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