Robert Wood reviews Flood Damages by Eunice Andrada

Eunice Andrada, Flood Damages. Artarmon, NSW: Giramondo, 2018.  ISBN : 978-1-925336-66-5

 

Robert Wood

 

Divided into three sections, Eunice Andrada’s debut book of poems Flood Damages ranges widely across tone, place and style, but it is held together by a strong and consistent voice that expresses recurrent themes of the body, politics, belonging, identity and family. At the level of technique there are poems that play with pagination (‘novena for her sickness’, 13), repetition (‘poem in which I’, 39) and story (‘Marcos conducts my allergy test’, 64). However, in each of these variations, Andrada is careful to pay respect to her elders; and female mentors, predecessors and teachers, including her mother, are particularly important. This is the work of a young woman interested in an intersectional and personal feminism that is conscious of power structures that touch us all. And yet, feminism is only one way to read this book. It also has threads of Christianity (‘second coming’, 28), diaspora (‘alternative texts on my aunt’s lightening cream’, 44; ‘where are you from?’, 63; ‘last meal before deportation’, 80) and sexuality  (‘ode to the dark cunt’, 57; ‘novena for fidelity’, 46).

The poem ‘(because I am a daughter) of diaspora’ contains many of these issues and themes, stating:

and by default –

an open sea,

what language will not meet me

with rust?

 

They convince my mother

her voice is a selfish tide,

claiming words that are not meant

for her,

 

this roiling carcass of ocean

making ragdolls of our foreign

limbs.

 

In the end

our brown skin

married to seabed.

 

When I return to the storm

of my islands

with a belly full of first world,

I wrangle the language I grew up with

Yet still have to rehearse.

I play with the familiar rattle of consonants

on my tongue and do not think myself

a serpent.

 

By the street corner, a man in rags

speaks to me in practised English.

Where are you going?

I don’t respond,

the words a recognition

of the mongrel flag

I call my face.

I want to say to him, We are the same.

Pareho lang po tayo.

My bleached accent,

the dollars in my wallet

sing another anthem.

 

How long have you been here?

How long are you staying?

I am above water, holding

onto a country that drowns

with or without me.

(9)

It starts with a rhetorical existential question that suggests a kind of searching (‘what language will not meet me / with rust?); a reference to her mother with an allusion and metaphor of water, both as ‘tide’ and ‘carcass’; an awareness of personal embodiment that is nevertheless political (‘brown skin’); an understanding of contractual relationships (‘marriage’); the way language helps us feel at home whether that is comforting or alienating or both (‘I wrangle the language I grew up with’); a conjunction of herself with collective identity (‘the mongrel flag / I call my face’); bilingualism with a Filipino phrase that might also translate as ‘we are both’; the difficulty of the ‘foreign’ anthem and the burden of dollars in the wallet suggesting the complications of privilege; and finally the acknowledgement of who she is and what that means for her place in the world. The poem’s final lines are poignant and touching, a complex understanding of where one belongs, even as it does not show in an immediate or obvious sense. In that way, Andrada is a daughter of diaspora searching for home, but it might not be nation she belongs to. It might be the countries of poetry, female solidarity, language, water, and life itself as it floods and courses through us regardless of where we grew up or where we go.

In that way, water becomes a recurrent motif, in the form of tears, drinks, and, of course, flooding. For readers of Plumwood Mountain journal who pick up this book, it will soon become apparent that Andrada is interested in our climate-changed world. Her focus is on the impact global warming has on people (rather than plants or animals per se), and women who labour in particular, including migrants who are forced to leave their homes. Flood Damages is an intersectional book then for it is aware of how systemic issues affect us all and it is a reminder that a very real set of problems continues to unfold because of global capital.

Flood Damages is a timely intervention in the world of Asian and Australian poetry, for it speaks to our moment now with truthfulness based on authentic experience. It understands ideology and the systems of oppression that affect us all. Andrada is capable of beautiful expression and the collection as a whole is affecting, insightful, and often has a common sense profundity that is directly accessible. Her final poem, ‘recognition’, speaks to the role of poets who can see and herald their people be that family, friends or strangers. To bear witness as the world ignores, suffocates, floods our homes and our roots is a necessary if difficult task. That is a role Andrada accomplishes with a sense of tenacity, level headed indignation, and stunning legibility in Flood Damages. May we all listen and respond in our very own mother tongues.

 

Robert Wood is the author of History and the Poet. Find out more at: www.robertdwood.net

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