Poetry of a social activist


By Tracy Sorenson

Poetry of a social activist

In Times of Pestilence
By Kevin Baker
Five Islands Press. 64 pp. $9.95
Reviewed by Tracy Sorensen

War, famine, ecological destruction: the global village is facing the abyss. Illawarra poet Kevin Baker focusses on a more immediate realm, weaving social conscience with fresh insights into private experience.

The title of Baker's first volume of poetry is taken from a quote by French existentialist novelist Albert Camus: "... in times of pestilence ... there are more things to admire in men than to despise". Somehow, despite all the pressures to the contrary, we are not all monsters: "The absence of infant aggression\Is almost certainly pathological".

The poetry ranges from reflections on Guernica and Berkeley to an examination of who is and isn't sitting on the suburban bus this summer; from the sense of loss evoked by the imagery in "Parting" ("Patterned light splashes on tarmac oil\And one is lost in the massive technology of flight") to a dry warning to keep out of country towns ("Beneath their facile friendliness\Lies a black hole of social certainty\That sucks you in and shrinks you to its size").

Baker is already known as a song writer in folk music circles and as a social and political activist. In Times of Pestilence develops and deepens the commitment running through his previous work.