of national reputation, whose name will soar outside Australia over the coming years. When he writes a poem, he does something quite unique: he manages to balance the “machine” of the line, the use of figurative language, and unusually for many poets, knowledge.’ —John Kinsella
‘Neilsen’s poems appeal particularly; they’re adventurous [and] have great emotional strength.’ —Sydney Morning Herald