primitive cartography

In 2011 the poet Paul Summers moved with his wife and their two young children from Tyneside to Queensland, Australia. Exchanging the cold North-east for bougainvillea, kookaburras and cane toads, Summers started mapping the emotional geography of his new world. The result is primitive cartography, a book about living under strange stars and learning the language of sunlight. Summers may have shifted hemispheres and changed the colours of his palette but he is still a deft and faithful documentarist of people and place, of the intimacies and tensions of their off-camera dramas. These poems are dispatches from a new continent charting the terrain of adventure; painterly but politicised, fierce but tender and always with a healthy nod to History.

Sample Poems

the covenant of grace

the language of this sunlight
has moved beyond beauty;

both star & the shadow
silenced by their brilliance.

& truth has learnt to hold
its tongue or see it ripped

out by inquisitor’s follies.
let the day define itself;

watch it choke on clumsy
words. let it learn frailty;

like a child finding grace
in the covenant of petals,

like the cuckoo finding love
in a breath of stifled kinship.


tonight, within this slab of sauna heat we sprawl
like flattened toads on grass as warm as breath
& eat. we feed each other wide-hipped prawns
from bamboo bowls hand-crafted by the children
of xi'an province. our fingers taste of brine & lime,
the sickly syrup of over-ripe mangoes. we hungrily
kiss, devour our feast & then each other’s burning
skin. the beer we drink will cool our lips. we have

grown adept in silences & in naming constellations,
have learnt humility from the weight of their light. we
have conjured a sunrise in far-off darkness; launched
prayers into this dome of sky & sung; each fragile note
or lyric swarm like billiard balls they kiss the glow of the
southern cross, a careful trajectory guiding them home.


emu park, qld

& today's archipelago
a confident abstraction

a stuttering stroke
of japanese ink

telegraphy transcribed
on the arc of distance

a muted ascension
through the mercury's jig

the she-oaks preen
their flaccid manes

a sandbar melts
in modernity's promise

these gulls swear allegiance
to this fleeting republic


'Paul Summers' first Australian collection finds him committing to a new place and its history with that radicalised intensity of vision, honed in the North-east of England, which has made him one of the region's definitive voices. Witty and self-lacerating, pitiless and politicised, poem after poem takes the viewpoint of a fisherman on Queensland's coast and turns it into both a celebration of and a lament for people's struggle to make meaning of their lives.'

WN Herbert

'It is rare to find such ferocity of passion blended so seamlessly with lovingly and vividly depicted detail. This collection is breathtaking in its strength and in its delicacy. It is also amazing in its range.'

Tim Thorne