This slim, blue volume from Avalanche Books brings together the words of six strong poets with a shared love of the world around us. Selected and arranged by editor Deborah Gaye, the affect is of attending an evening of readings, with each poet’s work presented as a mini collection within the book. It’s an unusual approach for an anthology, but it works beautifully, giving you the chance to absorb each writer’s tone and rhythms before drifting into the companionship of the next.
And each one truly does have a clear, resoundingly individual voice. Section one, from Roselle Angwin, is a sensual tangle of the intimate and universal, beginning with Apple Tree and a wassail in an orchard that offers up memories of rural customs even as the poet urges us to rest “your palm to the trunk, tell you how to open/ the eyes and ears of your hand” to experience the “journey between earth and star.” It’s a powerfully enticing beginning. Each poem conjures the same magic, elevating the ordinary details of life while contemplating big issues – politics, mortality, pilgrimage and migration, all elegantly laid out in vivid verse.
Section two contains poems by Wendy French, with ripples of loss wriggling through the lines. A person perhaps still dancing, and a red dress (such an evocative image), a son grown and exploring the world as his family longs for him to return safe, the memories behind an old photograph… There’s a distinct sense of place and weather amid the nostalgia – the wind steals umbrellas and gardens “slide into stormy seas” – pitting the manmade against the wild and natural.
In Katrina Porteous’ section, following this on, we treated to a view of natural that encompasses the universe beyond our small planet, and the physical laws governing it: “The embattled stars’/ Eventual collapse./ The madly-spinning Catherine-wheel’s/ Demonic pulse.” It’s an exhilarating ride taking in galaxies, the moon and the aurora borealis, each in its own way reminding “Earth of its own incalculable strangeness.”
Anne Caldwell, up next, presents a pleasing change of pace, with prose poems surfacing amid the verses. In Crab Apple, a memory of childhood savagery (“We squashed the ladybirds and red spider mites without mercy”) is tempered by the final line describing a family home as being “eider-downed with grief.” In a seductive couplet of prose poems, named simply Salford (1) and Salford (2), a puma pads through the streets seeking somewhere safe to sleep. The imagery is richly infused with atmosphere, so I felt like a witness to a intensely private moment.
Kaye Lee’s sections is riddled through with the sense of fairytales, with the Pacific dyeing each stanza in Scraps of Miro Blue, while Building With Sand reads like an unsettling short story, and For Elise at 100 sweeps us into a moment of dazzling reprieve in old age.
Our final poet, Katherine Gallagher, takes us gently by one and guides us into the space between things. We stand on bridges, in suburbs, at hedges and at the edge of Australia’s Blue Mountains, and notice the parts of relationships unspoken, the mysteries behind painted love and the differences between here and there. As her last poem in this anthology, Visit, draws to a close, I wish I could stay a few more days, read a few more poems, not quite ready et to leave.
What are you reading? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.