Cassandra Atherton Reviews Anne Elvey

By | 4 August 2014

Similarly, ‘Lamentation’, prioritises indigeneity in an eco-critical claim to attentiveness. The Murray River is referred to by its Aboriginal names ‘tongala’ and ‘millewa’, however, in the final line ‘o murray, o murray’, the English term is prioritised. This demonstrates the long process involved to reach ‘the forgiveness of things’:

the tongala the tongala
in the beak of a gull
threads cotton and rice

too tired to forgive
and sea (does it know)
bends and breaks

ready  to admit
the heavy (lifted) metal
o murray o murray

The use of spacing as lacunae on the page, such as those between ‘ready’ and ‘to admit’ and again between ‘heavy’ and ‘(lifted)’ in the final tercet, are metaphors for the halting, weighty moments in the river’s experience. This is a feature also used to dazzling effect in ‘Bent Toward the Thing’ and ‘Nanoq’ to underscore the dawning of an understanding: ‘when to see is to see’ ‘Nanoq’. In this vein, ‘Lamentation’ mourns all that has been swallowed in the process of ‘admit[tance]’ and ultimately, forgiveness. Indeed, Elvey’s Kin is interested in ‘admit-ting’ to things (confession) as well as being ‘admitted to’ a new understanding of things (epiphany).

Divided into three parts: ‘Skin to Skin’, ‘Kin’ and ‘Coming Home’, Kin encourages the tangibility of experience and presents many different interpretations of ‘home’ and what it means to return there. Although the word ‘skin’ is mentioned too often (more than a dozen times) and there is noticeable repetition of the word ‘flesh’, this is because Elvey is interested in a kind of vital materialism. Indeed, Kin explores what Jane Bennett calls:

the fractious kinship between the human and the non-human. My ‘own’ body is material, and yet this materiality is not fully or exclusively human … If more people marked this fact more of the time … could we continue to produce and consume in the same violently reckless ways?1

The body and the bodily are important to the poems in Kin and point to the ways in which the voice is also embodied. This is best explored in the sensual, ‘Plural ecstatic’ where love begins in the ‘a.m’ and continues ‘into REM’. This kind of boundless love is sung in praise of the way in which the body can forge with the elements in ecstasy:

afternoon love
the wind lifts your hair
				                                             with rumour of a place other
than your screen.				                              you unbutton your skin

early evening love

the sun drops into the bay.
								                                          a dragonfly
		                                           the hand-stitched binding of your bone.

The vulnerability of the fragment, ‘unbutton your skin’, coupled with the almost windswept lines where words appear as if they have been scattered like seeds across the page, point to both a wildness and a quietness in the representation of love. It is a love that, in many ways, brings us back to country in Elvey’s poems.

Donna Haraway has argued, ‘material ecocriticism wants to help build on-going stories rather than the histories that end’.2 In Kin, the concept of kinship is recuperative and celebrates the Earth at its core: an ongoing story of patterns and flows; a ‘landscape of kin’ that is infinite.

  1. Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, Duke University Press, 2010, p.112-113
  2. Donna Haraway, The Haraway Reader, Routledge, 2004, p.1
This entry was posted in BOOK REVIEWS and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Related work:

Comments are closed.