Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
Third Wednesday Poets
An Australian Women’s Anthology
By L.E Berry, Linda Ruth Brooks, Gail Hennessy, Rina Robinson, Jo Tregellis
ISBN-13: 978-1492770022, 124 pages
There’s something quite wonderful that happens in when poets get together in a collaborative, group setting. First there is the trust that the process engenders – as writers begin to takes chances with form, structure and subject matter, stretching themselves and allowing their skills to develop in a safe group. Secondly there is the learning that comes from exposure to different voices and different ideas about the nature of a poetic vision. These things begin to grow until collectively, what the group is producing actually has its own impetus and its own cohesive power. That’s exactly what has happened with the Third Wednesday Poets.
Working together each week the women built up their repertoire and began to hone their skills. The result is this anthology, which takes the best of their work, and presents, not only poetry, but a story about the writing process, a record of development, and a rather instructive and illustrative catalogue of poetic styles from Abecedarian to Cento, riddle poems to Tanka to Ekphrastic pieces. Where the style is less well-known, each section begins with a descriptive introduction, which helps situate the work. The poems are grouped up around themes – sometimes styles, and sometimes topics, with the poems work mingling together in each grouping.
The work is always accessible, and fun, but also, at times, frivolous, funky, funny, intense, moving, poignant, challenging and intimate. There are poems that explore parenthood (Linda Brooks’ “He Thinks I Sleep” is particularly powerful), mortality, modernity, aging, youth, war (and its aftermath), religion, politics, fear, love, and loss. I think, of all the poems and styles, my favourites are those poems that explore nature and of place. It seems appropriate that this group, coming together through proximity, should excel at writing about their local settings and characters, such as Gail Hennessy’s “Poppies”:
That night I went into John Hunter’s
where I dreamed of poppies
imagined them overriding the drip
flowing through the cannula in my arm
flowering like opium through the blood.
Or Jo Tregellis’ “Scarlet”:
I have the memory
of its scarlet vividness
the Sturt Pea
amongst the sculpture symposium
in the living desert
If there are any criticisms, it is perhaps that this short book tries to be too inclusive and encyclopediac. I wanted to settle into the themes a bit longer and to get some sense of the broader meaning them were adding up to. Perhaps future editions (or sessions) might pick a few and spend a bit more time on them. Nevertheless, Third Wednesday Poets is a pleasurable reading experience that takes the reader many places, in many ways, presenting a highly original and enjoyable offering that, it’s hoped, will be repeated.
About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks and Paul W Newman is her next guest. Find out more about Magdalena at www.magdalenaball.com.