Shying never puts on airs, using words with absolute precision. The work has many themes and encompasses several, often competing realities. The most prevalent one pivots around the notion of identity. One’s country is not just the place you live or come from, but also its history, and what it has come to represent. It is not just nationhood, but the earth beneath your feet, the flora, and fauna, the space of the heart.
O’Hagan does a beautiful job of describing the Italy of her childhood—the buildings, fountains, news items, a walk with her parents, conversations, cobblestones, the loss of a friend, or a roadside drive. There’s a sense that every detail is both intensely private, and absolutely important—a universal artefact that must be shared with the reader
Shying’s themes are powerful and topical, exploring violence, drug use and dealing, parenting, ecological destruction, disability, prejudice, and sensual joy. The mix is natural and compelling, working through a distinctive voice intensely, sometimes painfully honest.
Though these are personal poems, rooted in love, loss, grief, and rebirth, there is a strong, though subtle underlying politic which takes the form of advocacy. Collective empowerment is an important theme throughout the work, linking back to the title–kindness as a radical act.
Even at its most intense, Blackford’s poetry never stops being warm, accessible and humorous. The Alpaca Cantos is beautifully presented with thick paper, careful layouts, with lovely drawings by artist Gwynneth Jones. These are poems that are both complex and simple, tragic and yet infused with delight and an almost impish joy in the day-to-day.
It’s as if, by bringing in a multitude of varying voices including some multilingual, we begin to see a common humanity in the recognition that comes with such intense vulnerability, anger, self-reflection, empathy, and perhaps above all, the radical inclusion that is not only evident throughout the poems in this collection, but a powerful underlying theme.
Belief is an elaborate mosaic where the tiles are words; paradoxes, satire and the vernacular adorn the pages of this beautifully crafted book. Belief is divided into seven sections, each section opens a door to two worlds: one the writer’s imagination and psyche and the other opens to the external world.
There is an exuberance here; a delight in the word, in the construction of the self, the abnegation of the self, and in the sheer pain and joy of living, losing, and loving, that comes through each of the poems.
These are poems that pivot on a moment: a chance meeting, a sudden change in situation, or a close observation that takes something commonplace such as an afternoon on the back verandah watching fireworks, driving a vehicle, or reading the news and moves in so close it becomes abstract: a synecdoche for something else. In a way that’s Proustian, the imagery gives rise to a memory, or a perception which is emotive and powerful, revealing something subtle about the world.
Beatific Toast is a poetry collection that is as rich with silence and music as it is with semantical meaning. Though the book is only fifty nine pages long – chapbook size – there is a lot of ground covered, with poetry open enough to encourage and reward multiple re-readings. These are poems are charged by sound, by light, by colour and scent, inviting the reader to join in, to participate, not just by reading the work but by moving with it.