This is very powerful, and more so because it doesn’t rely on appealing to the reader’s intellectual sense of right or wrong. It is about pain and beauty, about loss and longing, and the full loss of life is as large and full of import as that of a human. There is a holocaust feel about this, not the least because of the deft way that Hull intersperses her shock with the matter of fact handling of the workers, her cousin, and her father.
Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
Broken Land: 5 Days in Bre 1995
By Coral Hull
Five Islands Press
2000, ISBN 0864184506
Like all of the best poetry, Coral Hull’s Broken Land operates simultaneously on a number of levels, affecting the reader frontally, viscerally, and subtly. On its simplest level, it is exactly what the subtitle says, a twelve cycled, five day visit to the small outback town, Brewarrina, where the poet’s father lives. On this level alone, the poetry works beautifully, evoking the good (of which there is little but tenderly expressed), the bad, and the ugly (both of which there is in plenty). The reader enters Bre under Hull’s skin, experiencing the longing and the letdown; a homecoming for someone who would always remain a stranger:
The stranger in town in town arrives at the end of the street
With a shadow cast down from a big slouch hat.
Or wearing that constellation look,
& been around overcoat.
Lanky & striding, bone thin underneath.
The town opens its shutters,
Its dusty eyes, to watch (Stranger in Town)
The poems vary in their style, their structure, and their cadence. All of them capture the vernacular of the town; the differing inhabitants and voices, from the aborigines to the factory workers, and above all, the voices of its animals: dogs, foxes, a raven with a yogurt carton on its beak, a feral pig, and the startling but very real voices of its butchered kangaroos and goats. We begin to unwind in the breathless dialogue of “Dad’s House” which sits narrowly on the page and has no full stops. Dad and Patch-Em-Up the dog compete with a myriad of details as the eye scans the room. It’s a familiarity which is cozy and even claustrophobic, but it is also deceptive, designed to trip up the reader, who is soon thrust into the apathetic cruelty of the town.
Hull symbolises Bre perfectly with Bindo, the overweight and abused dog, whose hatred is turned on “everything that moves,
So that he doesn’t have to blame his sadistic owner, whom he still loves.”
It is with Bindo that we begin to experience the second level that this collection works on as it illuminates the human cruelty, apathy, waste, and prejudice of the inhabitants of Bre. Hull shows these things to us from the inside, allowing us to experience them firsthand. There is the high and low of “Landscapes of Smashed Glass” with its metho drinker of “White Lady”:
Blow ya fucken
Or the lost beauty of “Bre Weir”:
There was a time,
when the water rushed strong & clean
through the stone,
beneath the cries of the black cockatoo,
ibis & hawks
that flocked to watch the leap of fish.
The section ends with the poet comforting a puppy left alone by its owners who’ve gone to a club. It is a moment of quiet beauty which calls to mind a parent comforting a child:
It was like holding
heavy & sweet,
I let my lips rest upon
the plump neck.
the pup’s small stres
Much of the rest of the work centres around dead or dying animals. Inside the Bre Roo Works, and the Goat Abattoir the poetry comes to a climax, moving deeper into the reader’s perceptions and emotions. You don’t need to be an animal rights activist to feel the power of Hull’s words, or the overwhelming pain of the scenes she describes:
I imagine every tree, every stone, every roo,
Every living thing
in smaller & smaller concentric circles,
being forced in,
to the machinery.
the Roo Works at its centre,
boning it, grinding it, down.
until it collapses on itself,
then expands out
to cover the land with its nothingness,
until it meets its own shadow on the edge of night (The Dark Dead Blood of the Kangaroo).
Nothing can prepare the reader for the Goat Abattoir though, where Hull takes us right into the cauldrons of blood and froth, into the minds of the slaughterers, and the hearts of the young goats as the adults animals leave for slaughter. The human sounding scream of a stabbed goat: “deep & urgent./Full of the terror of murder.” has to be absorbed and grieved over. This is very powerful, and more so because it doesn’t rely on appealing to the reader’s intellectual sense of right or wrong. It is about pain and beauty, about loss and longing, and the full loss of life is as large and full of import as that of a human. There is a holocaust feel about this, not the least because of the deft way that Hull intersperses her shock with the matter of fact handling of the workers, her cousin, and her father. Bre is a painful and broken place, and Hull captures this pain and ugliness on a myriad of levels, but under Hull’s pen, it becomes much more than a single dying, dusty town. It is a place that lives within all of us; an ugliness and loss with which we are complicit. Despite the pain at the end of the book, the poet’s longing for her father, and this home which will never be home, is obvious. Though we wouldn’t want to live in Bre, it haunts our dreams still. The book will be available online for free very soon at Artesian Productions. For details visit:http://www.thylazine.org/artesianproductions/