Mary Cresswell reviews Sunset by Maggie Walsh

Maggie Walsh. Sunset. Sydney: Vagabond Press, 2016. ISBN: 9781922181831

 

Mary Cresswell

 

There is enormous life in these poems, a vitality that surrounds you as you read them. Even the forms of the poems change, ranging from ballads to prose poems to separated lines.

Life is not always happy, and Walsh makes no bones about that. Maggie Walsh is a Bwcolgamon woman from Palm Island in North Queensland who was forcibly separated from her mother when she was two. At ‘Christmas Time’:

Where was my mummy?

Where was my mob?

Through teary eyes

I would sob

 

Footsteps echoing down the hall

The smell of carbolic permeates the air

All the other girls

Would stop and stare              (8)

But the author was blessed with the gift of friendship and the gift of words.

A tapestry of words

Filled with meaning and feeling

 

Keeps my soul company

On my journey of healing                    (36)

Many of the poems seem to be biographical, and nearly half of them – like the two above – are in a ballad form, though sometimes the spacing and stanzas are changed. Going through the book picking out the ballads gives you a feeling of the poet’s life, the bad and the good, the solitary sadnesses and the friendly domestic chat:

Her voice

Better put the billy on love

It’s getting pretty late

And while you’re out there getting more wood

Don’t forget to shut that gate

 

His voice

Well can you grab the Aerogard darl

It’s sitting on the dash

These mozzies are biting pretty fierce

They’re making me scratch ‘n’ scratch

 

And can you grab the harmonica too

It’s on the back seat

I will play you a tune if you like

To forget this stifling heat     (26)

‘Five Cents’ and ‘Pretty Stone’ are a bit more philosophical – something found and handed over makes you wonder, even years down the track, what if, what if, what if you had done things differently then. But we’ll never know, and we live with the consequences.

Several poems are like riddles, leading the reader on one track and then suddenly (ta-da!) coming forth with a surprise – there is a frog, there is a bed, there is a demolition of cockroaches. My favourite of these (printed in the book with lots of line space, to postpone the surprise) starts out:

I have a boarder at home

Lazy one I tell you

Go out all night

Sleep all day

Only get up for feed…

Acts like its all about her

and ends:

The way she going

She will end up pregnant

Then I will have to make extra room

For her and her kittens  (16)

 There are memories of Matron taking all the kids to ‘Butler Bay’ in the ‘big old truck’:

The tide was already out

We walked on the reef

 

Then back to our shady camp

For a feed of bully beef   (52)

And there are memories of time with kinfolk, again spaced-out in the book:

Light reflections shine

On the water of the ocean

Memories within of mine

Memories of my beloved home

Memories of Palm Island

Memories of my family and friends

That always leaves me smilin’ (54)

The poems seem casual and offhand at first – but the more you read them, the more you feel you are seeing into many dimensions of one woman’s life. We remember that (contrary to some reports) women aren’t just part of the furniture – in a way, we are the furniture: without us to support things, food doesn’t get served, stories don’t get told, and there is really no centre, no focus.

Today we sat around

This old wooden table

Still very strong and solid

Still very strong and stable …

 

This old wooden table

That brought us all together

Along with our friendships and stories

Will stay with us forever   (34-35)

This book’s cover is a mysterious shimmering portrait of a sunset and is painted by the author. It fits perfectly with the title and the poems: the more you take time to look, the more interesting it gets.

 

Mary Cresswell is from Los Angeles and lives on New Zealand’s Kapiti Coast. Her collection of ghazals and glosas, Fish Stories, was published by Canterbury University Press in 2015. When she is not reading or writing, she volunteers at a bird sanctuary. See also: http://www.bookcouncil.org.nz/writers/cresswellmary.html

%d bloggers like this: