Ambient Terror  – a forthcoming review from Takahē

Takahē magazine and Shelley Chappell have kindly given permission for this review by Shelley to appear in advance of publication in the forthcoming issue 92 of Takahē.

Victor Billot is a Dunedin writer of poetry and short stories, also known for his work as a parliamentary candidate. A publicist for Otago University Press, he also sidelines as a vocalist for post punk band, Alpha Plan. Ambient Terror is his third collection of poetry, launched at the Dunedin Writers & Readers Festival in May 2017.

A collection of 61 poems, Ambient Terror is touted on Billot’s website as the final volume of a ‘linked series’ of poetry collections by Billot, the others being Mad Skillz for the Demon Operators (2014) and Machine Language (2015). All feature abstract cover artwork by the author. The lime-green background and splatter of red ink like blood on the cover of Ambient Terror, in conjunction with the title, suggests this collection might be heavy on horror imagery, and certainly the opening poems of the collection, including “Beast of the Hour” (p 10), “Ocean of Tentacles” (p 11) and the title piece, do strike the reader in this way. However, the collection then settles into a Kiwi pick and mix of poems of various types, including descriptions of places and socio-political commentaries.

It should be no surprise that Billot, a former Parliamentary candidate for the Alliance party and a former editor of the Maritime Union magazine and Otago University’s student magazine, often writes poems with a political slant. “Beast of the Hour” (p 10) is a commentary on Trump’s rise to power in the US, and readers will also find poems on Brexit, years passed, the economy and more. The amusing “The Prince of Darkness Attends a Work & Income Interview” (pp 56-57) was a subtle standout in this genre.

Billot’s poems are often factual or critical. They are not deeply emotional or nostalgic poems (in an interview with the Otago Daily Times on 23 January 2017 it was noted that ‘Billot’s verses can be seen as a much-needed corrective to the tendency of many contemporary poets to focus on their own private emotions and experiences’). However, there are some pleasant domestic pieces, such as “Selene” (p 15) and “A Boy” (p 17), and some ostensibly autobiographical pieces, such as “Teenage Pissup on the Kaikoura Coast” (pp 70-71) and “Meat City” (pp 72-75) that provide an interesting counterpoint to the otherwise more outward-focused poems of the collection.

In terms of form, Billot’s style shows a strong tendency towards rhyme, which may be most effective in performance. For those who’d like to explore the poems that way, Billot’s title piece and several other poems from Ambient Terror can be listened to online, as performed by Alpha Plan, on Billot’s website.

Shelley Chappell is a literary analyst and writer of fantasy fiction and fairy tale retellings for children and young adults. She is the author of Beyond the Briar: A Collection of Romantic Fairy Tales (2014) and a variety of short stories.

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