Signs speak, horror rises through the floorboards, Hedge-Triffids surround the houses, and children poke sticks at dead possums. There is everywhere a clash between life and death; decay and renewal. Though Goodbye, Cruel explores painful places in a way that cuts deeply, ultimately the work is affirmative, moving back and forth into the particular and outwards into the universal. Smith does an exceptional job of bridging the gap between the absurd, the tragic and the domestic, turning it all into something tender and sublime.
The story itself is a fascinating one with themes very relevant to modern readers: the impact of colonisation, racism, cruelty and social inequality, as well as love, hunger, and the desire for meaning and self-actualisation. Johnson is a natural storyteller, providing narrative context in between each of the poems. However the real heart of the collection is the poetry, which goes deeper than scholarship would otherwise allow. Johnson puts the reader right into the moment of experience, using language that is both harrowing and wry.
Through the dystopia of styrofoam cups, depleted forests, rotting garbage, and an overabundance of aggressive species – colonists or currawongs, there is still laughter, a sense of hope, and a deep, abiding love for the city. In Aiken’s world, the human is absorbed into nature as just another animal, a predator who will one day be supplanted by another species. Though that may not sound like the prettiest of visions, A Vicious Example presents a collection of great beauty, and intense reflection.
Light and hope seems to play like a continual refrain through Maggie Walsh’s Sunset. Though these are poems that reflect the hardship and suffering that Walsh has experienced, they are never dark; never dour. Always there is an appreciation of the natural beauty, and a kind of joyousness that comes from sensation and perception in the face of racism, the grief that goes with being separated from home and family, and of feeling different.
The landscape of Seminara’s poetry is often domestic – home life, motherhood, abusive relatives, relationships, aging, and illness, but there is also magical realism, shapeshifting, sublimated desire, and a range of literary influences that come through the found poems, centos, erasures and remixes. The poetry plays with metapoetic themes, with traditional rhyme schemes and rhythms, and are self-referential in a post-modern way.
Though the narrative presents a fast-paced story of ambulance, medication, confusion and return, we’re in the realm of poetry, which can be dream-like, with a multitude of simultaneous meanings. The poems operate on several levels at once, from the struggles of a failed body and its attempts to come back from the nightmare of motor neurone degradation, to the writer’s daily struggle to make sense of language and the self against an increasingly incomprehensible world.
Hazel Smith’s Word Migrants is a poetry collection that is utterly relevant right now. Smith brings her cross-media poetic aesthetics to such topics as racism, the plight of refugees, diaspora, stereotypes, climate change, grief, aging and death, semiotics and literary theory all in a way that weaves and intersects seamlessly. Though there’s a neat circularity in the book – starting and ending with disappearances, Word Migrants is organised into five sections, each with a slightly different focus. The first, “The Forgiveness Website”, focuses on the nostalgia and sense of loss that comes with displacement. This chapter explores refugees and migration, but also the motion from past to present, and of all that we lose in our identities as we try to find ways to live and forgive in the face of oppression.
Kerdijk Nicholson’s poems are not difficult to read: they flow in straightforward rhythms, and take on familiar landscapes and territories, but the poems in Everyday Epic are much more complex then they seem at first glance. It is through the everyday moments of such universal elements as love, grief, work, that we find the epic, and in those old stories of conquest and domination, where we find our most shameful and least ‘epic’ natures.
Time and again, the poetry confounds expectations and unpicks itself, structurally, grammatically, and linguistically, presenting what looks like a story, a letter, a footnote, a telegram, a Wikipedia entry, a diary entry, or even a simple poem about a single thing, only to undo the stereotype, the perception, or the form, through a reworking of its conventions.
Beyond the mistakes and the failings of humans which are highlighted in these poems, there is something that redeems us. We can, and must, love, and transcend. IV is a collection poetry about the ephemeral nature of life, of pain, about how we learn, grow, become mindful/present/enlightened, and above all, about love. No matter how much we’ve severed, sutured, eluded and deconstructed, love is always transformative.