A review of Poems of bay, beach & harbour By Margaret Owen Ruckert

Reviewed by Beatriz Copello

Sky on Sea is a quaint small hard back book of tanka poetry and photos by Margaret Owen Ruckert. Ruckert is an accomplished poet and an amateur photographer, this is her seventh book of tanka poetry. As it is characteristic of tanka poetry the poems are short and as the title indicates mainly about the sea and its surroundings.

The reader will encounter in Ruckert’s poems rich imagery and profound reflexions. The musicality of the tanka awaken the reader’s imagination. Going through the pages is like visiting Sydney beaches from Botany Bay to Manly, we get a glimpse of the beauty that surrounds this town. The words and phrases have gentle rhythms and harmonises with what the poet sees. A photo of the iconic Harbour Bridge illustrates the first page and we read:

in this tranquil dusk
with its mango-gold sky
the last flare of sun
see the bridge in a new light
and a pylon with an eye.

The poet has a keen eye for details and makes very astute observations. Sometimes she regales us with a peek into her inner self, she says:

I am held up
by the forces of friends
and family …
a bridge suspended
across time and space

In another tanka the poet confesses:

late shadows
tattoo the footpath
where I walk
pushing my body
against the stamp of age.

And later she ponders:

from nowhere
a conspiracy of clouds
shadows the beach …
we ask what misfortune
wait us today

Line by line we mentally explore different sites, we see the old Sydney with its sandstone buildings. With a dark photo she illustrates the past and the poet comments on the terraces with their rows of chimney pots, “sentinels to a nostalgic past” she points out.

A beautiful photograph taken from a ferry captures the city in its all majestic splendour, the photo is accompanied by the following poignant tanka:

clear sky, fine harbour
a ferry filled with laughter
eyes looking ahead …
I think of all the journeys
that end where I begin.

Various poems exalt the Sydney Opera House, the poet describes it, as well as opening a door for the reader to enter into its magic, she says:

soaring shells
lift our eyes to the heights
of opera acclaim
forgetting the drama …
the depths of humanity

Some of the poems demonstrates the poet’s authentic contact with life and her surroundings like in the following poem:

the moon stares down
in the last moments of light
with its ghostly face …
what chilling superstition
would I like to outgrow

As the following tanka tell’s us there is always a dark place in each city, in Sydney it is The Gap, an ocean cliff on the South Head peninsula in eastern Sydney where desperate people suicide:

every city
has a place of shadows
and here at the Gap
too many have jumped
into oblivion

There is another tanka about a different cliff where the poet reflects on words and actions:

a cliff face
headlands and ‘eye’ lands
bodies of water …
our words celebrate life
while our actions betray us

We travel with the imagination from The Gap to Manly and Watsons Bay and then move to Botany Bay:

this waterway
named first for its stingrays
in 1770
held treasure for Joseph Banks
as a bay for botanists

… and the writer asks a question:

what can you say
when a powder-blue sky
sighs dream-like
over the marine-blue
of a busy port bay?

Our imaginary trip through the eyes of the poet via photos and tanka end in Botany Bay. Sky on Sea is a delightful collection that does not disappoint. To purchase the book email wordwhack@gmail.com.

About the Reviewer: Dr Beatriz Copello is a former member of NSW Writers Centre Management Committee, she writes poetry, reviews, fiction and plays. The author’s poetry books are: Women Souls and Shadows, Meditations At the Edge of a Dream, Flowering Roots, Under the Gums Long Shade, and Lo Irrevocable del Halcon (In Spanish).  Beatriz’s poetry has been published in literary journals such as Southerly and Australian Women’s Book Review and in many feminist publications.  She has read her poetry at events organised by the Sydney Writers Festival, the NSW Writers Centre, the Multicultural Arts Alliance, Refugee Week Committee, Humboldt University (USA), Ubud (Bali) Writers Festival. 

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