It’s no spoiler to let you in on the secret, we are the plague animals.
This becomes most clear in the third section situated in Japan, where the vast human busyness has only led to a void. Where nature has been consigned to growing secretly under the eyelids of statues (95). Where:
Even in Tokyo
the rich rice land calls up through subways 40 stories deep
and a salary man on his way to work
stops at a construction site
to crumble friable soil in his hands.
Degradation of the environment is further explored across several key points in the book, ranging from garbage in Bali to ‘Days of Heat’, but this work is no generic indictment of humanity, no prosecution brief. In many ways it is a plea for clemency, for understanding. Even men with dubious pasts in ‘The Dementia Ward’:
They left their habits of evil and good
in the rooms upstairs.
Family has fallen from them.
Guilt forgets to visit.
Even they deserve compassion and re-creation on paper.
Edwards’s book is not a new and selected but it feels like it as it spans several lifetimes, even epochs (82). At the same time, it is deeply personal:
I fight myself
If I succeed
no-one will recognise
how vast it was, how violent
If I fail
no one will be surprised.
In the end neither herself, estrangement from her daughter (‘… the child is the flesh that is wounded over and over’ 58), lovers or
… a man
feathers plaited in his beard
crystals slung around his thin blue neck
crying in the bric-a-brac section.
are judged. We are led to empathy.
I will admit to an initial reluctance approaching any writing about writing, it’s just another of my flaws. But the first section, ‘Manifesto’, is extraordinary:
poetry is a joke that gets better each telling is predictable as the egg
I don’t like abstract nouns like gravitas or lucidity
at least not in a poem. Give me a sound, like crunch…
There is imagery anthropomorphic in nature (but it works). We also see the humanity given form painted within the frame of environment. But you must read ‘The Exile of the Imagination’, wherein life is so vividly painted by itself, the them-ness of each species engraved on our eyes.
Another of my obsessions is the need for quality covers for Australian poetry books. Plague Animals has a cracker.
Plague Animals Rebecca Edwards. Puncher and Wattmann 2020. ISBN: 9781925780772