Di Cousens reviews Cry of the Curlew by Allis Hamilton

Allis Hamilton, Cry of the Curlew: Poems of Pinchgut Creek. Heron Cottage Press, 2018. ISBN: 9780646986258

 

Di Cousens

 

Cry of the Curlew is the poetry of presentness. Allis Hamilton shares her embrace of the natural world through these poems and in them we find a world that is conscious, directed and knowing. She has returned to the country:

that grew me up,

that stretched me tall,

that sang me deep,

that built my bones

and poured my blood.

(‘Returning’)

Nature is personified almost to an animistic level. A major theme is sitting with the trees and the wind and listening to the sounds of birds and hoping to hear the voice of the Bush Stone-Curlew which is endangered in New South Wales. Another major theme is around stories. Sometimes these stories are lost, sometimes they are waiting to be found. There is a nostalgia for an earlier Indigenous understanding:

If one knows how to look,

stories of before lie

all over this land;

I sense an immense gap in my learning.

(‘Artefact’)

This book came about as a result of her residency at two Bush Retreats for Ecological Writers (BREW) at the Retreat Farm on Pinchgut Creek in the Riverina region of New South Wales. It is Wiradjuri country. Hamilton does not encounter any Wiradjuri people during her stay but she feels their absence, particularly in the sense of stories that are lost.

Much of the poetry has an ekphrastic quality where the presence of a stone or a handful of feathers gives rise to a fully realised meditation on the object. She also has a shamanic intuition and in one poem becomes a ‘Birdgirl’, who slips out into the night and sings down her fear, turning circles, sprinkling seeds, giving voice to the songs of birds and welcoming all the different animals who:

rise and join her along the sway

of the creek’s bed as the water flows

and recalls its return.

(‘Birdgirl’)

While there are some shared themes between the poems, the opportunity to tie them together into a coherent long form is missed. The poems stand alone as discrete embodied moments. A little bit more proof reading would also have helped, for example, ‘The weather will envelope you’, should read ‘envelop’.

However, there is much to enjoy in this book and the author is to be congratulated for sharing her very personal journey through these poems. They demonstrate an encounter with nature that is in many way an ecstatic communion.

You will breathe in ancient air

and exhale into every possible transition

to an awakening that is fed by love,

that is fed by an intricate care

for all manner of things

that hold this place together

and you will feel your skin melt into the land

melt into the existence of this blessed earth

as she holds you and holds and holds you.

(‘Presence’)

 

Di Cousens is a Tibetologist, poet and photographer who lives in Melbourne. Her academic publications are on Tibetan history and engaged Buddhism. Her poetry has been published in anthologies, journals and chapbooks. Her most recent book is the poetry chapbook, the days pass without name,  launched in April 2018.

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