Contemporary Australian Poetry
Cover Art: (Detail) Vanessa Wallace, Inventory (2015)
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Page 5 and the 'Text Page' from "Inventory" by Vanessa Wallace
Artist book: Solvent transfer, pencil transfer, coloured pencil on Magnani.
15 x 46 x 1cm
All works form part of an on-going exploratory series, where conceptually
I investigate the ground underfoot,
in order to create a lexicon which captures fleeting moments of my
Vanessa Wallace is a graduate from
Central Institute of Technology and
Edith Cowan University. Her practice is based in print and textiles, particularly finding its outlet through book and
zine making, etching, solvent transfer, stitch, digital print and letterpress.
She has been exhibiting in group exhibitions since 2000 including being selected for the 2013 Libris Awards and Stitched and Bound in 2010. She held her first solo show at Moora Fine Art Callery
in 2009. Awards include the Print Council of Australia commissioned artist in 2012 and City of Swan Print Media Excellence Award
in 2010. Currently she work as a senior technical officer, specialising in printmaking, at Edith Cowan University. She has also worked in an assistant role with other artists, mostly by providing technical skills such as book binding, typesetting and printing.
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Siobhan Hodge holds a doctorate from the University of Western Australia. Her research focused on Sappho’s poetry and its translation. Born in the UK, she divides her time between Australia and Hong Kong. Her chapbook of reflections on Sappho, Picking Up the Pieces, was published in 2012 as part of the Wide Range Chapbooks series. She has also had poetry and criticism published in several places, including Cordite, Plumwood Mountain, Page Seventeen, Yellow Field, Peril, Verge, and Kitaab.
in this issue...
Robert Wood reviews “Final Theory” by Bonny Cassidy
Amy Hilhorst reviews “Conversations I’ve Never Had” by Caitlin Maling
Rose van Son reviews “For Instance” by Matt Hetherington
Alexis Lateef reviews “Salt and Bone” by Zenobia Frost
THE WRIT GRID
A selection of 28 poems
Double, double toil and trouble;
skull ignite and psyche bubble.
Lithium and Valproate,
in the psyche grind and grate;
every night reproving fog,
endless fags and scentless grog,
Ecstasy and Tina’s zing!,
Sircuit’s groove, Club80’s sling,
for the glamour’s ingenious trouble,
like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double toil and trouble;
skull ignite and psyche bubble.
Chill with a gorilla’s blood,
then the glamour’s thick and good.
Note: a transformation of Shakespeare’s ‘Song of the Witches’
Please, Dad, manufacture two pairs of wings
from the Brylcreem you once dabbed through black hair
(in photographs you seem so debonair!
all the girls pursued you) and the fringes
of those wild Black Swans you slaughtered with Pop
so we might slip this phrenic labyrinth,
couple over Cathay’s jade, tiered paddies,
intone among Singapore’s opulence.
Promise you’ll not devour Mount Everest,
rip up, at tubers, Sri Lanka’s bluest
water lilies, obliterate Vishnu’s
chiliad names. Promise, and I’ll never
be enchanted by Amaterasu,
the Edenic pour of Turkmenistan.
Previously published in Southerly (2013).
lane: a ten-pin’s
set, then rocks and
strikes the waxen pine,
at a metal frame:
a Tiger-lily orange
cheeks milked of fat,
roll psychic eyes
to lifeless walls
forget forget forget
black bowling balls
and silver scythes
stiff like Wet on
and I, this scene
too close to the bone,
a classical bystander also.
Previously published in Blackmail Press (NZ, 2013), Going Down Swinging (2013).
RC: In 2014 you were awarded runner-up in the Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize,
for your manuscript Blacking Out and other poems, congratulations. Has this impacted on your approach to writing, if only in your confidence in the work?
RC: Some of your work can confront personal topics, particularly Blacking Out and other poems, which discusses drug use. Do you think the line between confession and poetry mustn't become blurred in order to produce good work? Is the role of the poem more important than the subject?
RC: You've collaborated with other poets. Your recent work with Michele Seminara is exceptional. Do you think collaboration is important in poetry as a form of writing? It is certainly part of a proud tradition, even when you look at the Beats or the Liverpool Poets, who did a collaboration of sorts. And many jointly-written works are still appearing often.
RC: You’re poetry editor of Tincture Journal and were poetry editor of Verity La, two journals that seem to have found a home very comfortably in the digital age,
both becoming very important platforms for both emerging and established poets. Do you see the future of Australian poetry as being safe with journals such as these appearing, despite the rise of the Internet?
RC: The influence of music is also a prominent feature in your work, even in
your style and syntax, and music has obviously always been closely linked to the creation of poetic works. How do you think listening to music fits into
RC: What can we expect from you in 2015 and beyond?
feature poet - Judith Beveridge
Interview with Robbie Coburn
Sariputta and Moggallana are talking on the Four
Noble Truths. Men and women come out from the market
and bazaars. In the square, someone plays a veena,
someone else a sitar. The monks will talk well
into the night. I watch the sky grow cinnabar,
in the distance I listen for the call of the nightjar,
but I only hear the turkey buzzards and the koels.
From the crowd, a woman sings, her voice
is sweet as nougat. Sariputta and Moggallana
speak about the Eightfold Path, the woman is singing
of love, deceit, misery and desire; in the square
someone plays a veena, someone else a sitar.
Finally the buzzards fly off to the sycamores;
the koels are still fluting. In the street, a woman
closes the windows and cedar shutters of her house.
Buddha’s word is spreading now through Rajagaha.
But I grow sorrowful and I grow glum, wondering
if I’ll ever inspire anything but windy dissonance,
if I’ll ever bring to pass my coup d’etat? In the square
someone plays a veena and someone else a sitar.
Whenever I come here I don’t pay much attention
to the lammergeier circling from the peaks overhead,
but I keep an eye out for falling tortoises, elephants’ ribs,
jackals’ jawbones. I stay on the level where the farm
women scythe and rick, scythe and rick, or pick
tithes of yellow samphire near the ponds. I don’t
climb to the summit to take in the view of the valley
and the fertile plains; or, as the Buddha suggests,
spend time alone in one of the small damp caves
meditating on suffering and its causes in desire.
I stay at the base near the talus inhaling the heady
perfume of the lavender and vetch. I watch the farm
women drink and rest near the ponds, then bend
and sweat again in the sinking madder sun. I let desire
have its ground. I take my chances under falling bones.
Suddenly I saw it in the thistle grass ballooning up
large as a puffball ready to explode. Then it belched,
put out a stink like one of Kapilavatthu’s old cracked cisterns.
Now it sits in my hut like a clump of mud studded
with fine stones. Sometimes when I tire of it croaking,
I threaten to give it to the swineherd’s boys to boil,
or to lob over the trees the way they do geckos and frogs.
But mostly I talk to it, splash it with pond water,
feed it slugs as thick as my thumb. Sometimes I palp
the venom glands behind its eyes and along the top
of its head with a wide ferny leaf. I don’t know why
I keep it with me. Perhaps I like its long sticky tongue,
the warts on its sorrowing skin, how its stink reminds
me of home. Perhaps it gives me a model of how to sit
squat, absorbed and croak out one mantra after another.
Perhaps I just want a little fat Buddha for my own.
RC: Much of your work has drawn inspiration from the stories and experience of others who interest you, for example, your excellent Devadatta's Poems and the sequence ‘Between the Palace and the Bodhi Tree', which followed Siddhattha Gotama on his travels before becoming Buddha. How does the process differ when writing on a subject rather than drawing from your own experience?
RC: You made the decision to dedicate yourself to writing poetry at a young age, taking part time jobs after leaving school to give you time to write. What were your early experiences with poetry and what ultimately informed your decision to follow your passion for it?
RC: Modern poetry is rapidly moving online. How has your approach to publishing your poetry, or your the experience of publishing, changed for you personally since you began releasing your work?
RC: Your poetry has won many awards, recently the Peter Porter poetry prize. Congratulations. How important do you think prizes are to one's progression
as a poet? Do you think new and emerging poets should strive to enter prizes?
RC: From your early work you have shown a dedicated compassion for animals and the natural world, such as in the brilliant title poem in 'The Domesticity of Giraffes'. Could you give us some insight into how you came to form these views?
RC: What's next for you? Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?
Robert Wood reviews
book review - Final Theory by Bonny Cassidy
by Bonny Cassidy
by Bonny Cassidy
In January, in a lengthy and impassioned blog post, Luna Poetry editor Paul McMenemy stated that reviews today are often bland and uninspiring, that the academicism of many reviewers has led to noncommittal statements that very rarely result in knowing where the reviewer actually stands or readers buying poetry. We could say something similar about the Australian milieu and I agree that for the most part reviews are often guarded and doubtful. People very rarely take sides or make confident judgments especially when we compare them to reviews from the 1960s. In addition, poetry, like all art, is a subjective pursuit, both for the maker and the audience, and, it is riven with aesthetically important and politically persuasive relationships. But it is rare that one says how one feels about a work in any direct way or one’s relationship to the poet. One can give lengthy reasoning for why one likes something, but that simply enters into a language game, and contributes to a larger discourse, in which one’s thinking (and feeling) finds an appropriate expression and home. In the self-disciplining language game of official verse culture reviews one very rarely makes definitive statements, especially of an undeleted kind.* I will though make one such statement here: Bonny Cassidy is a smart smart poet and I felt great reading Final Theory. In describing the difference between himself and Christian Bok, Kenny Goldsmith writes that:
Smart is a star student, flawlessly dotting i’s and crossing t’s. Arriving well-prepared and executing tasks with machinic precision, smart has studied its history and is ready to wrestle with the canon. Cultivating circumscription, smart’s eyes never leave the prize. Smart is an over-achieving athlete, accomplishing things that mere mortals can only dream of. Complex and deep, exclusive and elite, smart brims with value. Having sweated for what it’s accomplished, smart pays a handsome dividend to those invested. Smart moves ever-forward….Smart smart is TED talks, think tanks, NPR news, Ivy League universities, The New Yorker, and expensive five-star restaurants.
Cassidy was a star student – winning the University Medal at the University of Wollongong in 2004 – and if not a TED talker she has given an accessible and informative public lecture – ‘Why Read Poetry?’ – for Melbourne Free University.
I cannot say whether or not she is an athlete, a think tank or a restaurant, but in Final Theory she wrestles with the canon, particularly issues of voice after Pound and ideas of nature poems and travel, the latter of course resonating with The Odyssey, albeit slant; is complex and deep with the layering of image and sense; and brims with value about what the world in a time of climate change, mining, trade, decay looks like. Final Theory is unapologetically smart smart.
Ostensibly about two threads – the first involving a man and a woman as they travel through landscapes of the former Gondwana; the second a sci-fi-esque story of a girl - Final Theory matters because of the consistency of style in a manner that is appropriate to these two braided strands; themes that include matters of love, intimacy, photography, birth, abandonment and place. We do not have grandiloquent, sweeping statements but focused, emotive, close in passages full of images in Cassidy. This is not simply to repeat a paradigmatic adage repeated ad infinitum from Charles Olson that ‘form is never more than extension of content’.
I want to make that adage ‘slant’ in the Emily Dickinson sense by turning it into a value judgment – some forms do not extend, but actually inhibit content. To create such a sympathetic and energetic alliance between form, content and style for an entire book is difficult in practice even as it sounds easy in theory. It is like fixing the body by aligning meridians simply by looking at the tongue. That Final Theory was conceptualized, composed, created as a long poem implies a vision, a smart smart vision, concerned with complexity and depth rather than easy publishability. We could, of course, situate Final Theory in a broader context of long poems from analphabetic sacred technicians to classical societies to colonial poets to more recent examples like the titular piece of Michael Aiken’s Sydney 1934 1392k1 – 1811 1682k2. The lens here is paradoxically both intimate and epic, without being self-obsessed or grandly reaching. Its dual attentiveness to matters of the world and the fate of individuals is held together by a lyrically informed, though by no means bourgeois Romantic, voice. For example, the travelling couple of parts one and three embrace in a climate changed world. Cassidy writes ‘In a knot they well beneath the ozone tear’, but elsewhere, ‘me in your apartment, shimmying/rocksteady’. The climate peril we face is a ‘knot’, an intractable one if we are to judge by political impasses and fracturing; the ozone is both torn and a drop of liquid from our eye; and with ‘you’ we are brought directly into the writing, finally compounded by the dual meaning of ‘rocksteady’ – a pop music reference combined with steady as a rock. It is layered writing that responds both to politics of our times and culture that is not simply a ‘narrow kind of talk’.
More often books are anthologies of one, putting together individual pieces that have been published elsewhere. This is not a re-working of the voice approach either, which holds that a poet need develop an authentic, identifiable way of writing and speaking that allows them to be recognizable and reproduce, almost mimetically, the style they are known for. This reifies both the idea of the liberal author as well as self-expression and depth. As Karl Kraus said ‘the surface is the depth’. We can only deal with the language in front of us. We can be embraced or rejected by Final Theory. But its language strikes us regardless.
On several occasions I was struck by the composition, the careful arrangement of sound and shape. Although many passages stood out in particular and stayed with me after reading, which is, by no means, a common occurrence for me, I was initially struck by the following:
the day goes on:
trucks roam for exploration play.
layers staked on time’s dart like a Valentine
of scissored liquid. (p. 7)
This passage comes from early in the work and its sense of sing-song play and rhyme, gentle suggestiveness and well measured length are what appealed to me. There are many more such gems in Final Theory, all displaying these traits. There is too a sense of space and haunting, a concern with the eye and camera and photography, some listing (see the fantastic birds passage on p. 16) and some off kilter and apt rhyme. There is a story too, which will please some who prefer not to have mere ‘patterns of utterance’, and a relationship with nature that is capricious – at times leaning in, at times distancing, at times resisting, at times reminding the reader of where we live here and now and where we may yet end up. At the end of the poem one will find a list of references from Kiwi poet James Baxter to Pilbara song poetry volume Taruru, which Cassidy quotes from and that inform Final Theory as a whole. They attest to a textual engagement with the lands that once comprised Gondwana, which obviously support Cassidy’s own research trips to Antarctica and New Zealand that she made in the composition of this book.
Final Theory is rich and rewarding reading throughout. In other reviews of it people have called it ‘difficult’, ‘baffling’, ‘dense’ amongst other things; people have expressed preference for the sections on the man and woman or the girl; people have situated her in a poetic tradition and context (see especially Lisa Gorton and Martin Duwell). There have though been few reflections on how it made the reader feel – more often there has been comment on what other readers might make of it.
I felt confronted and challenged by Final Theory on an aesthetic and political level because, for example, its evocative imagery allows one a deeper and difficult engagement with pressing, real concerns to my way of life. But experiencing something like that is precisely why I read poetry. A final sentence on Final Theory: read it and watch her space.
* This is a difficult sentence but I defend its presence. To rephrase it: We are complicit in unconsciously policing our statements within the mainstream conservative press’ rules so that we do not say what we think, and especially what our personal experience of reading is. I have chosen each of the phrases in the original because they have a specific history and far more attached to them than the re-phrasing in this note. I hope that readers are motivated to seek them out and learn more. To unpack where they come from: ‘self-discipline’ refers to Michel Foucault in his History of Sexuality Volume 1: The Will to Power; ‘language game’ refers to Ludwig Wittgenstein in his Philosophical Investigations; ‘official verse culture’ is a phrase borrowed from Charles Bernstein; and ‘undeleted’ refers to Simon Jarvis’ essay ‘An Undeleter for Criticism’. These can all be found, with commentary, online. I have chosen this ‘smart’ sentence to reflect back on Cassidy a poetics that her writing demands.
Described by the poet as a ‘false autobiography in verse’, Caitlin Maling’s first collection, Conversations I’ve Never Had, begins with poetic snapshots into the speaker’s childhood memories, and works its way through to the speaker’s ‘18th year’, and beyond. Poems that have been published individually, such as ‘Donnelly River, 13’ are now placed in the context of a broader personal narrative. The blurb by Fremantle Press promotes the collection as ‘at heart a poetry of place’, and settings throughout Western Australia certainly feature as a backdrop for the development of relationships, and the uncertainties of growing up. Images of self and place intertwine to the point that at times there seems to be a synchrony of physical environment and poetic self: ‘physics says if I dropped / both the water and I would shatter’. Maling’s language seems to cling to the nooks and crannies of the Western Australian landscape, as she joins a tradition of WA writers who shape our state’s emotional history with words.
The motif of being underwater recurs throughout the collection; understated titles such as ‘The path to the dam’ bely the sublimity of the water they describe. This first poem is one of many that tightly weave personal experience and memory with exploration of the natural environment:
they laid the path, my father
lived elsewhere and I
put my head under
for the first time,
past the warm spot,
it was so dark
and so cold,
there was no
Part I works its way through images of adolescence, ten-year-old birthday parties and family holidays, with a voice so attentive to detail that the speaker’s fears and anxieties are presented in an oblique and subtle way, rather than coming at the reader in full force:
I dive, just grab hold of the reef and let the current shake me. I
can’t pull the knife without letting go and I can’t let go without
surfacing, so I wait for Dad up top, facing my mask down so I don’t
see how far offshore we are.
The speaker is likeable and self-deprecating as she notes the ‘bad haircuts black lipstick years’ and that in Donnelly River, ‘here I’m the only teenage girl, so (the boy from the next door cabin is) willing to pretend for both of us that I’m hot too.’ A particularly stunning poem is ‘fourteen’, which portrays a young teenager’s friend’s experiment with marijuana; the absence of punctuation emulates a stream of consciousness as the experience unfolds before us. Ending Part I is ‘Things we learn from our Father’, which is structured throughout various ages of childhood and adolescence, and which delicately negotiates the spoken and unspoken aspects of a father-daughter relationship. The poem is moving and intelligent in its use of beach imagery to foreground the developing distance between a father and his daughters as they grow to rely on him less and less:
We learn to leave you behind,
To make our way
From beach to beach,
By weather forecasts.
Part II explores the speaker’s complex relationship to Perth and the coastal town of Cervantes, with titles such as ‘Things I missed about Cervantes while in Cambridge’, ‘Back in Perth’, and ‘Lament for Cervantes’. While the poetic persona yearns for ‘nothing more than the simple honesty of the ocean, / the openness of the sea’, Perth is uniquely described in ‘Holiday’ as ‘a cockroach’, and she wonders in ‘Back in Perth’ why she had ‘flown 20 hours over / 15 countries in darkness’ to meet ‘the parts of the self I left behind.’ The language flits effortlessly between nostalgic tones to images of the grotesque cockroach, to land upon a feeling of ambivalence towards a home city, and the ways we may resist the past selves it can represent. Scattered among these poems of self and home are references to Greek mythology in ‘Medea and Jason’ and ‘Eurydice speaks’, and to Shakespeare’s Macbeth in ‘For my Lady M’. These poems play out the violent desire and sensuality of famous fictional relationships, and ‘For my Lady M’ comically reappropriates Macbeth with contemporary pop culture references:
i will cut
the stillness from you
from your throat
(from ‘Medea to Jason’)
You peeled dark off me like autumn leaves
leaving me bare, blood already blistering
the thick of you on the tip of my tongue,
(from ‘Eurydice speaks’)
You watched over me
as I lynched his Teletubby above the stairs
leaving it swaying from my school stocking
as I descended.
(from ‘For my Lady M’)
Amongst these arrestingly visceral poems are the equally vivid but tender ones such as ‘The fish’, which employs the symbol of a caught dhuey fish to represent the love of a stepfather, and ‘Marriage’, in which a clam shell clinging to a jetty is compared to the union of husband and wife.
Part III opens with ‘generation why’, a humorous and powerful exploration of relationships in the internet age, and in ‘Leonora 2010’ we’re exposed to the racism of the ‘lady at the store’, who ‘tells me I’ll be fine / that those abos won’t bother me because / they know what will happen if they do’. It is Maling’s illuminating imagery that tells a story in each poem; in ‘Gendericide’ she juxtaposes sinister images against apparently innocent ones such as ‘the subtlety / of a pink envelope’. All in all, Part III assumes an optimistic tone with endings such as ‘Somewhere / something is greening’, and ‘it’s a sunrise of sorts – you can hear birdsong in it’. The final section of the collection, Part IV, teems with yearning for a hometown; ‘Writing to Perth from Houston’ utilises the strangeness of words in a new place as a lens through which to explore the theme of homesickness. Ultimately, we as readers are left with a collection of carefully crafted and balanced snapshots into a narrative of growing up and moving away. While the speaker professes in the penultimate poem, ‘I only ever wanted the taste of other people’s words in my mouth’, Maling’s use of concrete detail to explain abstract, elusive emotions means that it is the taste of her words – poignant and precise – that we are left with.
Ultimately, Conversations I’ve Never Had is a warm, humorous and technically striking first collection, which oscillates between the intimacy of place and family, to the uncanny sensation of being displaced from home, and distanced from personal relationships. Maling captures universal feelings of nostalgia, anxiety and empathy through her unique voice and localised narrative, making this an accessible, compelling, and re-readable collection of poems.
Brisbane poet, Matt Hetherington, has a keen eye for minute detail and observation. His three part collection of haiku and senryu, For Instance, his fourth collection of poetry, begins with travel to India and a focus on footwear.
sweeping the dust is an observation, a journey of discovery, to the inside of self:
the man checking
has undone sneakers (8)
This first haiku seeks to unravel, to question. It asks: who is this person who controls who enters or leaves, when he, himself, is careless with his footwear?
India, Hetherington soon discovers on his two month sojourn to Northern India taken between September and November 2004 beginning in Kolkata (Calcutta) and ending by the Ganges River in Varanasi, is in constant movement, backwards and forwards, the steps taken seemingly futile, the work done and undone:
from one place
to another –
sweeping the dust (9)
And the images are clear, yet contradictory. Hetherington writes simply what he sees, and what he, a visitor to India, sees as complex, juxtaposed, but as natural to India as waking:
country station platform –
just a goat
and a man brushing his teeth (11)
So simple, so ordinary an action, and yet, the memory of it stays long after reading.
Hetherington identifies place, the pecking order of things, and the personal in a breathtaking, telling sequence. In these short haiku lines, we see the culture of place; we feel what seems to us, poverty or stress. In three short lines we are taken in; given a fleeting look at what there is: simply a goat and a man brushing his teeth, so natural to India, yet the memory lingers, so unusual a sight it is for a visitor, a traveller to India, someone who has not visited before.
Haiku is written when the writer sees something untoward, out of context; it is that moment where the unexpected generates an aha moment, a sense of awe or realisation in the viewer; it is the unexpected or insight that makes the haiku memorable.
There are so many memorable insights in this collection:
back at me (9)
As readers we almost run from the page, but the eyes follow. Is there an escape?
wet pillow –
for dawn (14)
Even at night, what we can’t see, can’t hear but what we know to be there,
mountain river –
of stones (14)
Hetherington questions. He takes a wild haiku leap from mountain river to people. Who are these people, he seems to asks, who have the patience of stones? Who live a meagre life, seemingly without question? In haiku, Hetherington questions on their behalf.
Clarity, brevity, paradox or juxtapositions are tools of trade in haiku. Some haiku in this collection are simply breaths, taken lightly, so shallow that we wonder if we still breathe: Hetherington’s confronting images are sometimes too difficult to bear. But there is light. Is it humour or acceptance of the way things are? As we journey, we try to understand, we accept.
Hetherington, with his eye for detail, for clarity, in three short lines, puts us there, purely and simply, and we have no choice but to follow, not knowing whether to laugh or cry, to confront the moment or to accept life as it is. His lines reflect the sameness and the difference in understanding a new culture.
sky and river
the same shade (20)
awaits cremation –
a goat has a nibble (21)
And that is the beauty of haiku. It gives a sense of mindfulness, a meditation, to live in the moment; to absorb and learn from difference. To notice the world, the detail and the broadness and to put these together seamlessly, as Hetherington does, to create a bang, so to speak: that aha moment so central to haiku that lingers on the tip of the tongue. So we can both see and taste the moment.
In Part 2, Puddles, Hetherington defines the beginning and end of a relationship.
my hands dance
under the tap (28)
Here the music plays, the air alive with possibility, the water clear, flowing. Hetherington uses nature to complement feelings, time, seasons, in a love relationship that starts with so much promise: But there is change, a turn, and Hetherington turns to observing nature to document that turn. The haiku, too, are different. A one-line haiku takes the place of the three line. Haiku can be written in one, two, three or four lines: all are valid. Hetherington chooses the one-line haiku to hold the breath.
So much to know in this one-line haiku:
the busiest ants still have time to greet each other (31)
are falling (32)
my marriage over –
separating artichoke leaves (39)
The artichoke is such an apt image for a marriage breakdown: the leaves sharp,
the choke itself, the central core, shocks, leaving both writer and reader, breathless. What is left of the artichoke must be sucked out. Where there were two there is
Where once there was intimacy in the relationship, now there is only realisation.
In the letterbox too, there are signs:
in the mailbox only an empty snail shell (34)
drunk again the moon in a puddle (35)
These one-line haiku are difficult to write but Hetherington has pulled the string taut, stretched the moment and held it there, tight. There is no room to move. As readers we are held captive in the tightness of the moment. And dare we breathe and hope for a new possibility. Hetherington controls the moment, a master of words at play.
In Part 3, the horizon, during a two month trip in Morocco, 2011, Hetherington finds sweetness and colour, both literal and metaphorical, returned. Hetherington even allows himself an exclamation mark, rarely used in haiku. Tea, the cure all:
with liptons –
five sugar cubes (43)
on top of the crumbling wall–
a peacock! (45)
summer dawn a short chorus (49)
Another one-line haiku, but this one is different; there is space, there is music, birdsong perhaps?
Hetherington captures the complex with simple words, uncovers the light in
the shadows. He looks inside, as in a reflection, sees depth in the stillness there,
and returns, seamlessly, to the beginning, a new dawn. His haiku have taken him
the child’s wide eyes –
a puddle (54)
Hetherington’s careful observations capture what is there, the knowing,
the hindsight locked in the present; what is not there, and what more there is,
with the eyes of possibility. This is a carefully crafted book, a master of haiku at work. No extra words are needed.
A haiku & senryu collection
by Matt Hetherington
Mulla Mulla Press 2015
Zenobia Frost is an active participant and enabler in the Australian poetry scene, working for stalwarts Voiceworks and Cordite, and recently releasing her first book, Salt and Bone, through Walleah Press. The thirty-three poems in this collection are brief but intense, and the pauses between each make one wonder what has been discarded and why, reflecting the nature of history – what is left for us has been carefully chosen. Every word combination in Salt and Bone is taut and incisive, as the author chisels into the past inherent in both herself and her world. The first poem, ‘Warning’, introduces the otherworldly tone of the collection through mysterious guidance dressed as superstition:
never believe the stone angels
listen closely to raven and possum
at night, ask the moon for permission
do not cross running water
Frost unfurls an ominous local atmosphere that is her own fresh take on Australian Gothic. The mention of early morning digging and gravestones in the final lines are motifs that indicate what is to come; an obsession with graveyards, archaeology and haunting permeate, reminding us that even if we ignore things, they still continue to exist. In ‘Auf Wiedersehen Speigeltent’ Frost explores the anatomy of a circus through an exact and macabre terminology:
the circus is gone
stripped to bone
The lack of punctuation freezes the unravelling in time. Frost also hints at historical sadness and hardship through the italicised subtext, but the German term ‘auf wiedersehen’ translates as ‘until we meet again’, indicating that through the ritual of circus, all involved continue to endure and renew.
The past lingers in this collection like a stubborn stain that is exposed each time we read an article or discover a fact; ‘The Hobby’, which won The John Marsden Award for Young Writers, tells of the exploits of a Russian ‘cemetery archaeologist’, who horrified the public when it was discovered that he dug up girls’ bodies and mummified them, keeping them in his bedroom and throwing them dinner parties. Frost analyses his actions as a type of romantic art and she is empathetic, though there is a wryness underneath:
I took her home and made her dinner
I seduced her with 13 ancient tongues
she stayed for breakfast
she stayed forever
In the final lines Frost suggests that perhaps there is more sense in Moskvin’s actions than in the public labelling him simply ‘mad’, alluding to the danger of taxonomy, if it ignores the complexity behind names and labels. The theme of excavation continues with ‘Archaeology’, as Frost juxtaposes remnants of history with her legs, body an artefact:
I shaved my legs before I came over.
You noticed, and said
they were whitewashed pillars,
artful ruins beneath the lights.
It reminds us that the body is subject to as much scrutiny and myth as historic objects. Elsewhere, Frost dissects childhood rites, such as in the poem ‘Odontophilia’, where the loss of milk teeth is presented as obsessive pleasure, a nascent desire for one’s own body. She addresses the children who (like her):
long to press just one peg free
to tongue the root red…
weeks of this dance
dandling a half-strung incisor
It is not just the past and the making of selfhood that haunts and beguiles us however – the places we reside in and visit also leave their traces on us, and Frost conveys this in a series of poems that read like love letters to her city. ‘After Midnight: Toowong’ reveals a populace united through their shared experience of an inner city suburb, as they ‘slink between ibis-legged houses’ (recalling the cover of the book, an artful depiction of a Queenslander house), the hills transformed into ‘waves to carry us’. There is a mythical and supernatural dimension at play here, as Frost declares that she and her fellow citizens ‘belong to the hour of the curlew’. This makes one wonder if poets will continue to be mythmakers for their fellow citizens, and if it is as important now as it ever was. In ‘Belonging Quartet’ stories of assorted homes uncoil, as she lies ‘reading the ceiling’s pine calligraphy’ and wondering ‘who loved these things before me?’ Frost alternates between an awareness of the past pressing through objects that are strangers to her, but also of the ghostly persistence of her own personal history: ‘things linger/that I said goodbye to/long ago.’
In ‘Brisbane in pictures’, a montage of the city plays before us like a short film of the author’s sense of home. She writes of floods and bush roaches and supermarkets, and the violence of the landscape inherent in a comical image: ‘a wheelie bin/trapezes from a power line’.
There are a number of intriguing literary allusions in this collection, notably ‘Unbecoming’, which focuses on Grete from Metamorphosis, a character overshadowed by her famous brother. Frost offers her a place as the protagonist of her own tale, and the stanzas alternate between German and English, rooting us in her life, beginning with ‘restless dreams’ taken for granted, and then the realisation that perhaps there is some reality in bad dreams after all, as ‘Grete wakes in her own bed/to find herself’. In ‘After Bukowski’s ‘Bluebird’, Frost hints at the darkness inherent in repression, whether of beauty (that so embarrassed Bukowski), or of her own internal bird who perpetuates self-doubt:
There’s a mangy galah
in the pit of my gut, and I try
to be tough – but he’s
learnt to talk back,
and he parrots
the things that I say
It is a sharp beaked metaphor, tearing at the author’s own heart to reveal her vulnerability. Frost returns to Australian Gothic in ‘The McKenzie pair’, exploring the personal history of a Brisbane cemetery’s infamous residents, who suicided after an embezzlement scandal. It is divided into two parts, one for each of the pair, unravelling in a singsong part pantoum that emphasises their heightened emotions and demise. Donald writes of his ‘London girl brave enough/to take a name untested’, and Mirriam is ‘only certain of his goodness’. It provides us with snapshots of their love, as the poem repeats and reinforces the lines they repeat to themselves.
While much of the collection rises and falls like ghosts in the psyche, causing us to wonder about liminal spaces and the hidden in our own lives, Frost breaks the conveyer belt of history with a meditation on a mostly forgotten monarch. Weaved into the tail end of Salt and Bone is a poem about the author’s namesake, Queen Zenobia, who famously led a revolt against the Romans. The poem is a bevy of potent spices, recalling the queen’s origins, symbolic of her heady strength, as she declares, in proto-feminist recognition:
I am Iris; I come with messages
from the daughters you have killed.
I am honeying my way into your empire.
The queen ends her letter to the Romans with swift words carefully etched into the white space of the page:
and leave frankincense burning in your quickened blood’
She finds a way into the blood of her enemies, and, just like this long gone queen, Frost inserts her precise lines into the reader’s bloodstream, leaving one ‘quickened’ within her world of eerie, captivating, and ultimately fascinating revelations.