What strikes me as most compelling about Nadia Bailey’s poem ‘October’, is the way in which she portrays the horror of the October bushfires in the NSW Blue Mountains by telling it ‘slant’. The poem is redolent with suggestion and resonance, all achieved through her judicious word and image selection. Over the centuries, the moon has appeared countless times in poems, but Nadia Bailey’s portrayal of it seems fresh and unique. The phrase ‘A harlot moon’ immediately sets the tone of the poem and diffuses any clichéd notions. It alerts the reader that this is no ordinary night and the moon becomes a portent of loss, and an indicator that strange things are afoot. The red moon, the yowling cat, the clouds of ash ‘occulting the moon’ all suggest black magic, picked up beautifully in Miles to go// and no rapture in sight — the reference to Frost’s, ‘Miles to go before I sleep’ is a charming touch in the poem. The cat’s synesthetic ‘dull scream/ swaying like a thurible’ adds much to the poem, cleverly suggesting smoke, ritual and the inversion of normality.
The poem is dramatic, but not melodramatic; the poem’s brevity and intensity are a direct result of the sonnet form. The enjambment creates a sense of urgency, the running lines mimetic of fire. I also like the inversion of scale. The city with its ‘seashell resonance’ seems an ineffectual whisper against the cat’s ‘long yowl’, and the moon, ‘shrugged from the shoulder of Orion’ gains mythic proportions. Yet by the end of the poem, we know it is the fire which is the genesis of all these strange happenings. The ending phrase, ‘ash clouds occulting the moon’ delivers enormous emotional and symbolic power. All in all, a finely crafted and rewarding poem. – JB
October A harlot moon: the fires burning in the west turn the light bloody before night takes its lease of the sky. A red moon, shrugged from the shoulder of Orion, rises to the seashell resonance of the city and the night is thick with dust and sweet-mouthed promises, baby, it will be over soon. A long yowl cuts the heat, incoherent or spoken in tongues – a cat, fighting for its piece of the world, dull scream swaying like a thurible. Miles to go and no rapture in sight, just the slow ash clouds occulting the moon.