Books & Literature

Book Review: Real and Unreal, by Stephen House

Stories of bar adventures, Bali life, anonymous trysts, and dark low-points on the streets.

This wonderful set of poems are at once, gritty and sublimely graceful.

Award winning playwright/poet Stephen House is master of two forms: dramatic monologue and poetry. House’s work in both forms distil a powerful amalgam of impressionism and realism. This wonderful set of poems are at once, gritty and sublimely graceful.

In Real and Unreal, House paints stories of bar adventures, Bali life, anonymous trysts, and dark, life low-points on the streets. His language is wonderfully direct, with capacity to slip behind the surface details, offering questions, seeking deeper understanding of each experience tackled, poem for poem.

This is best revealed in pieces such a I Say No, Sex Addict, Shared Darkness and Just Is. In I Say No, those very words operate as reflection and confirmation, not denial or refusal in the direct sense. For each question asked of the protagonist, the answer is a reflection on what has passed in their life in context of the question. The gentle confident depth of voice in the poem is captivating, illuminating.

Sex Addict also goes beyond the surface expectations of labels. Beyond the label is much more as two men banter about how many men they’ve hooked up with. House throws a flip side to this. The language is joyous, celebratory of connection between two people, of moments in bars, homes, food, booze, laughter. What is, is not what it seems.

Shared Darkness is one of several mournful pieces but in the genuinely dark, hopeless vision that House paints of two very down-and-out men regularly crossing paths, there is light – light of the most minuscule kind, yet House is able to find it, bring it to the fore, ever so carefully, and in doing so, ensure his harrowing vision of them is lost in balance between harsh real life and inner spirit.

Just Is is a culmination of so much that makes up Real and Unreal. It is a heartfelt testament to life in the moment, a recognition of the power of life, living it in spite of the monumental forces we call the universe. It also casts into sharp relief the dichotomy of light and dark found in these poems, albeit the real and the unreal.

Reviewed by David O’Brien
Twitter: @DavidOBupstART

Distributed by: In Case of Emergency Press
Released: January 2019
RRP: $10

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