Angela Meyer Reviews Etchings

11 July 2011

:etchings 9 – Love & Something edited by Sabina Hopfer et al
Ilura Press, 2011

Love & Something is the sub-header of :etchings 9, and the something seems to stand for the multitudinous meanings the word love can inspire – familial, romantic, love of nature, passion for work – and the variety of things that sit beside it such as desire, heartbreak, longing and memory. The vehicles for these themes range from poems both direct and symbolic, art created from and inspired by history, and fiction both realist and speculative. With the broadness of the theme and mishmash of styles, the issue lacks a certain cohesion, although this might be an attempt to avoid any homogenisation of the concept of love.

An early striking image in the issue is that of a carton of milk left on a car that “somehow survives the drive home”, in Anthony Noack’s short and powerful poem ‘Milk’. Life and love are capitalised in the poem marking them as entities that, in their survival, are as surprising, fortunate and perhaps improbable as that carton of milk. Due to this improbability, the focus of many of the pieces in the issue is on what has been lost – something that has been loved or had the potential to be, and some things that are discovered too late.

In Earl Livings’ ‘Earth Angel’ a “[f]riend of ant, blackwood and pardalote” shows the poet (joyfully) how to let a spider crawl across his hand “without shiver” and allows him to taste organic and natural foods and water: “We shared such palate of root, leaf, flower / and nut, subtle after the blood history of meat”. Soon they come across the tracks of hunters, encounter dead wildlife; they drive back home “past shopping mall and housing estate”. His guide and teacher is silent and unsmiling. It seems that this other, colonising something can never be loved, because of all it has taken away.

In Kathleen Bleakley’s ‘Coast Road’, “[t]hings set in tar / can vanish’, including the road she has driven upon all her life, the road she learnt to drive upon. Nostalgia also permeates Jennifer Yaros’ ‘First Love’, where the poet recalls a child point-of-view of her father: “Colossal hands rested / at my hips, and I puckered warm lips, kissed him / loud, long, just like the grown-ups on tv.” The poem, however, opens with an incongruous metaphor, the child’s hair: “a knotted tangle of dying vacant lot weeds”. The image is recognisable, but the tone of the metaphor distracts from the sweet lightness which permeates the rest of the poem. The poem closes on a much more successful simile, as the child slides “down his thick torso, his muscular legs, / the way I might slither down carpeted stairs.”

One of the most accomplished pieces, ‘When He Left Her’ by Graham Nunn, lists the objects a departing lover has taken, and those that were left behind. The poem is tangible: the reader can see/feel each of the items taken or left and can estimate how diminished the meaning of their relationship, and the leaver’s view of his lover, has become. In what was left behind, ‘a toothbrush’ sits atop ‘despair’. He takes things of material value, and the reader also has insight into the departing lover’s standards when we learn he took “her heart / to mount alongside / all the others” – a collector’s item, along with the bone china.

The ‘I’ of Kevin O’Cuinn’s ‘Untitled #11’ feels time pushing at him, and yet remains inactive – paralysed by it. His partner, in the poem, seems to be adding to the pressure as she calls from the bedroom, and then:

She calls again, It’s time, meaning
it’s time to draw a line under today, to consign it
to the yesterdays that
crept up and are suffocating us
at speed; soon they’ll be all that’s left.

There is a panic and reluctance at giving up the day and letting it fold over into another. The love of the partner is not a comfort and while it matters to him sometimes, “most times now, I will not care”. The spectre of time, and his overt awareness of it, is the something in the way of love and comfort in the poem. He does eventually lie down beside her, still dreading another “today”.

There are poems of ephemeral love; the tactile ‘Sunrise’, by Janis Freegard, about a one-night stand or perhaps the beginnings of love – “she hands him back the blue checked shirt / he said looked good on her”; and Cassandra Atherton’s short poem ‘Plath’ about the kind of relationship where one partner loves too much and it “asphyxiates’ them.

‘Darwin Entropy’ by Stuart Cooke is a self-aware piece about a poet in the Top End. In Cooke’s bio it says he is completing a PhD on Indigenous Australian and Chilean poetics. In the poem, the poet “can’t see the point of turning their songs / into objects of study.” The something is the moment of passion wavering – the love of a subject questioned in the heat and “with a woman without her name”. Each stanza, of varying lengths, ends in a colon as though each stanza unpacks, explains and expands on each of the last, until the final lines where (switched to first person) he says:

it seemed that each one of my poems, each one,
might end with the following beginning:

Finally.

This could be an extension of this self-doubt or wavering passion, acknowledging its part in the creative process, and that each poem has felt final. Or perhaps, at each poem he has finally come to a conclusion about something. But then (and as the colons indicate) there is always the possibility of expansion on an idea. Knowledge and creation, and thus passion, can be endless – but each creation can, at the time, feel entropic, as though all of one’s self and ideas were being melted into it.

But there is rediscovery of love and passion in the issue, too. In Tanisha Mykia Adams’ ‘The Flute’s Song’, an “oblivious symbol from an axed life-chapter” is rescued from its status as paperweight and “tested with tongue”. It is a flute the ‘I’ of the poem played when young, no longer “oblivious” but then, it may have been too long, as the poet contemplates “[a] time when such a shape was harmless”.

Some of the pieces are about attempting to create a self that can be loved. In the short story ‘A Man of Letters’ by Robert Peett, a lonely postman begins to steal letters and imitate people in his replies. He even sends them money, and insists he is trying to bring them a little hope. But what he’d really love is “a little word from someone.” In ‘Catching the Drops’ by Simonne Michelle-Wells, a young woman returns home after liposuction. There are clues to her relationship with her mother in relation to guilt and food. In the morning she is drawn to the hospital, and she is not alone. Others seem to be walking forward, in search of lost parts of themselves.

In the fiction, as in the poetry, the something is more palpable than the love. In a moving story ‘The Green’, by Eliza-Jane Henry-Jones, an old woman in a nursing home remembers (and doesn’t remember) a son who died at age 38. The memory of his green eyes combines with the green of the rainforest outside the nursing home. The food, her dreams and the nurses are all vividly rendered.

The main feature of the issue is an interview with filmmaker and animator Adam Elliot. His film Mary and Max is an exploration of a deep friend-love, between misfits, but the love in this interview is from Elliot for his work, and for creation. The something here is passion and enthusiasm for work, but that work also explores other somethings such as loneliness and imperfection. The questions are good but the interviewer oddly claims that Elliot’s stories “fill a considerable gap in the filmic landscape” by telling the stories of peripheral and ill-fitting characters. I would argue that there are countless works of cinema which hinge on the idea of the protagonist/s occupying and navigating a challenging space in society and an outsider status. But Elliot’s enthusiasm, and the colour plates from Mary and Max are sweet-spots in the issue.

There is not space enough to mention the rest of the pieces; but briefly, Julie Millowick’s photograms, printed alongside the love letters of a 19th Century Chinese woman are restrained and impressionistic, and make up one of the only pieces exploring a kind of true love. Kylie Ladd’s account of losing her love for Jesus as she found lust is a funny, fascinating insight into one person’s era of discovery – the teen years. Michael Sala’s ‘Striking Out’ is an accomplished realist short story about a man who isn’t sure he’s patient enough to be a partner and a father; worth reading for the perceptive nuances in the couple’s fights.

In :etchings 9, love is present but it isn’t the main attraction. The something takes over; sometimes elusive, like the meaning of a woman’s silence and the “sound of black between stars”, in Kevin Gillam’s poem ‘The Sound of Black’. More cohesion could have been achieved perhaps by sectioning the issue into sub-themes. Some of the short stories also feel as though they could have been more tightly edited – some of them don’t seem to know how to end and they make broad (yet prescriptive) sweeps at their endings. They conclude, when at times it would be better for the reader to be able to make up their own mind. The poems are, by their nature, more open to interpretation, but a few possess out-of-place imagery, particularly in their openings. Overall, a tighter rein on both theme, and the polishing of each piece, would benefit this journal. But there are undeniably some pieces worth loving … or worth something.

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