I Don’t Know How That Happened by Oliver Driscoll

The pared-back prose poems in this collection examine the seemingly small details of domestic life. They tell the stories of encounters – moments of contact and subtle conflict – that happen between people when they live close to each other. In one poem, the narrator takes advantage of an auction in the building where he lives to visit the other apartment and observe the behaviour of bidders, owners and tenant; neighbours, friends and family pop in and out of each other’s lives – with a text message or a phone call, or the drip of a shower upstairs – each time signifying some shift in their own life, whether small or major. Other poems take the form of lists cataloguing items or ideas: household objects, lines for poems, lines for films.

Beneath the banal façade of suburban life, there is the suggestion of violence, which sometimes rises to the surface. There’s the sense, too, that living alongside each other fosters a vulturous way of looking at our neighbours. When an elderly neighbour leaves behind a home full of valuable mid-century furniture, the narrator wonders how he might claim some pieces for himself, observing that the old man ‘wouldn’t have known how good it was’. If chairs, tables and lamps can be reclaimed and repurposed, does the same go for the words and histories of others? What happens when we ‘claim other people’s suffering’?

Beyond opportunism, there’s the possibility of finding beauty in the everyday and value in someone else’s discards: in lights brought back from Japan, or an abandoned chair. It’s the poet’s task to collect these details from life, to polish what has been neglected, to rearrange words till they mean something new. This is how this quietly moving collection can help us know what we had, and what we may have lost.


Freya Howarth works as a bookseller at Readings St Kilda.

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I Don't Know How That Happened

I Don’t Know How That Happened

Oliver Driscoll

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