Susan Hawthorne reviews Wild by Libby Hart

Libby Hart, Wild. Sydney: Pitt Street Poetry, 2014. ISBN 978-1-922080-38-7

 

Susan Hawthorne

 

Reading Wild is like wandering into a landscape and being suffused in life’s richness. Coming in from the sky are a host of birds and words. Leopards, bears and wolves hide in the thickets of language. The ravens, Huginn and Muninn, whisper their stories through the poet.

Opening with the words of “Bear woman”, a poem as heavy as hibernation is long, we feel the rumble of her steps, her “words growl as thunder” (3). Following this, the next poem takes off leaving gravity behind, calling up fire and water. Moving into yet another element, the sea carries its whalesong which Hart compares with an embryonic cry.

One of the delights of Wild is the startling language: “calligraphies of wildlings” (6), “a sulk of rabbit” (9), “a whiff of scent history” (15), “a hive of twisted hair” (22).

Hart’s immersion in landscapes almost makes you feel the cold north wind of the Irish coast, or the sadness of Lake Baikal suffering its layers of pollution, eeking out a life.

I was moved by the poet’s need to build a cairn for the dead bird.

Each long, dark wing splays into crucifix form –

the chamber of his chest cut deep at rib vault

to appease any Doubting Thomas.

 

Exposed bone nests in plumage,

webbed feet have shrunk to black-blooming,

and despite being as dry as parchment

the flies still want him for their own.           (10)

These poems step lightly across the land. They are spare and the space around the poems creates an imaginative space for the reader. It is sometimes that momentary sight which Hindus call “darshan”; it is perhaps “a scripture of flighty birds” (18).

All the senses are heightened, even the man in the seat beside her is noticed because the cologne he wears is familiar. The senses bring forth memories of times and places far away in another hemisphere.

The section called “Murmurations” takes another view. The poet notices the catastrophes, the death of herrings and birds dropping from the sky. The tsunami brings “a fluffer of jellyfish” (31) while debris spreads itself across oceans to other continents. From the tilt of the earth to the “turn of the city” (36) the poet observes blizzards of starlings, a wave of lifting and falling birds over the city of Rome.

So if I chance to talk a little wild, forgive me,

a tempest has set the door sideways,

its feral beast has scratched at the roof.

It now holds my raging heart in a hollow bend of paw.

 (“Augury”, 40)

This sense of transformation is a poetic epiphany: it comprises the wildness nearby alongside the question of human interference in the endless cycles of nature. Libby Hart’s language continues to surprise me, as I read and re-read.

In “The book of water”

Its sea-sorrow of kelp, its scroll unbound

ruffling on a dog-eared wave.                      (43)

Hart conjures up the green man who is taking notes on all the carnage. The norns, meanwhile, are thinking up language. It is as if they have taken a line from the final poem, “knuckled to the mother-tongue of music” (61).

I could keep reading this book. Each time I pick it up I find new depths. I love being introduced to new terms, to surprising concatenations of words, to images that take me into unknown worlds. That, after all, is the task of a poet.

 

Susan Hawthorne is the author of nine collections of poems, the latest of which are Lupa and Lamb (2014), Limen (2013), Cow (2011) and Earth’s Breath (2009).

 

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