Shortlisted for the 2008 South Australian Festival Awards for Literature, Award for Innovation. Judges’ comments:
‘This collection of poetry is in 11 loosely sequenced sections, each containing a fresh translation of a major Latin poet. The book is a disarming combination of poetic invention, literary pastiche and original translation. Magee invites the reader to explore metaphorical connections and implicit narrative movements, in no fixed order, but with the promise of a rich encounter with the literary heritage of the west.’
From Gig Ryan, Australian Book Review, March 2007, p.64:
‘Paul Magee’s first book, Cube Root of Book, digs through the roots of life . . . his fragmented, deracinated modern life [is] apparent in the various styles he employs, from the explanatory and prose-like to the chopped expostulations of love or lament. Magee, by most unusually dividing Cube Root of Book into eleven chapters, pleads for the sort of reading given to the epic poems. Each chapter draws an arc of discovery. . . . Magee’s stormy, haunted effusions rush through places and scenes of sorrow or inspiration . . . . Fascination with language catapults this book. There is also awareness that art is a desperate attempt to revivify, and that words are an approximation: “Shall I compare thee to a Shakespearean sonnet? / The rain forms beads on a cosmetic cheek.”’
From Jen Webb, Review essay: Poetry in Australia and the John Leonard Press, http://www.textjournal.com.au/oct08/webb.htm, 2008:
To perform a cube root on a book: what would that operation reveal? Perhaps, poems by the ancients, the place where we all began, where writing was born. Perhaps, the origins of verse. In this collection, interspersed among the twentieth/twenty-first century poems, one in each of the 11 sections, is a poem by a Latin poet, translated by Magee into a voice that makes it evident that people haven’t changed very much, that we still feel, fear, desire, yearn, resent, just as people did 2000 years ago. Listen to this bit, from the Aeneid:
But when Palamedes was struck by the envy of that two-face
I know) Ulysses, and sank down from the world above
I drowned my days out, in broken spirits, in shadows, in grief
at the destruction of my innocent friend, but raging inside.
And mad as I was I could not hold it in
How’s that for vernacular!
Cube root of book; I should point out that, in mathematical terms, roots are the inverse or opposite of powers. There is a wonderful giving over of power in these poems; the very first piece is a helpless opening of the hands, a shrug of the shoulders:
But what else is left
to halt this falling
But the poems are also given to contesting power. See how Magee takes on the previous government, for example, in ‘for a prime minister (Philippic II)’:
s for suck harder
I feel you uptight, a succession
of dying deaths, of days
when your face falls in
you do all you can
to hold up your eyes, your nose, your skin.
It happened, of course, at the 2007 Federal election in Australia. On television screens, at the news of the rout of his party and his own place in politics, I saw the prime minister’s face fall in. It was all he could do to hold up his eyes, his nose, his skin. Who can say now that ‘poetry makes nothing happen’? (Auden 1945: 48).