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The Hallelujah Shadow by Andrew Sant
Puncher & Wattmann, 2020.
ISBN 9781925780840
Adele Dumont reviews

The Hallelujah Shadow

by Andrew Sant

The Mists and Murk of Time


What’s likely to strike a reader of The Hallelujah Shadow, first and foremost, is Andrew Sant’s distinctive voice, which seems to belong to another time. It’s the equivalent of opening an envelope to find a letter tucked inside, written in a spidery, cursive hand. This impression is created in part by the vocabulary Sant employs in each of his essays: old-fashioned words, like wayward, supine, bibulous, poorly, loquacious; expressions you rarely hear used any more, a dab hand, a tad, in my haste; and a generous use of adverbs, lavishly, gingerly, venomously. Further, there’s the author’s suspicion of all things modern: banging jackhammers and wheezing coffee machines disrupt his concentration, supermarkets are sites of “conformity and predictability” (1), and TVs are “enemies of the written word” (for this is a man who values writing, and reading, above all else) (19). Finally, there is Sant’s preference for long, circuitous sentences, a stark departure from the clipped syntax and plain style of much contemporary prose. Consider the glorious subordination at work here, in Sant’s description of an old friend:

Eventually, because I was wondering, he mentioned he had a wife who, he was reluctant to admit, is an alcoholic whose days are spent in her room, out of sight, like Mrs Rochester – my friend, by the way, is a champion of facts not books or fiction or any books, actually – and so, because his wife is permanently sozzled, although they live in the house they don’t communicate. (28)

James Ley, in his discussion of Lydia Davis’ Essays, identifies two distinct approaches to the form. With Davis, there’s “a sense that the thinking is already done”, and that she is “simply reporting her results”. Other essayists, conversely, attempt to draw readers “into the movement of their thoughts”, as though ideas and arguments are “being pursued on the page” (Ley). Sant falls squarely into the latter camp—indeed one of the real pleasures of The Hallelujah Shadow is not knowing where his line of thought is about to turn. In ‘On Regret’, for instance, he quotes lines from a Frank Sinatra song heard in a supermarket, transitions into an abstract, taxonomical discussion on the notion of regret, an anecdote about a rescue pup vomiting in his car, and then a sincere and sorrowful reflection on the unbending loyalty and vigilance of his—now departed—canine companions. This digressive quality is often evident even at the level of an individual sentence. Sant is an accomplished poet (the author of over a dozen collections), a fact which may explain why his commas at times function almost like line breaks, creating meticulously assembled and sequenced clauses that land on a final, significant note at the sentence’s end. Singing the praises of his pet dog, for example, he writes:

There was a consistency in our relationship, a lack of high drama, decidedly missing in the parallel relationship I had with my girlfriend, no longer live-in, which frequently took me well away from my studies in a way that a long walk with Almost – no lead, across paddocks, through bushland, startling kangaroos, all the while being wary for both of us, since it was summer, of snakes – simply did not. (3)

In seeking to capture the spontaneity and freshness of thought, Sant falls into a tradition of essay writing established by Montaigne over four centuries ago. In the preface to his Essais, Montaigne stated, “I myself am the matter of the book” (2); Sant’s main subject and lens, likewise, is himself. Again, this sets him apart from many of today’s personal essayists, with their tendency to incorporate more external source material and to be more explicitly concerned with topical and political affairs. This is not to say that Sant is ever solipsistic. Like Montaigne, he is deeply curious about the world and traverses a diverse range of subjects—the trivial and domestic, as well as the profound or philosophical: why do we travel? Why is ‘settling down’ considered virtuous? Why are we surprised by ageing faces? Like his predecessor, Sant is also a deeply idiosyncratic writer: the title essay is about a particular shadow he encountered in Greece; ‘On Getting Lost’ describes a bee trapped in a moving car; ‘On Memory’ includes an anecdote about a book he possibly—but isn’t convinced—once gifted a friend.

Many of the essays collected in The Hallelujah Shadow were previously published as stand-alone pieces. Reading the individual essays alongside one another though, the reader can see the author’s thematic preoccupations with greater clarity. The past is ever-present for Sant: real and weighty and revered in a way that the future is not (“only someone with rocks in his head could conceivably spend time thinking about an actual future”! (86)). Sant, the narrator, is forever grappling with memories accumulated and mislaid. In this, he recalls the narrator of Gerald Murnane’s Border Districts (also an older, solitary, male figure), who describes himself as a “student of mental imagery” (80), deeply interested in the images which most affect us, and which we retain as part of our visual memory throughout our lives. Indeed, Sant’s descriptions of shadows and mirrors are reminiscent of Murnane’s lengthy musings on his boyhood glass marble collection, and on the light refracted through the stained-glass windows of his Catholic youth.

Sant has a keen sense of mortality and the transient nature of existence: he meets with long-lost friends and reflects on their changes in physical appearance; he meditates on memorial park benches; he contemplates his ageing face in the mirror; writing about the rituals associated with smoking, he says he “wants to record this aspect of our cultural history” (77) before it disappears; and, most movingly, he tells us about his mother, who took her own life when he was only a young boy. But memory does not only summon regret or loss for Sant: it is, somehow, redeeming. When he pictures his mother, she is still in her youth, younger than he is now, and thus “arrested in time” (80). Ancient Roman poets, through their written record, speak “as freshly to us now” (81), and are thus rendered immortal. When he forgets a book, he describes it as “akin to a death” (60).

Repeatedly in The Hallelujah Shadow, Sant positions his own lifetime within a far greater timescale. The natural world in his essays is an ever-present reminder of deep time. For example, while swimming in the ocean, Sant’s mind goes to the nearby sandstone cliffs, millions of years old, which then, as now, are “looking on” (21). The Australian bush is “a presence, withheld” (5), and maps are described as emerging “out of the mists and murk of time” (8). There are earthquakes and storms, references to geology, Aboriginal songlines, and “morphic resonance” (a theory that memory is inherent in nature, responsible for how ants, say, construct their complex nests) (60). Seen in the context of this vast scheme of things, our “personal extinction”, Sant writes, might be regarded as a “microscopic matter”, but it is “no less hugely significant for being so” (83). In sum, Sant is acutely sensitive to the passage of time, to both the weight and the lightness of our individual existences here on earth.

In his time, Montaigne’s literary innovations were considered subversive and almost scandalous. Sant’s essays are oddly fresh and enlivening, not for breaking new ground, but for resisting contemporary mores and harking back to older modes of the essay form.


 


Works cited

Ley, James. “The Writers’ Writer’s Writing.” Sydney Review of Books, 2020.

Montaigne, Michel de. The Complete Essays of Montaigne. Translated by Donald M. Frame. Stanford University Press, 1958.

Murnane, Gerald. Border Districts. Giramondo, 2017.

Published: September 2022
Adele Dumont

is the author of No Man is an Island. Her second book, a collection of personal essays exploring mental illness, is forthcoming with Scribe in 2023.

Obligations of Voice by Anne Elvey
Recent Work Press, 2021.
ISBN 9780645008937
Julia Clark reviews

Obligations of Voice

by Anne Elvey


Anne Elvey’s sixth poetry collection, Obligations of Voice, considers the impact of words, language, and speech on the relationships between both humans and environments and humans within environments. In the blurb on the back of the book Obligations of Voice explicitly poses the questions, “If we are to speak, what is it we must speak? If we are allowed to speak, what is it we must say? Who constitutes the ‘we’ that speaks?” In these questions and the poems that answer them, Elvey draws on ideas of obligation and responsibility, power and influence, individuality and collectivity in navigation of the modern world.

The framing of the collection specifically places the writer in a visible position within or between environments, such as in the opening poem, ‘Winter writing’:

Air gathers into green, inhabits
each gap between leaves that cup
the cold. Nights begin too early, end

too late. My eyes close on a sentence
on a graphite word. A hexagonal shaft
loosens, falls from my fingers. I stir. (3)

The environment enters the writing process when the cold air infiltrates the writer’s body, slowing it down, sending it into hibernation. Even while the writer commits to this literary life of observing, recording, bearing witness, the environment crosses that boundary, interrupts the writing process, and asserts both the material presence of the environment and the writer’s place within it. Many poems in the collection touch on the human/non-human divide by considering how representation in language can sharpen either their similarities or differences. For example, in ‘A black swan’ a parent sees their grief reflected back at them from the environment:

In these moments the air rings and death walks about the garden like a pigeon who picks through dry leaves by day or a possum that clatters each night across the tiles. (33)

In this instance, the metaphor used to connect the non-human animal world with the human conception of death and grieving feels like a kind of pathetic fallacy imposed upon the environment, which emphasises how the human gaze employs indifferent natural occurrences for meaning or comfort. Other instances depict the similarities between humans and non-human animals more organically, like in a poem about giving birth for the second time, where a mother is kneeling down “Orang-utan arse / blooming” (36). Other than being funny, this kind of metaphor is more compelling for the way it resonates in similarities of appearance, reproductive processes, and evolutionary connections between humans and orangutans.

While Elvey’s ecopoetics in Obligations of Voice covers conventional considerations of natural environments, it also incorporates social, political, religious, and literary environments as processes overlapping, overwhelming, infiltrating, and changing those natural environments. The lens through which Elvey explores these environments ties into her overarching interest in voice and, specifically, the tenuous relationship between words and action.

Structured in four parts, the collection shifts focus through particular angles of what Elvey describes in the afterword as “where the body in its habitat meets the political and social” (84). The introductory part, ‘Breathing out’, establishes the collections’ themes of voice and human/non-human environments; part two specifically considers illness, death, birth, and the spaces in which lives cycle; part three, ‘To write the wind’, is more political with references to COVID-19, press conferences, and asylum seeker policy; and part four ruminates on religious institutions in light of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Some particularly potent passages demonstrate Elvey’s ability to represent the compounding effect of historical mistakes and current crises facing humanity. ‘In apocalypse’, dated April 2020, remembers the overlapping disasters of the summer bushfires of 2019-2020 and the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic:

In that dawn night     an orange morning came
         as charcoal sky. (16)

While Biblical and Shakespearean allusions in ‘Storm parable’ illuminate the repetitious history of denial and cover-up in oppressive institutions of power:

                                                 Afterwards      the woman
                                                                       bumps into
      Caliban. He’s been with Porter       writing Jonah
at a whale’s behest. (13)

The titular poem, ‘Obligations of voice’, uses rhetoric and repetition to challenge assumptive relationships between humans and environments with a particular focus on the distinction between Aboriginal and settler-colonial relationships to land. The horizontal stanzas share a repetitive language that is melodic and absolute in its accumulation:

over the house
is a sky
that is not yours

over the path
leans a paperbark
that is not yours (10)

This assertion of a lack of ownership or connection in the repetition of “that is not yours” develops down the page into:

over eyes' blur
is a social
that is yours

over your garden
is a theft
that is yours (10)

The landscape as represented in the “sky”, “paperbark”, “canopy”, and “breath” do not belong to the poem’s addressee, the settler-colonial presence on the land, but instead they are able to claim ownership of abstract, imported ideas and actions of “theft” and “social” systems. In moving through these stanzas, across and down the page unevenly, Elvey develops an anti-colonial sentiment that begins with the land and expands to the human presence upon it until she brings them all together with language in the final stanza:

over your voice
a duty
that is given (10)

Overtop these relations of Indigeneity, colonialism, ownership, and environment is the obligation and responsibility of voice as a tool for protection, advocacy, and change. In the vertical stanzas, Elvey uses rhetorical statements and questions to illuminate the distinction between First Nations and settler-colonial relationships to land:

whose ceremony
do you interrupt
striding your own
dimmed genius

what is it
to open to place
unaware
of its taboos

what do you see
through a scratched
lens in your
laboratory of guess (10)

This stanza is particularly illustrative of the traditional relationship between settler-colonials who position themselves as researchers and scientists who study the land at an objective distance, unaware of the faultiness of their approach, as Elvey represents in a “scratched / lens” and “laboratory of guess”. 'Obligations of voice' is the only example in the collection where Elvey uses punctuation, i.e., underscores and slashes, and flips the text vertically. The punctuation of lines and circles creates pathways through the poem with their indicated directions and flow of shape and movement, while the vertically printed text creates a multidirectional reading experience that literally directs the reader’s movement and mind in turning the book or head while reading. In doing so, Elvey brings together thematic concerns of the relationship between humans and environments with her additional consideration of language and voice by representing and then bringing about action and movement in the poem.

Similarly, a later poem titled, ‘Briefly suddenly’, written in memory of poet Martin Harrison, uses an unusual structure to convey the connection between words/language and action/movement. Written in a style reminiscent of Kate Lilley’s ‘Maisily’ (Ladylike 2012), ‘Briefly suddenly’ is a found poem constructed out of adverbs from Harrison’s poem ‘A Word’ (The Best Australian Poems 2009, 2009), as well as from other poems published in his collection, Summer (2001):

slightly cheaply           suddenly simply seriously

occasionally                            distantly
slowly              nearly recently            finally

usually mostly perfectly
occasionally consciously

nearly daily

            only only                     entirely entirely (47)

The accumulation of adverbs generates a zany energy of movement that is both unspecific and unproductive but still constant. The excess of energy without an outlet for action represents a build-up of frustration and wasted time in many avenues of justice and equity across climate action, institutional abuse, and patriarchal oppression. The words contain the potential for action and change but they remain underutilised and eventually burn out.

Two other poems in Obligations of Voice chime into the sensation of being burnt out or worn thin by, for one, inaction and/or empty words and, for another, the thinning barrier between world and body. ‘Eden’ sees a writer grown disillusioned and considering her tools of words while doing housework:

she notes that the knees
of her Sunday pants are worn             sometimes

she finds the vowels
missing            from the script

she fills the irrational
spaces   between the more readily-defined of the reals

she notices that sentences
have become threadbare         only fit for rags (54)

This sentiment of being threadbare and worn out at the knees would be a familiar one for many completing the daily tasks of living beneath the climate crisis, global pandemics, and growing inequality. The writer moves the metaphor from her clothing, through her words, and then to her body when she says, “she is the cloth / she unpegs and folds / roughly for cleaning / a thing too worn for wearing” (54). Her body and its skin have also grown thin through too much wear. Thus, Elvey evokes the image of a body without a barrier between itself and the world, an idea explored explicitly in ‘Skin world’. The setting of this poem is illness and a family with a sister and daughter experiencing myoclonic seizures:

the parent’s

delirium, the coast’s
erosion in the king

tide, the body’s
flesh. The body’s

memory of event
where skin

and world fuse. (39)

The language of illness and care and physical strain and exhaustion are connected with natural processes of the sea and land in a similar example of wearing away boundaries. In this metaphor, like the orangutan from earlier, Elvey uses language to find similarities between the human processes and environmental ones, but this instance specifically breaks down the barrier between human and non-human such that there is continuous, mirroring flow between the worlds.

Elvey’s ecopoetic contemplation of language as obligation and action in the face of great social and political forces covers a lot of ground in this collection. Her considerations are most successful when placed squarely from her perspective as a writer, and when they incorporate the language itself into representations of obligation and responsibility, power and influence, and the boundary between the body and the world.

Published: September 2022
Julia Clark

is a PhD student, poet, and reviewer based in Sydney, living on Ku-ring-gai and Darug land and working on Gadigal land. She is currently writing her doctoral thesis about the aestheticisation of bodies under consumer culture in contemporary feminist poetry at the University of Sydney. Her criticism has appeared in Cordite Poetry Review, Rabbit Poetry Journal, Plumwood Mountain Journal, and Audrey Journal as well as on her Sydney performance review site Night Writes. If she’s not reading or writing, she’s at the theatre.

Supervivid Depastoralism by John Kinsella
Vagabond Press, 2022.
ISBN 9781925735246
Juan Garrido-Salgado reviews

Supervivid Depastoralism

by John Kinsella

Words, Land/Activism and Ink as a Testimony of the Poet Juan Garrido-Salgado

John Kinsella’s Supervivid Depastoralism greatly contributes to the scope for readers to gain insights into the ethical complexity and poetical challenges of the world created by Kinsella in this book. My first thought on opening this collection of poems was to go back to my time in Chile, reading Pablo Neruda when I was a young activist for human rights and against fascism. Kinsella’s world reminded me of the chapter in The Heights of Macchu Picchu where Neruda explores the natural world, humanity, and the suffering of ancient Indigenous cultures:  

Here man’s feet rested at night

Beside the eagle’s feet, in the high gory

Retreats, and at dawn

They trod the rarefied mist with feet of thunder

And touched lands and stones

Until they recognized them in the night or in

Death.

(VI, 34) 

Reflecting as a poet and activist, I find the poems in Supervivid Depastoralism deeply moving not only as words in ink on the page, but also, like Neruda’s work, as a footstep that connects life past and present. Supervivid Depastoralism confirms John Kinsella as one of the most important poetical voices of contemporary Australian literature. The neologism in the title of this collection captures the poet’s observations about the impact of past colonialism on the land that is part of his life now, and on how that land is cultivated, used, and abused:

I had to rebuff my delusions of photosynthesis 

So as to welcome a feeding of body and soul,

Of all we love and will love, welcome and rebuff. Loved.

(13)

Reading each poem is to enjoy verses well-crafted from ancient rhythms, such as the eclogues—lyric and prose poems—which evoke the sound of the wind, the vast land occupied by farmers, the sound of native birds at night, the bleat of a stranded lamb, and the “zip zip” of the lorikeets’ call (90). Such eclogues track Kinsella’s resistance to colonialism and interrogate the history of survival in a land where the poet finds a home in the natural harmony of places: “The sense of a drumbeat I’ve fallen in with” (55). Through his verses Kinsella also condemns the damage caused by mining companies, where the land remains unproductive for decades without being of any use to the communities, and where the native animals, insects, and vegetation are ruined. His poetry is written from the intimacy between the earth and poet, and reckons with the poet’s daily struggle to establish a more ethical relationship between the non-human and human worlds. For example, in ‘Thinking over Two-thirds of a Line of Radnóti’s ‘First Eclogue”, Kinsella reflects:

A lot of this has nothing to do with HATE and LOVE and many 

paths converge to catch the last shade of a last tree before 

What they generally term ‘winter’ in distant weather reports.

(35) 

Kinsella observes that although local Indigenous knowledge is available through an ‘Indigenous Weather Knowledge’ portal, some farmers will ignore this while: 

evaluating versions of ‘pastoralism’ beyond anything conjured

on the shades of European mountains and glades but every

bit as vulnerable and deadly, every bit as faith-based as the LOVE

undone by wars of annihilation that deleted Lorca’s and Radnóti’s lives.

(35) 

As previously mentioned, in several poems Kinsella uses the classic form of eclogue, which is a canto to the love of land and pastoral life. This form was first used by the Spanish poet, Garcilaso de la Vega (1501–1536), before spreading to different cultures. An eclogue is usually written as a dialogue in which voices in rural settings (historically shepherds) would converse about issues that concerned them. In Kinsella’s eclogues, the issues are those of concern to all humanity—the environment, climate change, sowing seeds to produce food, war, and abuse of power—issues that span the immensity and complexity of contemporary life. Kinsella’s poetry evokes the spirit of earlier poets and their relevance to our daily lives and struggles—poets such as Virgil, Garcilaso de la Vega, Federico García Lorca, and Miklos Radnóti. For example, in ‘Thinking over the Missing Sixth Eclogue of Miklos Radnóti’:  

There many poets voicing

Out of isolation or demi-isolation 

Or ranging about around isolation: all types.

How silent we are together in our lonely speech,

Our shouting into disrupted winds, the range of spread.

(40)

This eclogue, which includes a quote from Miklos Radnóti, is a very moving verse paying homage to the life and poetry of the Hungarian poet whom Kinsella admires, and who was shot in the Second World War (1944). Both Radnóti and Lorca faced the bitter taste of death at the hands of hatred—of fascism. Lorca was executed by General Franco’s Falangists during the Spanish civil war for political reasons and because of barbaric homophobia, while Radnóti was murdered by the Nazis for his Jewish heritage. His last poems survived—as a miracle of courage—and were found in the clothes on his exhumed body. There is a parallel here with Pablo Neruda, who was poisoned in Chile by Pinochet’s secret police; the evidence was only found after the exhumation of his body decades later. 

Kinsella revives the power and beauty of Radnóti’s lyrical verses through his series of poems dedicated to the murdered poet. These poems lift us out of our comfort zone to confront the cruel face of war that exterminates the body but not the soul, whose creations flourish in new collections of poems: 

Knowing what became when bullets rained horizontal the dip 

Of gravity the bloody pocket of hope in the heartlessness of killers,

Intertext is lost to all but the poet and shepherd letting flocks 

('Eclogue and Future’s Past' 38) 

In one of the long poems in this collection, ‘Cultivating a Testament: Bending Space’ (50-5), Kinsella creates an atmosphere through references to the music he is listening to as he reflects on what it means to be a pantheist in a world challenged by the commodification of space, both on earth and beyond. This is why the relationship between his verses, gardening work, crops, honeyeaters, kangaroos, and life on the land makes Kinsella’s poetry so unique and inseparable from his activism to save the land, live a life of cultivating crops, and listen to the birds and the silences of the land and water. He is guiding us, as a poet, to question how we live in our world, not only through the pages of books, but also by embracing the land on which we live. 
 
There are also two poems which are intimate dialogues dedicated to Les Murray. One of which takes the form of a dream, with Les and John obsessed by landscape and pastoralism as poets for whom the sound of the crow, the smell of the wood, the kangaroos, wind, water, and gardening are drawing the lines of their relationship: 

Did you say that in the dream or am I losing touch with its intensity 

Having watered the garden and collected wood and watched crows worked?

(83)

To enjoy this collection of Kinsella’s poems, readers don’t have to be activists or environmentalists, but should bring to their reading a love of poetry and the land. Each work is unique and conveys a deep vision of what the poet stands up for in his living and creating. Kinsella reminds us, too, that it is stolen land. In the first poem of the collection, ‘Court as a Hill’, Kinsella guides readers to see what is around us through the critical eye of a First Nations’ person:   

It is for Aboriginal poets to talk 

Of where this stone comes from

And what holes it left behind

And what holes it was forced

To make sliced and diced stood

End to end to raise up to shape

A hill of discontent to progress

Stone to stone to blocks to mortar

And keep the spirit level to hand

(9)

In the final poem of the collection, ‘The Darkest Pastoral’, Kinsella highlights the loss of habitat in the darkness of the concrete city: “I am stranded in an open area / that’s still enclosure / and in an instant all / -consuming darkness / denies access to any / senses—just darkness / of the field darkness / of the pastoral and / the city (never a refuge)” (138).
 
The poems in between draw the reader's attention to the real dilemmas in modern rural communities, where land ownership comes into conflict with preserving the land for the good of all in the face of abuse by mining corporations and the use of chemical fertilisers that destroy the ecosystem and the land. In ‘Supervivid Header Fire’, Kinsella addresses the tension between working hard to cultivate crops in the best way to feed families and communities, and the risk that ‘cropping in the dry’ (122) will result in another fire: 

Each year we hear of a header fire, and each year we see a photo of a wreck,

And each year the ash and char of burnt hectares and reports of lost cropping,

And each year the delusion that next season will bring a fire-free zone.

(122)

In his reflections through the poems that make up this collection, John Kinsella poses many questions, to himself as a poet-activist living on the land, and to us, his readers. In ‘Pastoral Conspiracies’, he asks “who will salvage protest from symbols of inequality” (130), observing a readership “angry, too that species is deleted but reading on & on” (131). Yet he also makes a declaration about “Poetry having so little to do—really—with the pastoral, it rabbits- / on about changes to practically nothing because it hears only its own song-strains” (132).
 
John Kinsella’s Supervivid Depastoralism is a book to read as a living debate on humanity, art, the environment, and our existence. In Kinsella’s hands, verses can create life on earth “for the loss of time, / acts of recall— / the ‘loss’ of habitat” (138-9). 


Works cited

Neruda, P. “The Heights of Macchu Picchu, VI.” Canto General, University of California Press, 1950.

Supervivid Depastoralism by John Kinsella. Vagabond Press, 2022. ISBN 9781925735246

Published: September 2022
Juan Garrido-Salgado

migrated to Australia from Chile in 1990, fleeing the regime that burned his poetry and imprisoned and tortured him for his political activism. He has published eight books of poetry and his work has been widely translated. He has also translated into Spanish works by a number of leading Australian and Aboriginal poets, including five Aboriginal poets for the anthology, Espejo de Tierra / Earth Mirror (2008). With Steve Brock and Sergio Holas, Garrido-Salgado also translated into English the Trilingual Mapuche Poetry Anthology. In 2019, Juan presented a reading from his book, When I was Clandestine, as part of a poetical tour at the Granada International Poetry Festival in Nicaragua, and at a series of literary events in Mexico and Cuba. His most recent collection is Hope Blossoming in Their Ink (Puncher & Wattmann, 2020). Juan Garrido-Salgado was one of the judges for the 67th Blake Poetry Prize with Judith Nangala Crispin and Anthony Lawrence. At the 2022 Adelaide Writers’ Week, Juan contributed to the poetry performance ‘a ruthless muse’ together with some of the finest and most dedicated local poets.

Pushing Back by John Kinsella
Transit Lounge, 2021.
ISBN 9781925760712
Riley Faulds reviews

Pushing Back

by John Kinsella

Pushing Back: An Accretive Ethics of Resistance

It’s a hard life for a kid these days. It’s a hard life for a drug addict too, and for a drug dealer for that matter. Hard for a parent, for a shearer, for a budding magician, for grey nomads. For students, for travellers. A hard life for real estate agents … well, maybe not so much, in this economy.

This world is certainly a complicated, often painful one to navigate, no matter which of John Kinsella’s characters you happen to be. In Pushing Back, Kinsella’s latest collection of short stories, people of all occupations and persuasions struggle variously with trauma, addiction, bullying, environmental catastrophe, and paranormal activity. But for all these people, Kinsella suggests, chances exist to reject the unjust, the hateful, the destructive, and to push back against them.

Kinsella’s ethical vision in this collection is an accretive one. Characters range from “radical” or “ratbag left” (39) to the more subtle ecologically and economically conscious, and the conservative or reactionary (although these are often cast as antagonists or as worthy of scorn). There is no distinctive, unified political thrust expressed consistently from story to story. Instead, lines of discursive prose and dialogue, lyrical narrative moments, and subtle shifts in many of the tales layer an overall blueprint for resistance and re-imagining.

Kinsella builds a world of possibility, in which all kinds of people can live as examples of a socially and/or environmentally progressive ethic of resistance, however that might be expressed in their particular circumstances. The security guard in the “false climate” of the airconditioned shop in ‘Green Light’ turns a blind eye to poor kids taking fruit they won’t otherwise get to eat—rejecting, as other characters in this collection do, the received expectations of what constitutes right and wrong under capitalism (57). In ‘Barrows’, young Sarah trusts her relationship with the pigs on her farm to punish some disturbingly misogynistic city teens, in a more-or-less symbolic castration of their toxic masculinity.

These more overt moments of resistance are joined by subtler ones. In ‘Surrounded’ and ‘Backstroke’, the pushing back is a simple act of opening up, or reaching out, from popular kids to those bullied and on the margins. These are not a resistance to capitalism or eco-destruction, but to simple ignorance and simmering hatred. Other stories centre on more ineffectual-seeming characters who allow those with more assertive personalities to get away with pillaging the environment or terrorising the marginalised. Or, as in the case of ‘Night Train – Patras to Athens’, performatively political characters struggle with taking assertive action in moments of personal potential. These stories are useful counterbalances to those with more emphatic or clear-cut moments of change. The possibilities for a pushing back against violence or against passivity remain but aren’t necessarily taken up, or not fully, within the narrative time of the story. And yet they further layer and enrich the overall world or worlds of the collection—possibilities for a change, a pushing back, are always offered but not always grasped. That some characters fail to challenge their status quo despite the opportunity to do so feels like an authentic rendering of a group of characters as diverse as the motley crew in this collection. This is particularly so when conditions of drug addiction, power imbalances, or regional isolation conspire to make action even more difficult.

Kinsella is known for his vegan-pacifist-environmentalist-feminist-activist poetics and ethics, in his writing and own life in the WA Wheatbelt—see his blog with Tracy Ryan, ‘Mutually Said’, for many examples (Ryan and Kinsella). In Pushing Back, he carves out ethical possibilities for change even for those living a lifestyle which contradicts his own strong ethics of responsibility. ‘A Viewing’ is narrated by a real estate agent showing an overpriced rental property in ‘The Hills’ (WA’s Darling Ranges) to a family with strong environmentalist beliefs. The narrator presents herself as “socially progressive and economically conservative”, a “hard-core capitalist” with some “sexual and identity tolerances” (176). While she presents herself as “ethical and tolerant”, she is increasingly piqued by the family’s views on pesticides and herbicides—what she sees as their “twaddle” (180). But in the end, Kinsella writes possibilities for both the judgemental, commercial narrator (who lives a life and politics far removed from Kinsella’s personal beliefs) and the judgmental, rigidly principled family—possibilities to push back against their contradictory qualities and make some overall progress towards better environmental management and greater kindness. As the family leaves, the real estate agent calls out to them to suggest the property’s gardener use “something organic” in place of synthetic chemicals:

She felt stupid saying this, as it didn’t really make sense, and waited for the goth girl to come back with a withering sarcasm regarding weed-killing and organics being a contradiction, but instead the girl smiled and so did the boy and the father said, Thanks for caring.
        Thanks for caring. And it was said without sarcasm.

(181)

Pushing Back is an often witty, regularly ironic, and commonly dark or depressing collection. But moments like these, scattered throughout, lend it an overall sense of hope and of generosity. This is a vision of small possibilities layering into the larger potential for an incrementally transformed world. It’s not a utopian vision by any stretch, but might be read as occasionally expressing tiny moments of utopia within various visions of environmental and character-personal degradation.

Kinsella builds his vision of an improved world through solid connective writing framed by regular passages of skilful, poetic prose. There are moments of unsubtly direct political statement (“a middle-class white American feminist who serves sisters of my choosing whilst being in the service of the patriarchy” (33)), but overall Kinsella’s writing is guided by a poetic sensibility that rejects the soapbox. In his reflective work on his writing practice, he has been insistent on the convincing potential of lyrical rather than directly ideologically writing. In Activist Poetics, he outlines how “long ago I differentiated between polemic and open-endedness, between rhetoric and, if one likes, the lyric impulse” (1). As is evident (for the most part) in this collection, “ultimately, though not exclusively, I try to keep the balance in favour of the open-ended lyric rather than propagandist rhetoric” (1).

At times, Kinsella’s pursuit of a productively mysterious ambiguity feels forced or underdone. In ‘Globe’, a relatively straightforward story is suddenly invested with a sense of deep mystery for just a couple of incongruous lines before a pivot is made back to the ordinary. A houseguest speaks to her host about the light globe at the centre of the tale:

… it’s not good for – excuse me – older eyes to strain in their trying to find things.
        Find answers? whispered the old woman.
        Yes, said the guest. All the answers still to be found. But anyway, a floor lamp could be plugged in …

(229)

This sudden intrusion of suggestive mystery is a little too sudden and unexplained. Occasionally underdone moments like this in the collection mean that this story and some others feel almost like drafts or tracings rather than completed works. But these moments of rush or sketchiness can probably be forgiven in an expansive thirty-five-story collection like this. So too can the moments where characters spout lyrically dense dialogue that doesn’t quite ring true in otherwise realist settings; sometimes these are off-putting, but other times they are meaningful and mysterious, encouraging suspension of nagging disbelief. And for the most part, lyrical writing—particularly of the environment—guides and focuses the impetus of the most interesting, affecting, and ethically driven stories in the book. Nowhere is this more evident than in ‘Echolocation’ and the tale immediately following it, ‘Lightning Memory’. In each of these stories, the central character has been deeply affected by the natural world: one by the “entities” released by the “clearing and damage to the mountain” which looms over the setting (130); and the other by a long-ago lightning strike. Together, these stories represent skilful lyricism of the kind Kinsella considers more convincing than polemic.

The protagonists of each of these stories are granted incisive revelations by their unconventional connections with the environment, by “the fury, the fire, the trauma of country and sky” (146). Their open-ended tales, infused with productive ambiguity are examples of when this collection works best—both “in terms of “artistic integrity” and making a political stand about an issue”, to refigure the author’s own words (Activist Poetics 149). The central characters arrive at environmental conclusions that are two layers of the same soil: the first understands their implication in “rapacity” and “destruction”, and “just want[s] to be, nothing more” (136), while the second is “reborn – in a pantheistic sense” (141) and craves deeper understanding, “to be struck again” (146).

Impressively skilful and incisively wise, these stories add to Kinsella’s decades-developed accretive vision of a potential world resistant to the ecologically damaging, the ignorant, the received, the ordinary. And as for the ultra-nationalists in ‘Little Red Car’? Without spoiling the details, this story pushes back very directly against hatred and ignorance. The eventual comeuppance for its disturbing antagonists is an absolute work of art—pure and, in the end, simple.


Works cited

Kinsella, John. Activist Poetics: Anarchy in the Avon Valley. Liverpool University Press, 2010.

Ryan, Tracy, and John Kinsella. Mutually Said: Poets Vegan Anarchist Pacifist. 12 January 2008, http://poetsvegananarchistpacifist.blogspot.com/. Accessed 12 March 2022.

Pushing Back by John Kinsella. Transit Lounge, 2021. ISBN 9781925760712

Published: September 2022
Riley Faulds

is an environmental consultant in the streets and a poet in the sheets. He is from Walyalup/Fremantle and is studying his Honours in Creative Writing at The University of Western Australia. His poems have been published in Rabbit Poetry Journal, Westerly, Cordite Poetry Review, and the 2021 Australian Poetry Anthology, but he saves all the best ones for birthday cards. He was the 2021 Editor of Pelican Magazine.

The Owl Inside by Ivy Ireland
Puncher and Wattmann, 2020.
ISBN 9781925780727
Anne-Sophie Balzer reviews

The Owl Inside

by Ivy Ireland

Forget what you were doing just now, or planning to do thereafter. Forget the cup of tea or the wine, the crackers you thought would pair well with an evening of leisurely poetry. Once you open Ivy Ireland’s The Owl Inside you’ll find yourself within a spell zone. Better to relax into this undergoing and become comfortable with the uncomfortable like a long stretch. Better let the tea get cold. Nothing too mystical about these words, the speaker of the title poem insists, shrugging. A calling owl to her is just a reminder to take out the green bin, and the regular one. The owl is a regular boobook—she knows her owls—and neither omen of doom nor Hadean creature from the underworld. Yet everything in this poem is made carefully strange; the ordinary is out of order, the familiar estranged, the owl somehow inside:

In fact, it was numinous: scorpion moon in a cloud ring,

Bleeding out into the mottled sky like thoughts through an

empty evening.

(‘The Owl Inside’, 11)

The speaker here has clearly tuned her faculties to the mythic dimension of the world surrounding her, as someone who experiences the world as being animated, stones and rocks included. After taking out the bins she stands "statue still", with her chest bare, "absorbing moonlight like a witch" (11). If this is not a set-up for myth what is?

From this first mesmerising poem on, a game is being played in Ivy Ireland’s collection, dissolving seemingly separate spheres: inside and outside, nature and culture, the mundane and the numinous, the factual and the fantastical. This often results in the display of a simultaneity of everything, an affective overload that feels familiar:

sea ice melting close by while

we fall in love

(‘Crossing the Sun’, 12)

Reading Ireland the term permeability comes to mind, omnipresent in so many ecological and earth processes. Ireland’s speaker, or rather perhaps speakers, seem to be almost in an osmotic exchange with the world that surrounds them. The Glossary for Writing within the Anthropocene, edited by Linda Russo and Marthe Reed, has the following to say about permeability:

a porousness that insists upon the co-presence of the other, of the outside, of the self as other (…) [a] state of compassion and vulnerability that is an opening of the self and an acknowledgement of the various systems (people, objects, animals, ecosystems, histories) that compose the self.

(2018, 54)

Naturally, all this has its perils. Anybody who experiences great compassion for other living beings and for the world at large, is increasingly prone to suffering in the face of great loss; be it dreadful extinction rates, ocean acidification, the meltdown of glaciers, harrowing wildfires. Ireland—a local to the Newcastle area of NSW—writes about the threat of bushfires in the poem, ‘How to Protect the Lungs’:

Inhalation of ash is the new normal

as I fashion myself Jungian,

transpersonal, still able to scribble and scrawl

what dreams are left of me,

while my hands wrinkle and curl to crone,

and the forest burns. All forest,

not just this one here by the garden.

(61)

The poem is an artful exploration of many of the themes in this collection: the unfathomable simultaneity of outright desperation and teeth-grinding defiance, moments of hope, of mystery and beauty, and the cognitive dissonance of humans as a whole species. The future feels extinct, Ireland writes, but still goes out to buy a box of breathing masks against the thick smoke of a burning landscape.

There is a certain tongue-in-cheek feeling to her poems, a humour, and a lightness of the heart, despite it all. Motherhood meets climate disruption, meets space travel, meets the guilt of a non-free-range drive-thru breakfast, meets the wondrous communication of trees. Kinship and the connection of everything to everything else is articulated rather factually, without much accusation. Certain observations read more like private jokes and musings to the speaker, and she lets the reader know about it: “If no one else felt the connection: owl, bin, ring” (11), Ireland writes in the title poem, then the discovery is solely hers. That’s how it should be. Other times she invites the reader to complete the one line she can’t finish herself, “perhaps it will bear its own weight / and leave its own imprint” (‘Sea Eagles’, 17).

The predicament we’re in as humans is so huge in proportion that overwhelm, paralysis, and chilling and watching Netflix are common responses. Bearing witness has always been the task of writers and poets at any time, but Ireland's speaker notably quarrels with the limitation and value of even this occupation. Nostalgia and marveling at the wonders of nature very clearly seem insufficient responses while the forest next to the garden is bursting into flames. But is it enough to witness the calamity? A poem won’t purge the flames, won’t keep the sea from rising, and millions of animals from becoming extinct. So, what do we do, as poets and writers? Ireland writes in ‘I am Not Doing Anything’:

I spend my time reading up on the burden of overwhelm –

This is as useless as everything else.

(63)

We never really get to know about the other things that need to be done instead of reading, and consequently as readers we experience overwhelm. In other pieces, Ireland is more accepting of her/our limitations:

Forgive yourself for choosing the

Straight way to small victory;

For finding safety in the folds of

Clean towels crisping up the linen press.

(‘Household Accounting’, 44)

To bury one's head in a heap of fresh towels is a relatable scenario in the face of catastrophe. It is also an act that speaks to the way Ireland’s poems in The Owl Inside perform a kind of open-heart surgery, leaving you raw and vulnerable but also with a renewed sense of gratefulness. In a true Wittgensteinian sense these poems are composed in the language of information but are not available for the language-game of giving information. Put another way: Ireland won’t tell you how to tackle the ecological crisis that is upon us. What she will do, and does in utter elegance, is alert us to the comfort of immensity without ever suggesting we just wait and do nothing:

Out there beyond all this endless egging on

Spins a diamond-core planet with beings

Being the days away, just like us –

But much better at it, naturally.

(‘Sea Eagles’, 17)


Works cited

Russo, Linda, and Reed, Marthe (eds.). Counter-Desecration. A Glossary for Writing Within the Anthropocene. Wesleyan University Press, 2018.

The Owl Inside by Ivy Ireland. Puncher and Wattmann, 2020. ISBN 9781925780727

Published: September 2022
Anne-Sophie Balzer

is a German journalist, doctoral candidate and poet. “Writing with Glaciers”, her PhD project, is an inquiry into glacial poetics written under the influence of what is known as the Anthropocene. Anne-Sophie holds a BA in Comparative Literature from the University of Erfurt and a MA in Cultural Theory and History from Humboldt University of Berlin. She recently moved back to Germany from Norway where she worked on organic farms and practised playing the violin.

Timestamps by Sofie Westcombe
Five Islands Press, 2019.
ISBN 978073405521
Dani Netherclift reviews

Timestamps

by Sofie Westcombe

The fragmentary intimacies of time passed

To timestamp something is to mark it seen, noted, witnessed. Time might be stamped to render ways of seeing, ways of being present. In most people’s lives, the details of what their days and nights have really been like—the fragmentary intimacies of time passed—remain permanently unknowable. Even regarding ourselves, we forget, unless we write the instances and how they strike us as they occur. The minutiae of the domestic is coded surplus to record or even to possibility. The past is punctuated by impenetrable white space, but here, all is not lost. Whether these poems, in all their pithy, wry, often tender shapes are confessional or not, these moments, so conjured, nevertheless remain, stamped indelibly on time past. 

Though they were written before the world changed in that way, it is difficult not to read these poems through the lens of pandemic, in the distinct dualisms of time before and time after. It feels almost possible to read the careful curations as forms of entry, to feel and touch and be immersed among their sensations. In this way, the poems summon a visceral reaction. Any, or many poetry collections might be read as a kind of mosaic, but Timestamps seems especially made up of broken pieces rearranged into an order in which the parts only loosely correlate. Nevertheless, the abutting details work lyrically as a whole, especially as they mimic the way that such experiences and observations occur in everyday life.

In ‘Veranda’ there is a merging of language that joins and marks temporal concerns with anthropomorphic images of both weariness and violence:

The year lies down.

December heat throttles. (20)

This juxtaposition of time paired with more human concerns is evoked again in ‘Frannie,’ where:

Afternoon ease paints her blue,

To fan breath into her parables (16)

And here too, facial features take on characteristics of the natural world, where tears are ‘climbers’:

…tumbling

From the stoic heights

Of her pale plane cheeks. (16)

In ‘Westerly’, with its braided senses of place, popular culture and weather patterns, the speaker of the poem recalls a pastoral scene of herself and her horse, how their plaintive voices are one when they call ‘to still the night’ (17).

All throughout Timestamps is a sense of nature being known, drawn and interconnected with different elements, and images, so that each individual part becomes seamless, indivisible from each other. This sometimes manifests as movements towards the consolatory, as in ‘Break,’ where: 

Boats are moored for sleep (22)

and in the following poem, ‘Letter home’ the observation that:

Mountains don’t move,

There is that to come back to. (23)

In poems like ‘Erasure,’ loss and effacement are elicited with the understanding that: 

Every word handwritten has been erased,

For the books are in the sea, sinking. (26)

In truth though, everything here is in opposition to erasure, all is intimately remembered, every word, scene, act and emotion accounted for. Within these poems, the keenly noted details are like stitches unpicked, and it is the stitches themselves (what has held the components of these lives and memories together) that is examined in minute detail, everything catalogued as vital and precise, and worthy of its place in time and posterity. It is, as succinctly stated in ‘Demerara jar’, that:

Here is what I felt/

Here is where

I have been. (32)

Timestamps is accordingly dense with physical locations—both recognisable places and more oblique references. There are also glimpses of what has transpired within those locations, yet not in the sense of postcard vignettes. Westcombe’s attendance to language, timelessness and keen observation of experience, is imbued with image and remembrance. In ‘Sylvia’ for instance, the time that is stamped marks a place, a shore, a threshold of sorts perhaps. In Westcombe’s deft hands, the shore is more than passive backdrop: it (or she) is ‘ready,’:

She combs through your heart.

Blue, blue and vast

As a death. (33)

The collection is at times reminiscent of Wordsworth’s ‘spots of time’ in The Prelude with the reinvoked consolations of nature. For Westcombe, nature can be a balm, but within the poems there is also present, a lurking intimation of peril, where a ‘wooden flower eats you whole’ (31). In ‘Lure’, it is ‘the edge’ of the mind that is ‘at home in the bush’ (27), while in ‘Camp’ there is only: 

One chance! 

 

To swim

Before we get on the bus, you’ll

Regret not swimming, everyone likes to

Swim— (34)

The poem’s speaker here dreamily conflates the surrounding green pastures with French fields, but at the same time: 

Bluebottles crowd an inland 

Dream. (34) 

with notions of the possibility of pain to be endured in exchange for supposedly easy joys. Finally, in ‘Transeasonal 7pm’ the speaker begins to truly merge with their environment, something that the poems have been leaning toward all along:

The crack and crunch and me,

Made of breath; listening. (53)

This foreshadows the sense of an inherent and complete return to nature as the collection draws to a close. As the speaker becomes one with the described surroundings, this voice becomes increasingly impervious to more corporeal concerns and attachments. Timestamps concludes, indeed, with ‘Native’ and its unmistakable impression of time ending as it does for all living things, with rest. But there is also a continuation intimated, or perhaps an epilogue: a lightness, a new kind of existence where one can be, simply:

        A laugh half-heard,

Muffled by

Soil. (58)

Culminated, these words form the lining for a nest of remembering, of having noticed and curated how things once were. Like a bowerbird’s collection of blues, they are fragments inscribed in all their precise renderings, an archive of what is not lost for having been observed and set down.

Editorial note

we publish this review of Timestamps in the spirit of honouring and remembering the work of Sofie Westcombe.

Timestamps by Sofie Westcombe. Five Islands Press, 2019. ISBN 978073405521

Published: September 2022
Dani Netherclift

lives on unceded Taungurung lands in high country Victoria. She has current work in Stilts, Rabbit Poetry Journal, Blue Bottle Journal and upcoming in Island Magazine.

Earth Dwellers: New Poems by Kristen Lang
Giramondo, 2021.
ISBN 9781925818673
Dr Willo Drummond reviews

Earth Dwellers: New Poems

by Kristen Lang

Ecopoetics and the lonely brain

Books have a way of making their way into your life at the perfect moment—of need, of openness, of readiness for certain insights. Kristen Lang's Earth Dwellers made its way into my life as Sydney entered its second extended lockdown. For me, this second phase of isolation had a fresh edge to it, as though knowing what we were going in to somehow created a greater instability of ground. In addition (and here we arrive at an unavoidable personal confession), though I'm protective of my solitude generally speaking (as an introvert, it is essential to my well-being), I have a tendency toward "lonely social cognition", a lonely brain, a brain that, perceiving the threat of (unwanted) social isolation, paradoxically seeks to protect itself by isolating further (Cacioppo and Patrick ch 1; ch. 2). Entering lockdown that second time, my lonely brain went into overdrive.

Then Earth Dwellers (Lang's fourth collection) arrived in the post, and I experienced reading it as a palpable embrace. This is not an entirely uncommon experience with poetry of course (or with good writing of any genre), but there seemed to be something additional in play with Earth Dwellers; something uniquely suited to the particulars of the moment, and I was curious as to what that might be. Though in truth the acute public health crisis of Covid-19 brought ecological ideas such as interconnectedness into sharper focus than ever before, the reality of lockdown tempered the potential transformations of such understanding. Isolated, with my pre-pandemic faith in ecocritical theory momentarily loosened, I wanted to know: how did a poetry collection about nature soothe and disrupt spiraling human loneliness? Furthermore, was there a way I might think this through in terms of the ecopoetic?

Though lonely social cognition might seem an unusual (even anthropocentric) concern when thinking about ecologically focused poetry, the issue is perhaps one that should not be too quickly dismissed. Because although lonely brains are as old as human evolution, lockdowns in the late capitalist phase of the Anthropocene are Molotov cocktails for their creation,1 and brains in fight-or-flight mode are far less able to care for the earth.

Readers of Plumwood Mountain Journal will likely be familiar with the benefits of interaction with the natural world on mental health, now increasingly backed by science (Robbins; Suttie). What is perhaps slightly more surprising is that time in nature can actually boost what are termed the 'prosocial' aspects of our psychology: our ability to connect with others and to feel connected (Zhang et al.; Pieters et al. 61). Add to this the fact that benefits can come from looking at images alone (Van den Berg et al. 15862), and here is where we perhaps ford the bridge to ecopoetry as a uniquely poised lockdown tonic.

The poet Ed Roberson states that ecopoetry: “occurs when an individual’s sense of the larger Earth enters into the world of human knowledge. The main understanding that results from this encounter is the Ecopoetic” (qtd in Fisher-Wirth and Street xxx). The ecopoetic encounter offers a path back not only to the interconnectedness of the biome, but perhaps also back to a sense of our social selves. In thinking beyond the isolated late capitalist bounded self, and in encountering nature via the ecopoetic, ecopoetry can offer us a multiplane path out of the habituations of lonely social cognition. "We are never alone" (Lang 63), and this knowledge has the potential to create profound change. 

Lang’s work clearly arises from a biophilic impulse, originally described by Eric Fromm as “the passionate love of life and of all that is alive” (qtd in Rogers). Though the biophilia hypothesis (later developed by Wilson) 2 has been criticised for some inherent fuzziness and a lack of relevance to a robust environmental ethics due to a lingering anthropocentric utilitarianism (Joye and De Block 206-7), the impulse has a history in nature writing that remains in contemporary work such as that of Mary Oliver, for example. Lang's work starts with this impulse, and goes beyond it, keeping human complicity in view at all times, while asking us to attend, to remember.

Desire for communion with the earth threads through all of these poems. To be known by the earth, to somehow overcome the container of the self, proscribed by individualist capitalist ideology. In poems such as 'This bony land' the speaker yearns to be known by the indifferent day, to be acknowledged as a part of the earth. There is a moving vulnerability in this poem, as the speaker offers up a range of intimate acts of ritual and devotion, asking to be known and held:

I say I will rub

a handful of the weathered ground

round my neck and chest...

(22)

I tell the day I have grown

from the slime moulds

(23)

David Knowles and Sharon Blackie foregrounded this style of work in their aptly named 2012 anthology Entanglements, describing poetry that "dramatises a growing hunger for meaningful connection with the earth" (xii). The strength of the lyric ecopoem rests in this performative dimension. Via this dramatisation of connection seeking, lyric work such as Lang's is able to offer the reader the experience of encounter that Ed Robertson identifies as the ecopoetic. There is no absence of the lyric I in these poems. From the first poem, 'Arrival', there is an 'I' engaging in encounters with the beyond-human:

I gaze and so much blooms and spills

though it's I who emerges.

(1)

To this same end, the collection is also very invested in the active work of naming. Poems such as 'Wading with horseshoe crabs' and 'Alpine Sky' perform a music of multiplicity, singing the manifold lifeforms of the rolling earth.

Entanglement, interconnectedness and porosity are dominant themes of the collection, with many of the poems working to rupture our received notions of human boundedness; a significant stance in an era in which we understand how much of our bodies are comprised of bacteria and conversely, how much of our own detritus inhabits the bellies of the non-human. The opening poem, 'Arrival', firmly establishes this tone with lines such as "the world tumbles through me" and "my footprint stays without me, woven into the scent / of the morning" (1). In 'Mt Duncan', the sensory experience of entanglement is evoked with visceral lines such as:

wood- and fern-dust

in our hair and mouths, in our clothes.

(38)

The sky takes hold, burrowing

into our bodies...

(39)

These poems are asking us to remember the phenomenological experience of our entanglement with the beyond-human, even if we might have forgotten its texture. In the sensuous and ecstatic 'With such edge' the speaker "tilt[s] upward" to enable the "sky [to] stream... into" (44) her:

You open your mouth. And the taste

arrives on your tongue as if the rivulets of its drops

trickle into all of you, staining your veins

with their silver.

(45)

Similarly, in 'Headland',"Salt crawls into us", "the breeze spiders into us", "The light enters our lungs" (52). We cannot extricate ourselves from our own entanglement with the non-human world, either physically, or psychologically, as "The day's / glow [is] stacked in the towers of ourselves" (53).

Several poems in the collection are situated in caves, extending the idea of porosity further. These poems enact a visceral rupture of inside/outside binaries, offering up a destabilising unravelling of knowing. This is profoundly ecological work, in the sense of Morton's claim that "being able to appreciate ambiguity is the basis of being ecological" (ch. 2). In 'Learning the world', a troubling of the corporeal/psychological binary is initiated: "Flesh. The self. All of her / was always porous" (2). What is inside? What is out? we are led to ask, as "she slips the hollows of the cave / into her chest, inhaling / a little darkness" (3). The poem introduces themes that will recur across several other cave poems: fear of the dark and sitting in the unknown. In the moving 'Touching the dark', the primal human fear (for the visually able) of being without sight is explored directly. Light is an environmental concern in the Anthropocene, an epoch in which we no longer know true darkness. Thus, to encounter true darkness is to become unmoored from knowing, leaving us "stretching into the dark" (14). As a counterpoint, in the glorious 'Cave song' the speaker and companions sing within the ancient body of the earth and find themselves in the embrace of underground acoustics. The cave sings back, sound waves bouncing off its contours and reverberating into the singer's bodies, creating a beyond-human chorus as the human singers become "the cave's hooks / and curves" (71).

These ruptures and reversals are one of several ways the collection teases out a human decentering. Several poems also engage with deep time, such as 'The roar of it' and 'Wading with horseshoe crabs' which remind us how late and small humanity is in the scale of evolutionary time, while poems such as 'Poon hill' perform our irrelevance in the face of the earth's multitudinous phenomena, "while the sun // simply rises" (17).

To return briefly to the opening concern of this article, such rupturing of anthropocentric solipsism can be understood as a useful antidote to the patterns of lonely social cognition as it reminds us to look up and out, to recall that we are part of something much greater than the self. Iris Murdoch's term unselfing, is useful in this context—a forgetting of self and selfish concerns that can occur in the presence of beauty—particularly as Murdoch argued that nature and art are uniquely suited to effect such an experience (84).

Yet Lang takes things further. In a move that might not find ecopoetic success in less deft hands, Lang frequently uses human intimacy in this collection as an objective correlative for the kind of intimacy and connection she is exploring with the non-human word. Peppered throughout the collection are moments of human intimacy—that remind us what it is to connect, to allow ourselves to be vulnerable—closely juxtaposed with moments of non-human encounter. In poems such as 'Mt Duncan', 'Alpine Sky' and 'Platypus', there is a human 'we' present, and the gaze alternates between human and non-human. I had the sense reading these moments that Lang was saying: this feeling, remember this? Now turn to the world. The effect was striking and deeply moving.

Earth Dwellers is pointed ecopoetry in the lyric tradition and Lang does not allow us to forget our complicity, even amongst the collection's many moments of rapture. 'The shard counters', for example, names in stark detail humanity's pervasive presence across the earth: the "pen lid, bottle cap" in the bellies of birds. Again Lang reframes this issue for us with a human reference (asking, can you, will you understand?):

                      As if you or I might swallow, 

                 spooned to us in our hunger, 

       three kilos of kids' toys, thrown-out plastic cups, 

coloured straws, cigarette butts, balloons, broken forks...

(32)

Similarly, in 'Habitat', the scale of the current extinction crisis is made flesh in human terms. Were each extinction a cut, we would:

...bleed from every

pore of our bodies

(59)

The poem does not hold back with its accusatory gaze, and blunt truth of the final line is haunting:

And still

we would not name them.

(59)

Not even the book in our hands, it seems, evades Lang's gaze. In 'The trees' the "bodies" of felled trees haunt "the insides/ of our vowels" (49).

As I read and re-read Earth Dwellers, the political cohesiveness of the collection came sharply into view, even as the storm of my lonely brain subsided. This is ecopoetry that asks something from us in the way of ethical answerability.3 It asks us to look, to consider, to reframe. It asks (no more and no less of us than) to love, and to recall, in the middle of the pulsing, feeding world, that we are not alone.

Notes

1. They are also, of course, a public health necessity.

2. Wilson, Edward. O. Biophilia: the human bond with other species. Harvard University Press. 1984.

3. Building on the work of William Waters, I discuss this concept in more depth in Drummond, Willo. “Who’s Afraid of the Lyric Mode? Romanticism’s long tail and Adamson’s ecopoetics.” TEXT, Special Issues Series, 41. 2017. Romanticism and Contemporary Australian Writing: Legacies and Resistances. Edited by Stephanie Green and Paul Hetherington.

Works cited

Cacioppo, John.T., and William Patrick. Loneliness: human nature and the need for social connection. W.W. Norton & Co. 2008.

Fisher-Wirth, Ann, and Laura-Gray Street, eds. The Ecopoetry Anthology. Trinity University Press. 2013.

Joye, Yannick, and Andreas De Block. ‘“Nature and I are two”: a critical examination of the biophilia hypothesis’. Environmental Values, 20(2), 2011: 189–215.

Knowles, David, and Sharon Blackie, eds. Entanglements: new ecopoetry. Two Ravens Press. 2012.

Lang, Kristen. Earth dwellers: new poems. Giramondo. 2021.

Morton, Timothy. All art is ecological. Green Ideas #3. Penguin. 2021. EPUB.

Murdoch, Iris. The sovereignty of good. Schocken Books. 1971.

Pieters, Huibrie C., Leilanie Ayala, Ariel Schneider, Nancy Wicks, Aimee Levine-Dickman, and Susan Clinton. ‘Gardening on a psychiatric inpatient unit: cultivating recovery.’ Archives of psychiatric nursing, 33(1), 2019: 57–64

Robbins, Jim. ‘How immersion in nature benefits your health.’ 9 Jan. 2020.

Rogers, Kara. ‘Biophilia hypothesis.‘ Encyclopedia Britannica. Jun. 25, 2019.

Suttie, Jill. ‘How nature makes you kinder, happier, and more creative.’March 2, 2016

van den Berg, Magdalena M.H.E., Jolanda Maas, Rianne Muller, Anoek Braun, Wendy Kaandorp, René van Lien, Mireille N.M. van Poppel, Willem van Mechelen, and Agnes E. van den Berg. ‘Autonomic nervous system responses to viewing green and built settings: differentiating between sympathetic and parasympathetic activity.’ International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 12 (12), 2015: 15860-15874

Waters, William. ‘Rilke’s Imperatives.’ Poetics Today, 25:4, 2004: 711-730.

Zhang, Jia Wei, Paul K. Piff, Ravi Iyer, Spassena Koleva, and Dacher Keltner.’An occasion for unselfing: beautiful nature leads to prosociality’. Journal of Environmental Psychology, Volume 37, 2014: 61-72.

Earth Dwellers: New Poems by Kristen Lang. Giramondo, 2021. ISBN 9781925818673

Published: September 2022
Dr Willo Drummond

lives and writes on Dharug and Gundungurra land in the NSW Blue Mountains. Her writing is published in Australian and international journals including Cordite Poetry Review, Mascara Literary Review, TEXT, Science Write Now and Plumwood Mountain, and has been anthologised by Australian Poetry, Hunter Writers Centre and Recent Work Press. In 2020 Willo was the recipient of a Career Development Grant (poetry) from the Australia Council for the Arts. She teaches in the creative writing program at Macquarie University.

Plague Animals by Rebecca Edwards
Puncher and Wattmann, 2020.
ISBN 9781925780772
Les Wicks reviews

Plague Animals

by Rebecca Edwards

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.

(97)

Degradation of the environment is further explored across several key points in the book, ranging from garbage in Bali toDays 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.

(48)

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

with myself

alone.

If I succeed

no-one will recognise

how vast it was, how violent

If I fail

no one will be surprised.

(44)

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.

(27)

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

(14)

I don’t like abstract nouns like gravitas or lucidity

at least not in a poem. Give me a sound, like crunch

(22)

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

Published: September 2022
Les Wicks

For over 45 years, Wicks has performed widely in Australia and internationally. He has published and broadcast in over 400 different channels, magazines, anthologies and newspapers across 33 countries and in 15 languages. He conducts workshops around Australia and most recently edited To End All Wars (Puncher & Wattmann, 2018). He also runs Meuse Press, which focuses on poetry outreach projects like poetry on buses and poetry published on the surface of a river. His fourteenth book of poetry isBelief (Flying Islands, 2019).

Grace Perry: Australian Poet, Publisher and Paediatrician by Dot Jensen
Sydney: Boraga Academic, 2020.
ISBN 9781760323592
Phillip Hall reviews

Grace Perry: Australian Poet, Publisher and Paediatrician

by Dot Jensen

This biography of the dynamic, yet forgotten Grace Perry, is the result of Dot Jensen’s doctoral studies at the University of Sydney. She graduated with a PhD in 1997 with a thesis titled: Grace Perry, Australian Poet and Publisher: Her Dynamic Role in the 1960s and 1970s. Jensen’s research and writing is meticulous and passionate as she takes on the mantle of Perry’s champion:

The aim of this writer is to reclaim a place for Grace Perry in the history of Australian Literature as a significant lyric poet as well as for her contribution as an editor, publisher and literary entrepreneur. (p 6)

For Jensen, Perry’s ‘remarkable achievements and her obsessive energy are those of a classic 1960s superwoman who wanted it all’ (p 5) and she argues for these reasons of gender, not talent or achievement, that she has been forgotten:

Perry was remarkable among Australian female poets for her willingness to become involved in the politics of Australian poetry. She threatened the hegemony of male poets and critics by establishing herself in the powerful positions of publisher and marketing director, as well as convener and director of workshops and literary events.(pp 4-5)

Jensen argues forcefully that this ‘forgetting’ was both wilful and tragic in its consequences:

Dr Grace Perry took her own life at the age of sixty in 1987. Ten years later few remember her and her work is still largely unacknowledged. Her poetry is no longer in print and few of her poems in the anthologies. The question has to be asked: How can she have been forgotten so quickly? How much more does a woman have to do to be included in the history of her times? (p 5)

Jensen spends some time analysing the 1964 schism in the Sydney poetry scene which saw Perry’s Poetry Australia and Robert Adamson’s New Poetry break away from the establishment’s Poetry Magazine. And she shows, very convincingly, how Perry was unfairly blamed for these splits:

What is puzzling in reflecting on the two attacks on the Poetry Society is that Adamson’s actions were tolerated in the local literary community in a way that Perry’s were not. Adamson’s actions were as ruthless as Perry’s had been. Conciliation has occurred between the male supporters of the factions, but it is the conclusion of this thesis that Perry was never forgiven for her very unfeminine behaviour in causing the major split in the Poetry Society in 1964. (pp 53-54)

The problem with Jensen’s explanation, however, is that Perry has not only been forgotten by males. Perry did not feature as a major poet in any of the anthologies of Australian women’s poetry that began to appear in the 1970s-1980s either, such as the classic Mother I’m Rooted: An Anthology of Australian Women’s Poetry (1975) and edited by Kate Jennings or in The Penguin Book of Australian Women Poets (1986) edited by Susan Hampton and Kate Llewellyn. So, perhaps, Jensen needed to spend a little more time exploring all of the reasons for this ‘forgetting’ of Perry. Jensen concedes that Perry could be ‘quite forceful’, and uncompromising in her clashes with colleagues (‘she was liable to take you over if you let her’ p 60), and it is true that these traits are much more quickly forgiven, or explained away, in males, but were there also other factors at play in this ‘forgetting’ of Perry? As I have argued previously (Hall 2017) it is time to move beyond such gendered constructions of male (strong, influential, seminal) and female (shrill, strident, argumentative) and to separate assessments of Perry’s personality from her poetic output. Ronald Dunlop has argued, for example, that ‘Grace Perry’s poems are occasional: responses to a given moment, a given experience, hammered out hot, scarcely given time to cool before being put on paper’ (Dunlop 2016). Such an approach to poetic craft sounds remarkably contemporary and certainly deserving of renewed assessment.

One of the most enjoyable chapters in this biography is chapter nine, titled ‘Perry’s Longer Poem Sequences’, where Jensen turns her attention away from the life of publishing, facilitating workshops and role in poetry’s infamous schisms, and gives space to a sustained reading of Perry’s poetry (I wish Jensen had done more of this). Jensen argues, very convincingly, that Perry’s most successful books were livre compose, volumes designed not as collections of separate poems, but as a single poem sustained through fluctuating moods and verse-forms. This was a structure that Perry found in Christopher Brennan and Edith Sitwell and adapted for her own ends:

The language of the poetry to the contemporary reader may be more appropriately described in Kristeva’s terminology in Revolution in Poetic Language in which poetic diction is defined as ‘patterns of repetition and condensation…which must promote phonetic, syntactic and semantic repetition…that serve to foreground the signifier…and where literary practice is seen as exploration and discovery of the possibilities of language…and even language in the act of becoming’. (p 121)

Jensen shows that Perry’s livre compose structure demanded that ‘readers move through the flow of language as if to a symphony’. And she argues that, in our era of magazines and anthologies, this is a way of reading that is discriminated against as we have become more attuned to the short and sharply dramatic.

Jensen’s biography is divided between these twin concerns of ‘life’ and ‘poetry’. Most of her time is spent demonstrating the ‘dynamic role’ that Perry played in Australian poetry in the 1960s and 1970s. And she creates a vibrant picture of a go-ahead woman who helped change Australian poetry forever:

Her editorial choices in both Poetry Magazine and Poetry Australia gave preference to the new verse forms, inspired by the American poets, in a local climate that was reactionary and conservative. Her international vision…was the motivation for extraordinary entrepreneurial activities that placed Australian poets on an equal footing with their international contemporaries.

When it comes to Perry’s poetry, Jensen begins the argument for a new recognition of Perry’s achievement, both for the shorter poems and (especially) for the longer lyrical sequences. As Perry’s poetry is now long out of print, the need for a Collected or Selected is urgent.

References

Dunlop, Ronald (2016), ‘Recent Australian Poetry’, first printed in Poetry Australia, 1970 & scanned by John Tranter in 2014, accessed online 3 December 2016.

Hall, Phillip (2017), ‘Poplars Stripped Bare: Mental Health & other Catastrophes in the Poetry of Grace Perry’, accessed online 31 March 2021.

Dot Jensen, Grace Perry: Australian Poet, Publisher and Paediatrician. Sydney: Boraga Academic, 2020. ISBN: 978-1-76032-359-2

Published: September 2022
Phillip Hall

Phillip worked for many years as a teacher of outdoor education and sport throughout regional and remote Australia. He now resides in the Melbourne suburb of Sunshine where he is a passionate member of the Western Bulldogs Football Club. Phillip’s poetry, essays and reviews can be seen in such spaces as Best Australian Poems, The Blue Nib, Cordite Poetry Review & Plumwood Mountain while his poetry collections include Sweetened in Coals (Ginninderra Press), Borroloola Class (IPSI), Fume (UWAP) and (as editor) Diwurruwurru: Poetry from the Gulf of Carpentaria (Blank Rune Press) and Cactus (Recent Work Press).He co-publishes the poetry e-journal, Burrow.

apparently by joanne burns
Giramondo Publishing Company, 2019.
ISBN 9781925818093
Mary Cresswell reviews

apparently

by joanne burns

This exhilarating collection of word play begins offstage. Words mutter and chatter to each other, sometimes getting meaning across to us, sometimes keeping it to themselves. Here is (in full) the poem ‘planchette’, in the first section of the book, ‘planchettes’:

the anarchy of sober

noodles     does the buck

stop here     crazy logic

of lava citadels     the swanky

ambiguity of matador pants

a breach in the futurosity of

time     blini addicts duck

and cover in their ancestral

glug boots down the blackholes

of juvenilia     cosy as irish moss    (p 10)

We wander through various moods in ‘international séancery’ (p 17), happily reminded that in some forms of fortune telling, wheeled wooden planchettes are used to take us from thought to thought, like little skateboards for our unconscious. 

In the next section, ‘apparently’, burns takes us on a tour of places, living and remembered, which act as sources: reminiscences, dream landscape, youthful inspiration, fantasy. ‘evaluation sheet’ starts out with ‘I didn’t pop over to epidaurus to visit the theatre’ (p 16). A page or two later we move on from ‘a shady house: perhaps californian bungalow’ (p 18), through ‘a vaulted hall. an assembly, a reunion. visitation.’ (p 19) ‘purchase’ (p 23) begins with ‘a long dark table with rounded bevelled corners’ and then says exactly where we stand:

you stand at the edge of the dream. close enough to

touch the table but you don’t. there is both an intimacy

and a remoteness about its presence.

The poem ends:

two months of dreams later someone offers you a thick

booklet of $100 notes in exchange for a small poem.

but which poem. the currency is too bright. the

colour of cheap lime cordial. ‘but I don’t do sweet’ you

say. ‘sorry’.  (p 24)

The first two sections of the collection feel like an experiment in creating language:  In ‘prop’ (p 21), we start out ‘macbeth was coming up the stairs, for us to study. who were we? where was i?’ We look at different versions of the play and then settle down:

a copy of the play landed on the carpet next to the

armchair I had appropriated, reminding me to stay in

the present, tuned. ah, that’s the one I last taught from:

the hardback arden edition. durable and tough and still

functioning after decades of mis-use.

Once we have found our place, though, we can travel light (‘prima vera’ p 20):

whoever booked me on the flight forgot my luggage.

i texted it to meet me at the whitsunday terminal. ‘how

will i recognise you’ it replied. ‘by the ampersand in my

hair’ i said.

What are we going to do with language, now that we have created it? This is answered in the third and largest section, ‘dial’. The poems here are in political language; my first impression is that we are hearing about ‘flat-pack civilisation’ assembled from megastores, in poems that are grounded in one psychological centre, in one personality.

One source of consistency is in the various mentions of ‘the harbour’ throughout this section, as though the landscape were the physical site for everything else that’s going on. In ‘dispatch box’ (p 40) we are asked:

is this a cartoon or a toyworld fest:

sealed unsinkable for export delivery […]

along our sovereign coast, waterways, and harbour

shores sleek white watercraft gleam and purr with

plutocratic pride

Later, in ‘stent’ (p 53):

a golden morning   the harbour gleaming

all the way to manly   margaret adores the

stillness in the air    time to settle back with

‘dracula’

as if on cue it starts   the stentorian leaf

blower down below in the concrete car

park  

The poem ‘canary’ (p 60) links the visible harbour with a long-ago pit stop on a Greek cruise:

today the harbour like lake placid no

no citizen whines in its suv stroller a

woman on a ferry waves with

some vigour to a boy in the frame

of a miniature window one of a million

on a mammoth cruise ship

But there’s not much hope out there, on or off the water. The last section, ‘the random couch’, presents decline and decay, an elegy entirely, without hope of renewal. (And this is pre-2020, keep in mind.)  ‘entrée’ (p 71) ends, ‘where did lucy in the sky with diamonds go –`

We are left with no place to stand, not even a harbour to triangulate—though at this moment we have a wonderfully written book to console ourselves with for a bit. Here in full is the last poem in the book, ‘crunch’ (p 72). It gets us back to the planchettes, John Donne and the poet’s unquenchable joy in words:

fulfilling those dreams

with cornflakes wasn’t as easy

as it smelt     faux crunch of

the necromancer     ankle

wrinkles don’t disappear with

a spray and wipe     can you

bear a curse of no­_winged

sandals     the sun shines too

much     you’re the busy old

foole    hatless in the lethargic

plaza     the grounds shift

bitter beneath your eyes

such an indifferent barista

you grab at the walls of

next week’s hallways    it

all seems so familiar

This is a collection to puzzle over, to cackle over and to enjoy—it’s a deep pleasure to see a poet and the language meeting as equals and enjoying the encounter so thoroughly.

apparently. joanne burns. Giramondo Publishing Company: 2019. ISBN: 978-1925818-09-3

Published: September 2022
Mary Cresswell

spent 12 years editing the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Journal before becoming a freelance technology writer and environmental science editor. Post-retirement she has switched to poetry and book reviews. Originally from Los Angeles, she lives on New Zealand’s Kapiti Coast.

blue balloon: a collection of haiku and senryu by Grant Caldwell
Collective effort press, 2021.
ISBN 9780959375527
Phillip Hall reviews

blue balloon: a collection of haiku and senryu

by Grant Caldwell

Grant Caldwell considers that the minimalist gems found in blue balloon ‘are both haiku and senryu’. This boundary-crossing hybridity is a pragmatist’s solution to the problem of adapting these ancient Japanese forms into a contemporary, English language context. And he is interested in the problems of this acclimatisation from both a theoretical and creative outlook. Caldwell opens his collection with a supportive, lyrical essay which describes his take on the reading and writing of these poems. For Caldwell, haiku and senryu are ‘immersive’ in the way they evoke a season or location (geographical/interior). And while they can be humorous or sombre, they are nearly always a rendering of a moment of transient beauty, a sense of aloneness or tranquillity. They ‘avoid similes and intrinsic (overt) metaphors’, and usually consist of two parts: a phrase, broken in two, and a fragment. There is ‘often a break, or ‘jump’ or link of universal or ‘other’ implication…between the phrase and the fragment’. And, when written in English, commonly comprise two or three lines of nineteen (or fewer) syllables with a punctuation mark (usually a dash) acting as a hinge between the two segments that make up the poem.

There is nothing in Caldwell of the haiku devotee, that refined introvert striving for profundity, as he explodes stereotypes with a sly and irreverent eye for comedy. Many of his funniest moments are centred on keen observations from the insect world. Here are four of my favourites:

in hundreds of years

you have not learned about windows –

bee     (p 11)

*

mind out, fruit-fly –

i’m trying to write here!     (p 17)

*

black ants –

running both ways

along a black irrigation pipe     (p 24)

*

opening the door

to let a fly out –

two more fly in     (p 86)

If insect behaviour can reveal, in a light-hearted way, something of our foibles, while encouraging us to feel a little more attached to our surroundings, what about a dog pissing?

in a city street

a dog pisses on a shop window –

online shopping     (p 42)

This is a marvellously-clever pun, subversively comic and vividly entertaining. And while observing a dog in the process of awkwardly squatting or cocking a leg to piddle (or poop) is quirkily amusing, what can be better than laughing at death or religion? Caldwell’s comic turns often pirouette on the point of punning and juxtaposition in order to destabilise certainties and anxieties:

after three hundred years –

the skeletons

still have teeth     (p 52)

*

church carpark –

a white hearse one day

black the next     (p 78)

*

Good Friday –

everything

is shut     (p 30)

That final Good Friday haiku is a good example of how skilfully open-ended Caldwell is. This poem could be read as being critical of empty churches (with too much political clout) while everyone enjoys a long weekend, of being satirically sacrilegious (and I think it is), but the joke of everything being shut on Good Friday is also a clever allusion to Christ’s burial, and to the open door of the empty tomb discovered on Easter Sunday morning. This ingenious text of eight straightforward syllables invites a multiplicity of responses ranging from sacrilegious joy to ecstatic devotion. But, of course, Caldwell is not always satirical or funny. He also writes of seasonal or cultural phenomena in a way that is sombre (with a tone that is often reflective or grave). So, he has poems that speak to social anxiety and our (too often unmet) need for connection and collegiality:

a man putting leaflets

in letter boxes –

talking to himself     (p 12)

*

alone

watching the river –

a leaf passing     (p 26)

Caldwell also often reflets on death, alluding to our need to discover meaning in moments of bereavement:

winter chill –

a flock of starlings

wheels above the cemetery     (p 34)

*

at my father’s funeral –

my stepmother’s sons

carry the coffin     (p 17)

The sense of family disintegration, made all the worse by grief, is heartbreakingly wrought. It is another tragic reminder that for many of us, solace and pride cannot be found in familial love. The poems that most evoke a sense of existentialist angst, of the valiant if forlorn struggle to create something that is aesthetically beautiful, are focused on an isolated insomniac, toiling through the night:

late at night –

leaves

scatter across the street     (p 28)

*

insomnia –

dead leaves

blocking the gutter     (p 29)

*

so quiet

late at night –

the lamp     (p 32)

*

at 3 a.m.

a light across the street –

someone else awake     (p 33)

*

awake all night –

a mouse

in the wall     (p 91)

Caldwell is never, however, downtrodden for long. We often see him hailing glimpses of beauty, even bliss, in the gutter:

a puddle

in the gutter –

clear sky     (p 27)

*

a mudlark in the gutter

lifting wet leaves

for insects     (p 28)

*

puddles in the carpark

jumping with rain –

lit by streetlights     (p 76)

These poems delight in their naive surprise, and they are stunning reminders that the healing beauty of the natural world is also found in the city. But this is not a vindication of thoughtless and greedy development. Caldwell is not often explicitly (or didactically) political, his use of language is so dexterously nuanced and open-ended, but occasionally he writes a poem that would make a stunning environmentalist’s billboard:

the coal mine

is

the canary     (p 22)

He also writes the odd poem reflecting on his creative process, often with an eye for self-effacing humour:

perfect haiku –

falls like an autumn leaf

on still water     (p 79)

*

after strong coffee

i can’t stop writing

bad haiku     (p 46)

*

at 3 a.m.

waiting for haiku –

it never comes     (p 33)

And one of my favourite treasures in this collection is the deceptively simple observation set in Kyoto, Autumn, 2015:

temple entrance –

no threshold     (p 62)

This apparently artless poem, with minimalist fuss, expands horizons and nourishes our ways of thinking about spirituality and interconnectedness. It invites us to rethink what is sacred, what is profane? It is a chime for promise and grace.

Grant Caldwell, blue balloon: a collection of haiku and senryu. Melbourne: collective effort press, 2021.
ISBN: 978-0-9593755-2-7

Published: September 2022
Phillip Hall

Phillip worked for many years as a teacher of outdoor education and sport throughout regional and remote Australia. He now resides in the Melbourne suburb of Sunshine where he is a passionate member of the Western Bulldogs Football Club. Phillip’s poetry, essays and reviews can be seen in such spaces as Best Australian Poems, The Blue Nib, Cordite Poetry Review & Plumwood Mountain while his poetry collections include Sweetened in Coals (Ginninderra Press), Borroloola Class (IPSI), Fume (UWAP) and (as editor) Diwurruwurru: Poetry from the Gulf of Carpentaria (Blank Rune Press).

He co-publishes the poetry e-journal, Burrow, at: https://oldwaterratpublishing.com

And his brand-new poetry collection is Cactus. This can be ordered at: https://recentworkpress.com/books/product/cactus/

Strokes of Light by Lucy Alexander
Recent Work Press, 2020.
ISBN 9780648834304
Thriveni C Mysore reviews

Strokes of Light

by Lucy Alexander

We need a Wordsworth to see daffodils. That is the unencumbered power of poetry in particular and of literature in general. Expression of thoughts in words forms a foundation for a belief in progress. It also serves as an example of truth. Though the origin and expectation of poets’ thoughts are often misrepresented, the truth comforts the readers’ mind. A writer’s sensibility turns to the contemplation of a reader’s consciousness.

Hence, Strokes of Light by Lucy Alexander is a work of relative selflessness that engages reader fascination. This is possible when the literary work makes no sign of labour and the author creates it with no hope of reward of any sort.

The poet of Strokes of Light conquers thoughts in four parts, ‘Strokes of Light’, ‘Childpoems’, ‘Flight From Gravity’ and ‘Luminous Things’.

The poem, ‘Strokes of Light’ reminds one of the saying, ‘There’s many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip’. There are thoughts that never materialise to words. A home with contradictions and practical conflicts, Mind indeed becomes an old witch’s house. As the conscious poet, a trespasser tries to think, rain of thoughts find a place to rest on paper, and the poet knows not to rake up ash in the oven, ‘the burnt out thoughts’, that may spoil the magic of the present moment. The poet says:

Here the brushstrokes are all downwards, like rain that comes in as thick as hard pressed crayon. The old house certainly a witch’s with owls nesting in the cloven roof beams, their eyes the glimpse of paper beneath the overworked surface. A slim trespasser lights a match on her shoe and counts seconds between the warning strokes of light tearing up sky, before touching it to the paper. Smoke flies out the chimney – all fear no heat, gone without even leaving dents in the shading where ink might find a place to pool.

(5)

In this light, the poem ‘Deathcap’ haunts for the bewitching fructified thoughts. The poet says:

The witch still shuttles through dreamscapes, doesn’t matter how many times she is told she is not there. Fire, the mocker of magic, flares among the graphite smoke; trespassing again and again on memory’s chimney.

(6)

'A mystic is a person who has a direct experience of the sacred, unmediated by conventional religious rituals of intermediaries', Mirabai Starr, author of Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics, tells OprahMag.com. 'A mystic is someone who has an experience of union with The One—and The One may be God, it may be Mother Earth, it may be the cosmos. That experience is rare, but everyone has them I think, where you momentarily forget that you are a separate ego, personality, self, and you experience your interconnectedness with all that is', Starr continues.

In the poem, ‘Mystic’ the poet says:

It’s not easy being a mystic these days. Too much data to drink gradually; no time to taste blasted stars or poke in the pockets of your mind until you cough up ancestral memories. …  smells metallic and full of exhaustion.

(10)

‘Sleep’ is a poem of profound meaning. It has cultural elements. It has transcendental belief. It surprises the reader by saying:

The future is surely made of sleep. Soft stuff of drip down cloud effect, bottle body drowsy, chimed with silence, doused with absence. The future forms from the past – dropping into moment after moment. We will be content with empty as there’s no choice but flit high but lay down low. She was not asleep, her face the rigid calm of not being there, after her family sang all night for three nights and the monks came and went taking their robes and the waft of incense. We send kites into the sky, we send paper cranes into the river, we send poems into the void…

(11)

After such like stoic flow, the poem, ‘Floodplain’ is distinctive. One’s mind should after all accommodate and deal with world’s thoughts too. The poet says:

The floodplain is full of the black earth we are made of. All of the world’s particles pass through this zone: yours, too. Have them arranged so your heart can weigh in. Have them in order, crystallised and formatted. The light frothing up will hold your new name. Hurry to smear this stinking mud all over your life events: erase them all.

(15)

In Childpoems, the poet explores Summer and Winter of childhood, the habitat and ecological relation of self towards picturesque surroundings. The poem ‘Summer’ puts:

My childhood was full of summer, the sky riddled blue and tiny cicadas clicked and hummed as if they held out heat in their voices.

(19)

The poem ‘Winter’ says:

Every morning the frost fitted onto everything – leaves, cars and slithered onto roads. The dog’s breath came out like dragons our own caught light and made rainbows.

(20)

The creed of poetry that emerges from, ‘River Child’, ‘Sea Child’, and ‘Sky Child’ is one of mildness and quiet thinking carrying profoundness. So the reader is taken through a different journey as the poet says:

hiding all her toes, greener than a forest’s secret running easily into the future.

(24)

he leans into the wind his life for a moment hooked on

(25)

If you fall you will swoop musical light, a feather in sky.

(26)

In the 'Afterword', the poet mentions:

Sometimes a poem echoes with strange premonition.

Under the ordinary plying of words in sequence is the remarkable position they leave one another in.

(57)

Poems under ‘Flight from Gravity’ are such poems playing on the psyche of the reader, stirring one’s mind to deep thinking. In the poem, ‘Crow’, the poet says:

I hail the wind. … ...        but I will not follow its instruction. With my feathers I winnow the direction, I sift it for my intentions. I cannot take me, the way I take flight from gravity. Burned I was. Burned more than Magpie who kept her voice. Burned I was. Burned more than Currawong who calls evening into being and plots all night with the fire still in her eye.

(35)

‘Magpie’, ‘Rooster’, ‘Cat’, ‘Dog’, ‘Snake’, everything seems to take flight from gravity to the poem, even the mushroom that sinks back to soil. After taking the reader through this refreshing journey, the poet settles down for inspirational poetry in ‘Luminous Things’, making the reader sit down and listen to her thoughts on dream, dusk, spring day, beach, shore, pears, and mountains.

Clear and consistent, Lucy’s poetry aims at something deep. Imagination and visioning are primary requirements of the reader of poetry and ‘Strokes of Light’ just brings awareness of that singular truth, making it a nice collection of literary merit.

Lucy Alexander, Strokes of Light. Canberra: Recent Work Press, 2020. ISBN: 9780648834304

Published: September 2022
Thriveni C Mysore

is a science teacher from Karnataka, India. She is locally acknowledged for her critical essays and articles on Philosophy and Education. Her books in Kannada on Philosophy and Science have won State awards. Being actively involved in Environmental Awareness Programs, she holds lectures and presentations for students. Amidst life’s complexities, she finds divine-solace in reading Nature poems.

Some Sketchy Notes on Matter by Angela Gardner
Recent Work Press, 2020.
ISBN 9780648404248
Thriveni C Mysore reviews

Some Sketchy Notes on Matter

by Angela Gardner

Poetry, a work of art, introduces the reader to an individual world – the poet’s world. Reading them gives a satisfying experience because it is the world the reader shares with the poet. If such unification happens, then there lies the success of writing. Poetry like art represents the present. Though nature is as liquid as slow-flowing glass, the ecological perspectives have changed in quick succession. The readership is equally interested in the 'thens' and the 'nows'.

In an 'Afterword', the poet says:

Just as architecture can influence lives, poetry can change how we see the world and our place in it, encouraging us to be open and fearless and take responsibility for our actions. (73)

This serious note is heard in the poem, ‘Glass’. The poet says:

Until the house is a sky made of uprights of forest and everywhere the leaves are set against more leaves in the trees and in the hanging of the clouds.

(3)

The way in which a human world exploits nature is an unbearable truth of which a reader is made aware. And as the poet enters ‘the sky as birds will do’, the reader also plays along.

In the poem, ‘Unkempt if you will’, the poet describes the summer. The poet’s response to the onset of summer which the reader very much likes is the same kind of summer one wishes to participate in. Hence the poetic imagination strikes high with resonance as the poem reads:

mazy with grass seed and insects. By which you read Summer. A season warm and static. Nothing surely can happen beyond the buzz of the bees in the salvia. Stay here, lie on the lawn the whole day until at last we must seek shelter.

(4)

Enormity of human destruction is dramatic in gentle thoughts as expressed in the poem, ‘Waiting for the rain’. Widespread, bellbirds have survived well even in the presence of introduced predators. They are territorial and defend colony areas communally and aggressively excluding most other passerine species. This can also be said of human presence in nature. Therefore, the human-made garden between forest and more forest is annoying to one’s conscience. The poet says:

Restless. The wind a pressure, an equalization come to heat and violence. And the garden, just a hill-top field between forest and more forest. … Turbulent paradise, thirsting. Only the bell-birds active in their harvesting and destroying, and in that, insistent. Their unremitting turbine, and behind that another turbine of some greater force, and that only just held-back.

(5)

The poem, ‘I return to my body’ is a wonderful poetic image of present day life and society. The poet explains about the day’s work, of being merchandise instead of a living being blessed with five senses. The ugliness of digital life, duality of human ethics, failures and confusion are cleverly concealed as motifs. The disaster of being a human itself is very well said in the poem as:

                                                On the shelves in the co-op there’s butter full of fatty acids and there’s margarine full of emulsifiers. Animal, synthetic, diglycerides and preservatives visible pattern (iso-grid) stiffening. My brain is shrinking through lack of sleep.

(8)

Suffering of the ecosystem exercises an active influence on the poem, ‘Many ways, in pieces’. The poet starts to peel away the grotesque human action by saying:

Watch the child until she goes through the door. Do we learn: anything? That desire and light enter, that we can choose analytics or ignore them. It creates an economy in which we service each other :the fire-tailed finch killed by ambition and certain clarity the mouse drowned in a bucket and boiled for her bones. Tundra defrosts in a methane stink of rot.

(11)

In ‘Mapping progress’, the poet portrays nature by saying all that can be said to make a difference, with sympathy, with temperament to create rightful impact. The poet says:

The maps also acknowledge men died, their throats cut as examples of the mechanical, with stipples so predictable for Empire [to be] insulted. The god lies deviated poet-soldier-courtier, the great river virtually identical, devout of fertility, awaiting either mortality or population replacement

(19)

In the poems, ‘Reality very close to a dream’, and ‘Early lessons in colonialism’ the poet is explaining destiny in simple elemental passions.

Poetic inventions in the poem, ‘Killing time’ are brilliant. It is about a contract killer remembering America. It is a poem with many dimensions, a huge canvas that has both grass and moving cloud. The poet takes the reader through nature, human frivolities, weaknesses, Environmental surroundings, digitalised worldly pleasures, jobs, cars, streets, everything. For a reader it is like being on a roller-coaster, emotions stretched to the extreme. The strain of the poet becomes worthy once the reader realises the force of the word play:

…And how in those stories, before they worked it out, the bodies pushed up from their graves like it was Judgement Day.

(34)

In ‘Notes to architects’, the poet opens up the human closet to empty out the best kept weaknesses. The poet explores our concrete world in poems, ‘Hotels’, ‘The private house’, ‘Shopping malls’, ‘Car showrooms’, ‘Piers’, ‘Towers’, ‘Bridges’, ‘Pleasure grounds’ and thoughtfully makes the reader aware of the comfort of air-conditioners, momentarily giddy balconies, overtired rooms, foot traffic, sparkling reefs, sequins, satellite dish, sky pagodas, clever thievery of structures promising view of sky, silhouettes, sundry domes and such. It is these that stand for ‘comforts’ in human world; psychological peace is acquired through such materialistic elements and the reader is struck by the fact that one rarely thinks above and beyond these things.

‘Some sketchy notes on matter’ is one of the poems grouped under the name ‘In the valley’. The poet laments on manmade life complications. A digital wave has swept off much of human qualities creating a void. Human activities are also punishing nature, the ecosystem. The poet says:

…Cement trucks line up in a new street; pump suburb over mud. Land that’s criss-crossed with creeks and scrub. Reed banks, piled earth and muddy pools – tangible interfaces with material properties.

(58)

Absurd delusions have gained such intensity that they have become a new norm. Bringing up such digitalised existence, the poet says:

Funfair, parents, child – you try to hold them in your head because maybe ( just maybe) it’s the only place they fully exist. And yet I need to free up space in my life (not everything is held in the clouds). Let’s slow this down, do the calculations, And see where the child is going.

(59-60)

The poet returns to nature once again for solid sense, for grounding, in the poem, ‘Horizon’. Earth reality that has to be attained is expressed as:

Out in the garden the lorikeets are reverent in a chatty way. The light says we are beside the sea a glimpse of water and fuschia. There’s kangaroo paw. In everyone’s gardens the horizon. We read the possibility of summer in the sound of insects the wind chilling, showers possible and changeable.

(72)

Some Sketchy Notes on Matter by Angela Gardner has the ability to construct a form in a reader’s mind. Creating a pleasing atmosphere for peaceful inspiration in readers' minds is a key target of writing poetry and this book of amazing poetry achieves this. Aesthetic ideas posses the power to transform one’s perception and Some Sketchy Notes on Matter does just that.

Angela Gardner, Some Sketchy Notes On Matter. Canberra: Recent Work Press, 2020. ISBN: 9780648404248

Published: September 2022
Thriveni C Mysore

is a science teacher from Karnataka, India. She is locally acknowledged for her critical essays and articles on Philosophy and Education. Her books in Kannada on Philosophy and Science have won State awards. Being actively involved in Environmental Awareness Programs, she holds lectures and presentations for students. Amidst life’s complexities, she finds divine-solace in reading Nature poems.

Redgate by Robert Wood
Red River, 2020.
ISBN 9788194509325
Thriveni C Mysore reviews

Redgate

by Robert Wood
Robert Wood, the poet of Redgate acknowledges:

In these poems, I have built from that positive sense to describe a Redgate of the mind’s eye, a poetic territory that combines the gnomic with the lyric, with an emphasis on the reconciliation between Eastern and Western Philosophies. Here, I have presented a future hope grounded in what I am surrounded by, weaving together memory, observation, fact, fiction, imagination to paint a picture of a welcome location. (155)

The chosen theme of ‘Redgate’ may be Redgate, a place located on Wardandi country, to the south of Margaret River in the south west of Western Australia, but the picture of a place suffused with poetry would not have been a picture of the place at all. It addresses larger than that involved – life’s philosophy in a good manner.

The poem, ‘We Threshed’ touches on the futility of new-fondness of human world as:

We threshed, we scythed, revealed to ourselves the seeds of the already made abundant with hail and rain.

(19)

Creating an impersonal circumstance, to make believe human futility, the poet portrays human activity in the ecosystem, done not for the benefit of the system, but for the human gain. In the two poems, ‘We made’, ‘We became’, the poet says:

We made an effort to flower labour by labour through blue shadow, through faces the wind turned. There was no envy in the grain we traded for uniforms then uniformity then juniper then the mint we grew next to grief itself.

(23)

We became bottlebrush, red loomed over turnips flowered the headboards amidst the parade of charred remains. They asked for industriousness, beets. We gave them honey, not ours, and in return we witnessed.

(27)

Quite apart from the limitations of Redgate, the poem, ‘The Rum Trade’ embraces the plaintiveness of whale-like people. It can also be interpreted in more ways than one. Same plaintiveness can happen with reading, book trade, drinking, rum trade, living, and life -- a trade too. The poet says:

Down the coast the rum trade was idle and the whales were plaintive as always as always.

(29)

The poet’s view of Redgate by this time of reader’s poetic journey is clear and as the poem, ‘We laid’ declares:

We laid the chillies out put the haul by handful into bags, spoke of that time with turtles and dugongs, sea celery and rafts. As the day mellowed, the honeyeaters sand out and we braided a future from stalks, knowing, once more, that endless summer brought cold comfort.

 (45)

The reader by now is aware of the poet’s harshness, his thirst for some justice, his yearning for balance. The poet’s temperament to feel passionately and profoundly is displayed in the poem, ‘We spoiled’. The poem exposes a mean race on the planet – humankind. The poet says:

We spoiled the universal broth by making waves, floated our boats on tides alone that rose up so. They arrived ashore on horses left a trace of nutmeg and the dry islands they carried in pockets with their inventory of salt pork. They had donkeys. They brought knives for fork tongues, waited by the warmth for light to come. They could not re-invent the wheel but, for them, we perfected the axle acting like ducks not rabbits searching needlestacks for hay.

 (59)

This melodrama continues in another poem, ‘West of Here’, and the poet says:
And what they meant, which is what we knew they always said was that here, east of the coast, and down the road from the limestone, was that we balanced the world with the soil that makes it so.

(63)

The Prayer of St Francis 'For it is in giving that we receive' did not mean climate then, but it means now. Speaking of scientific discoveries, Laura Helmuth writes:

The mechanics of climate change aren’t that complex: we burn fossil fuels; a byproduct of that burning is carbon dioxide; it enters the atmosphere and traps heat, warming the surface of the planet. The consequences are already apparent: glaciers are melting faster than ever, flowers are blooming earlier (just ask Henry David Thoreau), and plants and animals are moving to more extreme latitudes and altitudes to keep cool.

Even more disturbing is the fact that carbon dioxide lingers in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. We have just begun to see the effects of human-induced climate change, and the predictions for what’s to come range from dire to catastrophic.

The ecological strain with exclusive emphasis on the never-ending problem of plastics, powerlessness of the natural world against human activities and the absurd wars is left to one’s imagination in the poem, ‘We heard’:

We heard of the planes bombing them doing the work of ravens. On our shore plastic washed up and the whales in the distance swam forlorn.

(73)

Poems of such brilliance refresh the reader and when the poet brushes off all the extraordinary feats of human existence with a single stroke, thoughts flare up. The poem, ‘Compass’ reads:

We fell in the six directions. * They wandered with ambition.

 (135)

The poem, ‘Before us, the crays’ expresses the deepest distress of poetic thought still aimed at good-humor:

As the crays marched the way from the whitewater to the maze and back again to the reef and its caves to the secret traps we lay we swam and slept and ate the hearts and lungs of the giants before us in the woods where the shells of our belonging were made.

(153)

It is significant that the poet of Redgate has influence with unique imagination over the presence of nature, over ecosystem, over culture and tradition. Cultural elements resist easy transition of thoughts and so the boldness of source language steps down during transition.

Conscientious effort is made to look poetic thoughts like vague mystery but the poet succeeds in portraying nicer qualities of habitat with natural tendency, with affinity.

When poets’ visions succeed by virtue of their imaginative quality, poetry gets the scope of spontaneity. Many a time the reader does not realise the true importance of form in poetry and thereby fails to recognise the presence of flying thoughts bursting with inspiration.

Redgate written by Robert Wood with intuitive good taste is a good read, a poetic talent at home in a stylised form.

References

Laura Helmuth, ‘The Ten Most Disturbing Scientific Discoveries‘, Smithsonianmag.com (13 May 2010).

Robert Wood, Redgate. Bilingual Edition. Hindi translations by Abhimanyu Kumar. New Delhi: Red River, 2020. ISBN: 9788194509325

Published: September 2022
Thriveni C Mysore

is a science teacher from Karnataka, India. She is locally acknowledged for her critical essays and articles on Philosophy and Education. Her books in Kannada on Philosophy and Science have won State awards. Being actively involved in Environmental Awareness Programs, she holds lectures and presentations for students. Amidst life’s complexities, she finds divine-solace in reading Nature poems.

Autonomy: a book about taking our selves back by Kathy D’Arcy
New Binary Press, 2020.
ISBN 9780993580369
Thriveni C Mysore reviews

Autonomy: a book about taking our selves back

by Kathy D’Arcy

A characteristic mixture of self-respect and self-contempt runs through the body, of every woman on earth. Autonomy edited by Kathy D' Arcy has a subtitle: 'a book about taking our selves back'. The book surprises readers of all sexes, not by being dramatic, but by being honest. A voice of righteousness that reverberates through the hearts of readers after reading Autonomy justifies literary achievement.

In the 'Foreword', Ann Furedi says:

If a woman does not have the right to decide what happens to her own body, if she does not have the right to determine what medical intervention is acceptable, her very personhood is undermined.

The moral status and ‘personhood’ of the fetus may be contested, but surely the status of the woman as a moral agent and a person is beyond challenge. (2)

In an 'Introduction', Kathy D'Arcy says:

The fight for reproductive justice is about people power, and so is this project. Through telling the stories of how we celebrate owning our own bodies, and of what it feels like when that right is taken away, we hope to help those whose bodily autonomy has perhaps never been threatened to understand why the decision to be pregnant must always be a choice. (3)

Without embroidery, the collection of essays, stories, plays, poems, Autonomy stands just for that, Freedom; Freedom of mind, body and spirit. Autonomy opens grandly with a perfect punch, a punch that keeps repeating in the collection till the end, powerful and meaningful.

The taste of cinders in Sinéad Gleeson’s mouth is hence felt by the reader in the poem, ‘Kindling’. The poet says:

Start a fire with fallen branches Of trees carved with names, rutted against or hung from, choosing death over shame. Add kindling, twigs thin as wagged fingers. Paper: bibles, prescriptions, tablet instructions, Old legislation, ink long dry.

(6)

While everything on paper becomes so frightful for a woman in distress, Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill the poet of ‘Labhrann Medb’ translated as ‘Medb speaks’ by Michael Hartnett declares:

I will make incursions through the fertile land of Ireland my battalions all in arms my amazons beside me (not just to steal a bull not over beasts this battle – but for an honour-price a thousand times more precious – my dignity). I will make fierce incursions.

(9-11)

Eleanor Hooker dedicates her poem, ‘Delivery’ to the women who were incarcerated in Irish Magdalene Laundries. She says:

Drapes are assembled. Master and Matron decide this woman, raped into motherhood, shall not know her child. A boy. He is swaddled and taken away.

(34)

As the oppression and frustration dies down with the pounding against two locked green doors inside the delivery room, a shriek of being wronged pierces through the words of Nicola Moffat in the poem, ‘Matryoshka’. She says:

that one’s whole life amounts to being a vessel for a tinier, neater version of oneself, that one’s whole life can be measured by the hands and laws of men.

(39)

Earlier in the same poem, the poet unravels a shocking universal reaction of gender treatment:

to teach you the ways of men pats you on the head, afterwards, calls you a ‘good girl’

(39)

Such like generalizations bears most strongly on the readers’ mind. The case of Savita Halappanavar etched in the minds of women all over the world creates an ether filled void again while reading Annette Skade’s poem ‘Brigid’s Well’. The poet says:

… red ribbon for a woman racked in a hospital bed. Branches bend, at the root the pool shivers, casts twisted beads, a thousand red ribbons. I untangle satin, work free her tender ghost to fly on wind over the water.

(45)

The reader recalls the brave woman. Savita Halappanavar who died of medical misadventure, died for Ireland; sparking honest-protests, pushed the Irish government to introduce the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act 2013, made the people of Ireland vote Yes to repeal the Eighth Amendment by a margin of 2 to1. Autonomy is all about this, about bringing a change.

In the poem, ‘˃(Greater Than)’, poet Megan Cronin strikes like a thunder with her rationality. The poet says:

Big girl heavy girl fat

But you are so much more than that.

You are heart

But no one tries to measure the weight of your kindness

or your burdens and you are attitude.

(63-64)

Responsibility of women in upbringing and the struggles thereof is wonderfully addressed to in the poem ‘Dear Son’ by Anne Casey. The poet says:

Listen to me Asking you to be the kind of man Who treats a woman like an equal Or better still, like a queen Like a crystal vase To be handled delicately With due deference And only after permission is clearly granted It is about Being the kind of man Who makes your Mama want to weep With pride

(76-77)

Donna Rose paints the woes of poverty in her poem, ‘Rats’. The poet incredibly draws sand- picture of  women who struggle either ways, with or without basic necessities. She says:

How can we call any woman free when a life of poverty is viewed as

adequate punishment?                          ...

It was too much for her chapped and blistered hands to hold, the

mouldy ceiling, the eternal dampness of living in neglect, and

shame, and poverty and no matter what she did, the rats never left.

But, eventually, we did.

(107)

Eva Griffin startles the reader by psychological depth and compels the poem, ‘All creatures good, small and Irish’ to be quoted. As the poem opens with,

Bury my bones in England.

(120)

the reader feels jolted. The cultural risks and societal pressures are tackled with great nicety. The poet says:

Raise us well, teach us needlework, guide our hands through soapy water, feed us doctrine, and when we stray lock us up windowless with the rest of the dogs wheezing away all summer long, skin blistered with our new names. Bury us good and straight and right, grieve us devoutly, and from the depths of a mass grave I’ll mourn the life I thought I’d live, wish that my bones were in England for the land I’m in is no longer good and Irish. Countless feet treading so softly on my sisters and I shouting out a history of all your violence.

(120-121)

This is the very spirit for which the collection, Autonomy was made. The same emphasis infallibly rises in Megan Cronin’s poem, ‘Ex-Hurricane Ophelia’. Here the poet says:

And I’m sorry to tell you, Ophelia

That 518 years later,

Not much has changed.

(135)

The law of the land that hands down 14 years in jail for something that is not under one’s control is something that cannot be imagined by others. Taryn de Vere in her poem ‘Pregnant in Ireland’ says it all; the restrictions, the sufferings and the punishments. The poet says:

The trauma Of carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term. I tell my teenage daughter And she is scared. Not of abortion pills 14 times safer than pregnancy But of her mother going to jail.

(229)

Matt Kennedy, poet of ‘Ireland is an Empty House’ concludes:

I would want to be home Repeal the Eighth Amendment Ireland is an empty house We will not stop till it feels like home

(240)

To discover further the barrenness of human civilization, to see the hollowness of each passing era of shadows, Autonomy dissects before the reader through essays and plays. Painful assessments and recordings of Claire Hennessy in ‘Colony’, throbbing Marcella O' Connor in ‘The Great Hunger’ who says very coldly:

The bag emptied. The procedure finished

(25)

the pain of giving birth to stillborn Grace Saoirse as explored by Tracey Smith in ‘Grace’s Story’, Eileen Flynn declaring:

Ireland – you’re a little bit backwards when it comes to equality.

It’s not easy for me to stand up here as a Traveller woman and speak about abortion…

There are also cultural rights, but I’m focusing here on women’s rights.

(51-52)

Autonomy also gives the reader honour as she reads: from the complication of Jane in the play ‘Vessel: a screenplay’ by Tina Pisco & Amelia de Buyl-Pisco, to displaced Ayala’s melting in ‘The Contaminating Agent’ by Aoife Inman. All and such voices rise sharply and by the time the reader reaches Emilie Roberts’ essay, ‘Edges’ feels just like the way she says:

…with the same wave of nausea in their guts, the same sweaty palms, the same jackhammer heartbeat.

(279)

but, one thing the reader does not feel is lighter. Just, different.

Anna of Sue Norton, Ciara of Margaret Cahill, Emma of Mary Coogan, perhaps each portrayal of woman in Autonomy is not completely restricted by time and place. They are characters of each and every woman, everywhere. It is universal with a slight difference.

The difference lies because of cultural complexities; otherwise, the problems pertaining to discrimination, gender or the likes, have presented themselves in a different manner. Culturally-cloaked sufferings never see the light, yet they exist in the deepest heart of every woman.

Autonomy edited by Kathy D' Arcy acquires additional significance just because the theme – the feel – the essence – the reality – is universal, so shall the positive outcome of the movement/project in one country be rejoiced in other places of oppression.

It is dangerous to try and simplify such a book of literary merit that projects social complexity, because, like testing waters History turns to Literature when necessary. It has to be truthful.

Autonomy the book, shall be read, written about and remain trusted for that matter.

Published: September 2022
Thriveni C Mysore

is a science teacher from Karnataka, India. She is locally acknowledged for her critical essays and articles on Philosophy and Education. Her books in Kannada on Philosophy and Science have won State awards. Being actively involved in Environmental Awareness Programs, she holds lectures and presentations for students. Amidst life’s complexities, she finds divine-solace in reading Nature poems.

nothing to declare by Mags Webster
Puncher & Wattman, 2020.
ISBN 978192580987
Rosalee Kiely reviews

nothing to declare

by Mags Webster
Mags Webster is a poet, researcher, freelance writer and editor who lives on Whadjuk Boodjar of the Noongar nation in Western Australia. Born and raised in the UK before moving to Australia in 2003, Webster lived in Hong Kong from 2011 to 2014. Her first collection of poetry The Weather of Tongues won the 2011 Anne Elder Award, and second collection nothing to declare was published by Puncher and Wattman in 2020.

In the five parts of nothing to declare, Webster traverses the transcontinental places of her outer world, as well as interior worlds of play and imagination. Widely read, Webster plays with form and theme in several of the poems inspired by fellow poets like Carol Ann Duffy, Octavio Paz, Mahmoud Darwish and Tracy Ryan.

In the first section, in particular, Webster explores imagined worlds. For instance, in 'Mrs Batman M.D, Msc, Psych.D', Webster executes the playful irony employed by Duffy in The World's Wife, in which the wives of famous men, along with female characters speak candidly of their lot. “I know you'd rather I stayed hidden” (16). Mrs Batman says, giving section one its title, and proceeding to probe her husband's psyche along with their life together. “We—

should talk about the real problem: your speluncaphobia. How can a bat be scared of caves? I blame it on your mother

(17)

This is a mercurial, shape-shifting collection, as Webster inhabits the voices of others, whilst retaining resolutely her own. In 'Jessie from the Golden Shovel', Webster uses a form that was devised to play homage to the poet Gwendolyn Brooks, in which the last words of each line are taken from a line or lines in a Brooks poem, in this case 'We Real Cool'. The poem merges the character Jessie in another poem, and Webster uses clever  wordplay to fit the form: for example, 'real' becomes 'surreal', and 'sin' becomes 'assasin' (14-15).

In the poem 'Hybrid', Webster springboards from an Alice Oswald fragment of poetry that is cited as an epigraph to say—

I am half flower, half self; I grow a spathe to wrap you in a perfumed hood...

(3)

The aural elements in this poem and others, the frequency of plosives, words like 'spathe' and 'hood', accentuate the kinks and angles of the flower. This calls to to mind the heterogenous natural world, a richness and imperfect natural beauty. This is not a soft, dainty poem about a flower; Oswald's poetry often has a similar textural quality of tips and taps and spiky turns, within which there is a sense of the movements of a three dimensional world. 'Hybrid' continues—

You seek me like a bee;

you bumble the ferment of my smell, butt at the pollen-stippled core, where spheres encrusted with soft stings wait to latch onto your limbs.

(3)

And so it is that the self becomes the bee and the other the flower, in a morphing that flips the boundaries with the natural world.

In section two, the titular 'Nothing to declare', Webster particularly employs blazon and contreblazon, the cataloguing of the physical attributes of the usually female subject, and its inversion. For example, in 'cinq à sept'—

in this hotel room its flame

is on my thigh

you trace the line of glow

(28)

and

[t]oday you kissed the scars

you made   lit fire again

beneath my skin

(29)

There is a particular intimacy to this section. In 'Nothing to declare', Webster mingles a kind of blazon/contreblazon with the cataloguing of the world and its pleasures. “I fall / in love with countries, use men / as their proxies”—

I flowed from Italy

to Mexico, carrying my cravings

like contraband. I dived down

under, prised apart

the hemispheres with my nomadic

need. But it wasn't enough—

waking alone on the blade

of a cold equator.

(34-35)

The poems in the third section, 'Pauses in transit', have a sparer and more meditative quality and several appear to have been inspired by Webster's time in Hong Kong. For example, the title poem 'Pauses in transit' after the Octavio Paz's poem 'Between going and staying', has a similar mood to Paz of the stasis between, or amidst movement—

On a concrete cliff, a butterfly alights, spreads a tiny book of papery wings makes a poem on an opaque wall thirty-nine storeys high.

(40)

The butterfly, a natural being 39 stories up in the smog of Hong Kong, is discovered as a kind of hymnody of the natural world, an assertion that even in an ultra-human-made environment, nature persists. In answer to Paz, this poem takes on a quasi-spritual dimension, a pause of contemplation, of rest and oneness with the world. Also finding pleasure in small, quiet things is 'Game'. The poet asks “[w]hy do I—

cook up this stew—cartilage, brain— boiling these old bones so long? Unforgettable smell. Meat falling weakly from fork. You.

(51)

In the fourth section, 'Recovered memory', death is considered as a death of selves, of fallow time. In 'The Before & in the After', Webster writes, '[t]he year before you leave, dying wasps / crawl into shoes' (58). In 'Movement's a poultice'—

Earth's a numbing to hide in. Each night

by the side

of the road, you let silence transfuse you, knuckle your body

down small.

(61)

And in the poem 'Recovered memory', there is the desire to recover 'some kind of this-ness / lost' (65), a pre-language, elemental time, 'just as fish dried into legs / and Earth was tamed / by naming' (66).

In the last section, 'Breathing lessons', there is an opening out, an expansion in taking a breath. In 'Source', water flows through the four seasons of the English countryside as the 'I' of the poem—

I curved, rehearsed

new lines against the notch

and prompt of bank

gave birth

to evergreen nursed peppered threads

of reeds, I rocked

the dark wild

of the watercress.

(69-70)

The 'I' flows through a year's seasons 'without the source of you' (71), therefore grief is imagined as a force that ebbs and flows like the seasons. Life pushes forwards, and the seasons move into the next, despite the speaker's desire to stay buried in the winter: 'don't want / the thaw to pick / my locks, but leave me / silent in the earth' (71).

'Nostos' is a theme, in Ancient Greek literature, of a hero returning by sea. In modern times, Webster makes her return by air with Cavafy on her mind, a reference to that poet's famous, poignant poem 'Ithaka' about the meaning of a long journey home and the wisdom gained along the way. Webster settles back to earth—'Call it homing/ rather than homecoming' (72), and after the airport doors close—

An easterly blows from the night-washed hills, the air is warm and soft as ironed cloth. You breathe blue flames of eucalypt, till your body unlocks its prodigal shape, and distance is cleansed from your bones.

(72)

Going away was a not-belonging, an accumulation of fine things and knowledge, but back home, presumably Perth ('cooled in the Indian Ocean'), there is the desire to become part of the vast beyond, the more than human world and the 'emptiness / as full as you've ever seen' (72). Beyond the edge of the human are the elemental qualities of the land, the colours of dusk, of 'Lilac. Plum. / Russet. Silver sage' (73), of a land that has 'archived colour and time' (73). This poem seeks harmony between humans and their habitat, and endows a quasi-spiritual quality to the land of home, the story of the earth that answers from the ancient rock, rather than cerebrally, from an anthropocentric perspective.

The subject matter of nothing to declare ranges broadly and boldly, through worldly and imagined places, in language that is always interesting, alive and alert to irony. As Nicholas Wong states on the blurb, Webster's 'poetics arises from her want to please our ears', and it is this pleasure in sound that makes this rich collection sing.

References

Nostos‘, Wikipedia, (accessed 07.11.2020) Share, Don, ‘The Golden Shovel’, Poetry magazine online.(accessed 09.11.2020)

Mags Webster, nothing to declare. Sydney: Puncher & Wattman, 2020. ISBN: 978192580987

Published: September 2022
Rosalee Kiely

is a poet and journalist. Her first book of poetry Creature was published by Ginninderra Press in 2019.

boots by Nadia Rhook
UWAP, 2020.
ISBN 9781760801182
Michael Griffiths reviews

boots

by Nadia Rhook

Nadia Rhook’s fine collection boots traverses many sites and lands, always with the heavy footsteps of a (mindful) settler. But I’d rather start with water, since Rhook’s collection crosses rivers several times, from the Yarra to the Swan to the Han river in Vietnam. The Swan River’s name and story have little to do with Black Swans in Noongar understanding, and I refer readers to Kaartdijin Noongar to learn more.

The poet’s journey, which (like mine) is a settler’s journey, is one of the kind of partial, but also respectful, patient engagement with the cultures whose Country she has traversed, from the Yarra to the Derbarl Yerrigan (Swan River). In the poem within boots that names Rhook’s current space of habitation, life, love and work: Perth, Wadjuk Noongar Country, “academics and jellyfish” play in that very river. The speaker juxtaposes an experience of settler profanity and banality, set within a thick prosaic stanza, with something more profound. The settler verse paragraph reads:

I walk, river to grass, bus stop to sea, ice age to iced latte. and the club, she hovers above the grass, thick walls, steep membership fee, full salad bar coleslaw potato all the condiments you ever dreamt of sweet chilli French balsamic Italian classic dressing sesame seeds pepitas not to forget the crispy crunchy croutons

This is punctuated before and after by the drift of the poem’s titular "jellyfish",

one of them , keeps swimming down to the sand , then rushing up to meet the surface as if , this is an urgent task

This is visionary, object-oriented poetry, accounting for the creature itself in the ekphrastic mode of the text. But it turns even more in lines evoking speech, like a child’s perhaps:

are you playing dear jellyfish are you paying for lunch, dear jellyfish , are you playing, jellyfish , in the Derbarl Yerrigan

(89)

If this childlike voice — or antiphony, perhaps a mother and child — articulates a sense of innocence. It also deliberately positions the speakers as unknowing of the sense of Turtle dreaming or the wider significance of the river. Yet the river’s power animates the poem nonetheless as it animates the voices and curiosities of the several voices in “academics and jellyfish by the Derbarl Yerrigan”.

Like this poem, with which I chose to begin, boots as a whole animates the political through the personal. This begins pointedly with the first crown or suite that hits early on in the collection: “empire”.

Rhook’s work as a professional historian engages in detail and great breadth with the history of empire, particular as it was experienced and relayed in Australia, an itinerary that engages the peoples of the Han river basin, the spectre of Viet the Kinh, Indigenous dispossession and its intersection with transcolonial comparison. Rivers such as Derbarl Yerrigan, when conceived of in Indigenous terms, decolonise the legacy of the Imperial and transcolonial with its mass incarceration, indenture and dispossession. But boots is frequently concerned with the personal as much as the political. So it is intriguing that the first poem in the crown “empire” ends:

but who cares what empire’s done I want to know what I have done, what the hell I’m doing.

(15)

The speaker of the poem “dream[s] of new ports, old road blocks” evoking a cathected sense of empire’s utopian artifice. But she also worries (as a historian might, so often wrapped up in both understanding and critiquing such a social formation): “what’s empire done to me?” The tone of this line is doubled, charged with at least two senses: “what’s empire done to me” as apologetic for empire—yes—but more profoundly, what has empire done to me: what are the scars that linger from this formation’s archive and its memory. As the poem has it, presenting the speaker’s attempt to cope: “(first comes breath, then comes violence, then comes . . . more breath).” As “empire III” informs us: “empire is a big secret to keep quiet” (17).

It is elegant the way Rhook offers her reader teases of the personal in a poem with so political a title as “empire”, and this paradigm iterates and develops through the collection. In “Once we were settlers”, a mother and daughter spend time together in a suburban backyard. Mark Rifkin, the north American scholar of settler and Indigenous literatures terms this “settler common sense”—a play on the Gramscian concept “critical common sense”. For Rifkin, “projects of elimination and replacement”, that define settler colonial societies do indeed, inhabit suburbs, far from massacre sites and locked cells, riven with death. For Rifkin these places “become geographies of everyday non-Native occupancy that do not understand themselves as predicated on colonial occupation or on a history of settler-Indigenous relation (even though they are)” (324). In Rhook’s poem, this is emphatically Aboriginal land—the mother and daughter “[r]ested a while, on shade on Wathauwarrung land”. But their awareness, along with the speaker of this fact is coupled with a critical sense that the banality of suburban life is also unsettling:

Gravity doesn’t work

in reverse, and settlers dream of pasture, we    Pushed lemons up hill

Look here! Somewhere new to treat as home

(25)

The sense that the speaker gives to the experience—which could perhaps be the girl reflecting on the time in the yard with her mother, days or months hence—is critical: “When we finally leave your country / We will take our rubbish with us”.

Reference

Mark Rifkin, “Settler Common Sense”, Settler Colonial Studies 3, 3–4 (2013): 322–40.

Nadia Rhook, boots, Crawley, WA: UWAP, 2020. ISBN: 9781760801182

Published: September 2022
Michael Griffiths

lives in Marrickville, Australia. He has published poetry in Paper Nautilus, Mascara Literary Review, and the Rye Whiskey Review. He teaches decolonial literature at the University of Wollongong. His book The Distribution of Settlement: Appropriation and Refusal in Australian Literature and Culture (UWAP) was released in 2018.

Tilting at Time by Greg Tome
Ginninderra, 2019.
ISBN 9781760417833
Daniela Brozek Cordier reviews

Tilting at Time

by Greg Tome

They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but what about its title? Being fascinated by fools, Greg Tome’s hook: Tilting at Time, is certainly what caught me. The title of this slim volume of poetry provides the context against which I have read Tome’s texts. Perhaps I ought not have, but I think the approach was justified. The work merits asking the questions: what has time to do with Quixote’s imaginary giants; and how are both of these sublime foes engaged with by Tome?

… they came upon thirty or forty windmills …, and as soon as Don Quijote saw them he said to his squire:

“Destiny guides our fortunes more favorably than we could have expected. Look there, Sancho Panza, my friend, and see those thirty or so wild giants, with whom I intend to do battle and to kill each and all of them …” (Don Quijote, Chapter VIII). [1]

In “This is The Time”, the second poem in Tome’s collection, he writes that twilight, when, “… the skeletons / of obscure truths” are revealed, is the time to write poetry (8-9). The volume opens on a light note, and though it descends briefly through uncomfortable ‘4 a.m. ruminations’, a writing time, (10), it rapidly lurches out again, into ‘5.15 Summer Morning’, when “a rooster auditions / for the role / of a comic Pavarotti” and “A new day shakes itself / before emerging from its kennel” (11). The volume’s galloping rhythm is echoed in the shapes of most of Tome’s poems. They initially irritated me with their ragged left margins and zagging form. If Cervantes’ Quixote loved to lunge and parry with his sword, Tome, I thought, was doing it with the tab key. Then I read the poems aloud and the purpose of their form was illuminated. The staggering lines are easy to read and impart a natural, effortless rhythm. Tilting at Time becomes an adventurous frolic, though not without pathos, nor depth.

The weight of Tome’s poems is best measured by stepping back from their apparent lightness and considering how he challenges our human species-centric ways of seeing. In “Fuchsia future” Tome indeed flaunts his “particular majestic display” (22), imagining rebirth as one of these vivid, exquisite, somehow quixotic little flowers children love to pop. His imagining seems absurd, fanciful, yet it is with poems such as this that Tome efficiently dislodges humanity from its throne by asserting the living energy of other species and their right to a future.

Tome does not limit this stance to species either. The poem “Bowral Landscape” journeys readers through the changes humans have wrought upon that particular place, with the personified landscape asking “How to overcome / what is inflicted on me”, before answering itself: “Time is on my side” (32-33). Is Tome suggesting that time is on the giant’s side, that humanity, for all its brazen vivacity can only play games with its own delusions? That might be strong, but such questions lie in wait for adventurous readers of this surprising collection.

From destabilising poems like “Fuschia future” and “Bowral Landscape”, Tome swerves onwards, concerning himself with how best to use this time we have. “Trailing Titinius” is a fascinating adventure on this journey (43-45). If, like I, you find yourself having to google “who is Titinius” you will find, as Tome indeed tells us in the poem, an odd peripheral figure, perhaps one like most of us, who plays his parts, does as asked by leaders on both sides – first Caesar, then Cassius – and then, all of a sudden, becomes the central figure in his own tragedy: Cassius, thinking him dead, commits suicide, upon which Titinius too must turn the fateful sword on himself. From the revelation of this point Tome pivots his poem and it becomes a meditation on the human desire to make a mark, to become immortal, and to be celebrated throughout time:

… there is an immortality of sorts

linked with the continued playing

of this tragic tale

who of us would not settle

for such a canonisation?

(44-45)

Another poem, “Rialto calling – a man who has nothing”, turns over the stage to a destitute man, “sprawled on the concrete / seemingly asleep”, surrounded by the magnificence of Venice, “of turquoise and silver” (54). Tome subtly plays out a picture of defiance and injustice, and ultimately asserts the powerful language of gesture: “No apology in his case / his space is his space” (55). The poem could be read as an allegory of the death of Venice, and the world as we humans know it, as we carry on with our frivolous commerce. Ultimately, what will stand strongest in the face of climate change will be the irrefutable evidence of this catastrophe, which will submerge everything we know.

From such portentous writing it might do well to turn back a few pages to a quirky looking little poem, “Red dot romance”. It’s one of Tome’s rare, almost straight down the left aligned works, which gives this one an air of candid simplicity:

The switch on the power point where I plug in the toaster has this red dot. It hypnotises me. I cannot escape its gaze.

(46)

Reading “Red dot romance” makes one smile inwardly in recognition of a shared, warm and humble domestic experience. The scene is quirky though apparently trivial, but against the other poems in this collection, it illuminates how our lives are affected by forces beyond ourselves, whether they be non-human “vibrant matter” (after Bennett), or human socio-political or cultural systems. Like Cervantes, Tome has written a work of humour, compassion and lightness (in all senses), but it is also a compassionate and critical work that touches the core of many ancient and contemporary conundrums. Tome offers readers a shift in perspective that allows us to see things a little differently and perhaps even gain a little agency in the world. It may be foolish to tilt at time, but if we could just shift the balance a little, should we not give it a go?

Notes

[1] The spelling Quijote is modern Spanish spelling. Apart from the quote from Raffel’s Norton translation, and reference to this, I have adopted the more usual English spelling, Quixote. It seems quixotic to me, not to do so.

Works cited

Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010. Cervantes, Miguel de. Don Quijote. Translated by Burton Raffel, edited by Diana de Armas Wilson. New York: Norton, 1999 [1605, 1615].

Greg Tome, Tilting at Time. Port Adelaide, SA: Ginninderra, 2019. ISBN 9781760417833

Published: September 2022
Daniela Brozek Cordier

was made by Tasmania’s wild and human places. She has taught English in Europe, been a guide on Tasmania’s Overland Track, worked in tourism and marketing, grown and sold plants, and was an environmental consultant for many years. She is principal of Bright South, which, among other things, publishes poetry and assists writers with marketing and promotion.

Parallax: a novel by Robin Morgan
Spinifex Press, 2019.
ISBN 9781925581959
Daniela Brozek Cordier reviews

Parallax: a novel

by Robin Morgan

Etymologically, the word “parallax” derives from the Ancient Greek “parallaxis”, which means “alternation”, but it is generally used to describe a shift in perspective. Indeed Robin Morgan, in the epigraph to her work, Parallax: a novel, offers this definition: “The effect where the position or direction of an object appears to differ when viewed from different positions”. Parallax is a useful concept for thinking about subjectivity (literary precedents in this field ranging from James Joyce to Slavoj Žižek), and Morgan certainly uses it in this sense, but she also employs it on many other levels in Parallax, as motif, form and theme. This makes the work a playful and satisfying read, but it is also not easy to find a stable perspective on it; which is, of course, appropriate for a work about such a concept.

Parallax comprises a series of stories “knitted” together by an overarching framing narrative, a yarn. This is a tale of The Yarner, a woman who lives a humble life in the “old part of the City”. Sometimes, “if in the mood when importuned, [she feeds] a story to a hungry listener”, such as the “stranger”, who arrives one day with purpose (1, 3). He is soon no longer a stranger, for his story intertwines with The Yarner’s. “A yarn imagines itself, … entangling”, as The Yarner says, “out of separate strands” (92). But a garment is not made of yarn alone; hooks and needles are also needed and Morgan is adept at wielding such tools. Her storytelling is addictive. As Ursula Le Guin is quoted, on the cover of Parallax, “The more I read, the more I did not want to stop” (and what a hook that is!). Not only does the story’s pace draw the reader in, with suspense injected into the framing narrative by each of the shorter stories within it, but so do the paratexts, and Morgan’s characters, places and times. The latter elements always seem half known yet mysterious, which draws in the reader and stimulates curiosity and the desire to read on. The former elements, paratexts (title, epigraph and Author’s Note) set up the reader for an adventure.

Morgan’s Author’s Note sets another frame around the central framing narrative, yet it stands further apart from the stories that make up the core of the book. The Note describes the extraordinary lifecycle, or generative cycle, rather, of the Monarch Butterfly. This cycle takes place over several generations. Within it, Morgan says, patterns of the butterflies’ behaviour may change. “No one butterfly ever makes the round trip”, Morgan tells us (xiv); therefore no one butterfly ever sees the whole story. Each knows or experiences or tells through its embodiment only its part. This motif carries to the rest of the book: The Yarner and the stranger, and each of the figures whose stories are told by these two, know only part of the whole, yet their tales are intertwined, concurrently recording and making each other as histories and possible futures.

I’ve been referring to Parallax as a “work” because, despite its subtitle insisting: “A Novel”, the term “novel” seems ill-fitting. Not only does the book read partially as a collection of short stories or parables unified by an overarching framing narrative, but, the stories themselves hardly seem “novel”. They have, rather, an air of timelessness. This complements, formally, the theme of story making. It is as if the tales have come to us from, simultaneously, a deep past (so deep it seems like an alternative world enfolding our own), and a strange future that also feels already half known, perhaps like a dream or an imagining – a forward interpolation of reference points taken from the world we already know. The stories tell of, for example, a village keeper of lists, who, “to notice what required listing … also had to notice what didn’t” (27). It is an unenviable task which leads the woman to a crisis of reason when she concludes that “even an order of chaos is denied us” (29). Among the other accounts it contains, there is one that describes a debate over the meaning of a river, and a child who reads the river (41-56); and another about a handmaiden and a holy man who must face the contradictions of their respective quests for freedom to learn that “no living thing [is] free” (83).

Certainly Parallax is a story about interconnectedness, yet it is also about difference and diversity, and how this can be reflected and communicated (or, conversely, obscured) in stories. Morgan herself is a committed feminist and an activist. One would, therefore, expect Parallax to feel radically feminist, and in fact it does, but, beyond its feminine motifs and characters, perhaps not in other ways readers might conventionally anticipate. Parallax is certainly not a strident call for a radical overturning of the status quo. Rather, the work is gentle and inclusive. It is a vision of co-existence and balance, rather than demanding what might otherwise amount only to a flip from one extreme to another. Morgan’s position is aptly symbolised by the yarning motif, which can be imagined as a double (or multi-ply) helix, each thread alternating and enfolding the other so that all together what is achieved is simultaneity, balance and a kind of in-motion wholeness. It’s an accommodating approach that asks only that we slow down and listen to stories, and that we think and dream and make and share our own new-old stories. “Imagination can conceal while it reveals”, Morgan/The Yarner suggests, but “[s]ooner or later though, everything gets used” (92) – it is through active participation in this ongoing work that our redemption from pointlessness or waste might lie.

I really enjoyed this Parallax. I loved the timeless folktale feel of the stories, and the wonderful evocation of the lives of Monarch butterflies, and the quiet, domestic humility and contradictions of The Yarner and the stranger. I cannot pretend to know how to definitively explain the “meaning” of all of the stories Parallax contains, but I think this is the point. They are stories about learning to see enormity and complexity and striving to arrive at a balanced perspective on all the world’s shiftiness and change. It is a book that will surely make readers think, but is also a tale told masterfully: full of hooks and needles.

Robin Morgan, Parallax: a novel. North Geelong, VIC and Mission Beach, QLD: Spinifex Press, 2019. ISBN 9781925581959

Published: September 2022
Daniela Brozek Cordier

was made by Tasmania’s wild and human places. She has taught English in Europe, been a guide on Tasmania’s Overland Track, worked in tourism and marketing, grown and sold plants, and was an environmental consultant for many years. She is principal of Bright South, which, among other things, publishes poetry and assists writers with marketing and promotion.

outfalls and neverends by Harriet Tarlo and Judith Tucker
Wild Pansy Press, 2018.
Anne M Carson reviews

outfalls and neverends

by Harriet Tarlo and Judith Tucker

Both of these innovative, beautiful works combine text and image-based ecopoetics to probe the intersection between humans and non-humans, built and natural environments. The works began as exhibitions, blending the work of long-term artistic collaborators – Harriet Tarlo (poetry) and Judith Tucker (drawings/paintings). This material genesis is obvious in the works’ designs, and crafting; exquisite concertina books with thick black covers and quality leaves inside. Opened out, you can see each work as a whole, as you would in the original exhibitions. They both also have page-turning capacity, allowing focus on single- or double-page spreads. The books are two-sided, portable, miniaturised versions of the exhibitions, cleverly lodged between two covers.

Silver titles, in lowercase, are embossed on the covers of both books. The silver against the black is immediately arresting and the pressed titles invite tactility – you want to feel the contours of the embossing with fingertips, feel the texture of the card cover, open the pages out. I read these elements as an invitation to engagement. As the books were produced for Arts Council funded shows – the beauty of the works, and the range of voices – ensure they will appeal to a broad constituency. In this sense the books are community arts projects.

These artists' books are creative responses to two places in North Lincolnshire. outfalls responds to the Louth Navigation and River Ludd – two neglected UK waterways, and neverends responds to the Humberston Fitties, a Heritage-protected area of beach-side holiday chalets outside Cleethorpes. The artists have built relationships with both environments, and the communities involved. In both works the combination of text and image work synergistically to create works which although simple, have considerable aesthetic and documentary impact.

In neverends Tucker has painted twenty Heritage-protected chalets in various stages of dis/repair. The predominantly muted blue/green palette in her paintings (with one yellow-toned exception), and the soft lines invite a soft eye – nothing sharp and jagged snags our attention. Even the broken windows, bowed roof and fallen walls are represented gently. These are not grand or ostentatious dwellings and they are shown in humility, sitting comfortably in the environment, settled on their haunches. The buildings are in dialogue with their surroundings and the non-human creatures they share the space with – the fox in the window, the pigeons and midges. Humans are present by inference in some neatly cultivated gardens, the illumination inside dwellings showing at windows and doors, and in one actual figure, Uncle Tom, who is waving from the roof he is repairing. Although Heritage-protected, many of the buildings are undergoing a process of un-becoming, and Tucker’s success is to endear these buildings to us in all their vulnerability, and even on occasion, shabbiness.

The final three paintings on side 1 of neverends particularly engage my attention (13,15,16) – they are the most ramshackle buildings, fallen furtherest into disrepair. Vegetation is encroaching, window-glass is broken. Even these Tucker has made endearing – her soft eye transforms them for the viewer. They are no longer capable of providing human shelter in any conventional way, although no doubt they still provide nooks and crannies for creatures. But her rendition of them makes me care about them.

Tarlo’s words perfectly compliment Tucker’s images; similarly unimposing and unostentatious. Her first lyric observation sets the tone for the work, “crow craw over/marram grasses” (1), asserting the natural environment in which these dwellings exist and underscoring the absence of human inhabitants during non-holiday seasons. But when they are in residence, the residents are close to each other, close enough to “walk around in dressing gowns, help with building, always a cuppa” (28).

Tarlo’s poetic forms eschew capitalisation (other than the ‘I’) and this simple device creates an informality and welcome similar to and fitting with Tucker’s approach. Tarlo’s poetics flow naturally out of her material – sometimes she writes in stanzas, at other times the work is more like prose poetry. In both projects, Tarlo juxtaposes her own lyric reflections with prose pieces; alongside the role of poet, she is also curator of the words of others, generously sharing space with them and emphasising the community nature of these projects. By privileging what appear to be found text, reminiscence, interviews, Tarlo lets the owners of the chalets speak their own words. Clever, affectionate and cheesy names are often a feature of holiday dwellings, and in neverends she includes four-line stanzas of the names residents have given their dwellings – “Chalet Amethyst”, “Anchordown”, and “Seachelles” (5 & 6) are a few.

The first side of the book finishes with Tarlo’s evocative words “Round the back … once was/ holiday – shelljar, bucket,/ small crockery stacked in/ furniture in miniature china/ boy and barrow still stood on a slim shelf watching” (16). There is no full stop at the end of the poem, in keeping with the neverends title, and stressing the ongoing nature of community.

The outfalls book comes out of a project to explore Tarlo and Tucker’s artistic responses to the environment and peoples of Louth Navigation and River Ludd – both described in the publicity as ‘neglected’ waterways. It is not spelt out how exactly the neglect manifests but this is an area which has witnessed the decline of industry – granaries, kilns and bone-mills, Tarlo tells us. I imagine industry has polluted these waterways like it has polluted waterways world-wide before stricter environmental control came to be exerted. But this is possible backstory – Tucker and Tarlo are more explicit elsewhere[i] about their ecological orientation, concerned with issues related to climate change. What we see here in the images and read in the words is a celebration of the environments themselves and local communities who live on and by the river, adapting to its condition.

Tarlo’s words evoke the life lived by fisherfolk, agricultural and barge workers, skaters, children at play. Their lives happen alongside and within the river and canals. They also share the space with creatures – mink and moles were trapped for their skins in the 1940s and fish, otter and eels have also been seen in the river – although it’s not clear if this is current. Like neverends, outfalls is an eloquent meditation on ‘natural’ and ‘human’ – where the boundaries between are not stark but blurred, creating the sense of mutual embeddedness – which is characteristic of ecopoetry.

Tarlo also combines different voices in outfalls – quotes, and a memorial which may have been taken from a gravestone. outfalls is perhaps more lyric than neverends, and the poet’s voice is more in evidence in arresting descriptions of the environment such as this, “sun falls on far-side/over swan-feather/edge”(12). The following is an example of her deft use of consonance – “blackbird goes/blithe between gardens/gathering, dips/drinks at …” (6) Again, her poetics are not intrusive, serving the project, and the communities involved.

Tucker’s illustrations in outfalls are black and white, and although this could be stark, she uses a range of drawing techniques to achieve varied textures. Many drawings employ a soft stippling which creates blurred impressionistic views of river, bridges and foliage reminiscent of Monet. She has drawn fifteen vistas of the river and adjacent riparian spaces. One of my favourite images is Tucker’s drawing of a bridge and huge industrial screw – both are blunted by the artist’s pencil so the screw blurs into the landscape, apparently as much at home as the grasses and tree trunks. All the other images are of river and riverbank – many festooned with profuse vegetation – on first glance abundant nature, but perhaps also, shaped by past pollution, representing the rampant growth of weeds.

Tucker and Tarlo bring a shared poetic vision to their artistic undertaking, which flows through each dimension of their project and is visible in the created artefact – books of rare and vibrant beauty which, precious themselves, emphasise the preciousness – and worthiness of protection – of these environments and the communities who care about them. They will appeal not just to these local communities but to others interested in ecopoetic artists' books.


[i] See, for example, Judith Tucker and Harriet Tarlo, “Excavations and Estuaries”, video (vimeo).

Harriet Tarlo and Judith Tucker, outfalls: poems and drawings. Leeds: Wild Pansy Press, 2018.

Harriet Tarlo and Judith Tucker. neverends: poems and paintings. Leeds: Wild Pansy Press, 2018.

Published: September 2022
Anne M Carson

Anne M Carson’s poetry has been published internationally, and widely in Australia. Recent publications include Massaging Himmler: A Poetic Biography of Dr Felix Kersten (Hybrid, 2019), and Two Green Parrots (Ginninderra Press, 2019). She has initiated a number of poetry-led social justice projects, and is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at RMIT.

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journal of ecopoetry and ecopoetics.

Plumwood Mountain Journal is created on the unceded lands of the Gadigal and Wangal people of the Eora Nation. We pay our respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and to elders past, present and future. We also acknowledge all traditional custodians of the lands this journal reaches.

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