I wrote last week about the pleasure I’ve found in rediscovering poetry through Samuel West’s Pandemic Poems on Soundcloud.
Spurred by those poems, I’ve also been delving into Australian poetry, partly because of the series of Quintette interviews I did early on in the pandemic. Among the books I bought or were sent to me, I have Jenny Blackford’s The Alpaca Cantos Michael Farrell’s Family Trees and Thuy On’s Turbulence.
And these books also reminded me that a while back, Tim bought Omar Sakr’s These Wild Houses for me as well.
I’m not a great scholar of the poetic form, and tend to write lyrics rather than straight poetry myself. At school I adored John Donne until he got religion and I found his poems a bit boring (his cheeky love poems make me laugh) and I’ve always had a soft spot for Phillip Larkin. (I think I must like sass in poetry form).
I’ve also recently come to admire Carol Ann Duffy particularly, and to appreciate the gifts of a wider range of writers. I often encounter poems and words that speak to me, so while not every poem appeals (and while I don’t understand every poem) I do love the sound of them, the rhythm and the dream-like qualities they have.
I found Michael Farrell’s poems particularly dream-like in that way, less to be understood than felt, though there’s understanding to be had.
With lines like ‘My name is Bedingfield and I almost exist’ (in “If You Want to Drink Whiskey with the Big Boys You Have to Drink the Whiskey”) and the visuals of ‘”Knitting a Poem by the Hoover Dam”, it’s an intriguing collection.
The Alpaca Cantos are great fun, with many poems about animals – including, but not limited to, alpacas. Slugs, for example, described as ‘the small monster’ and a failed kitty hunter that loses a baby rat, ‘the tiny terrifying wild thing’. The section of “Lamentations”, dealing in part with dementia, touched a chord in me too (or maybe a nerve) with my father’s recent loss. It’s a charming, slim little volume and a lovely introduction to Jenny Blackford’s award-winning poetry.
Two of the poems are here on the Rochford Street Review if you want to hear more.
Thuy On’s poems in Turbulence were inspired by big changes in her personal life, and the words are sensual, raging, insightful. Some of it is bitterly funny, and it’s all fantastic. I really responded to so much of its imagery, like ‘Bare-limbed and straight-backed / we braced against the rising vowels’ (“Vertigo”) and I loved the fed-up fury of “To date an Asian woman” and its ‘Not a lotus flower / in fragrant docility / an exotic bloom silk petal’ and later ‘learn my name / I’m not a mass of continents / a chopstick dish’.
A particular favourite is “Carpe Noctem” and all the reasons ‘She wears black…’ which is short and I don’t think I can reproduce here, so you’d best just buy the book.
All of these books led me back to These Wild Houses by Omar Sakr, a bi Muslim Australian poet. He examines identity from this perspective, which is fascinating and beautifully told. In “Door Open (Like all habitats, my body tells)” he writes, ‘…Come inside, let me / warm you with all I am. Mind your head / here on the ridges of my teeth. Careful / where you step, I am breakable…’.
“Call Off Duty” opens with the poet addressing someone playing the video game and ends with the poet having sent a coming out letter to that person, fearing the worst, ‘…saying I forgive you / for all that is to come, and hoping / at last for salaam to exist between us…’ The ache of it is soothed at the end with ‘And everything I thought I knew / broke into a sound like prayer’.
Support an Aussie poet
Michael Farrell’s Family Trees
Thuy On’s Turbulence
- UWA Publishing (UWA is currently offering free postage their poetry titles)
Jenny Blackford’s The Alpaca Cantos
Omar Sakr’s These Wild Horses