John Bartlett Reviews Kevin Brophy and Linda Adair

By | 14 April 2021

Poet Linda Adair is a former horticulturalist and landscape designer who works to ‘protect riparian zones from the impacts of adjoining developments’. The poems in The Unintended Consequences of the Shattering pay attention to both damage and healing. The damage observed here is historical, familial, environmental and political, apparent in the structural inequalities in society, especially as they apply to the treatment of women (the ‘shattering’ of the title). The tone of these interrogations of past histories and the state of the planet is often angry, but it is an anger that does lead to understanding. For example, in ‘The Southerly Never Arrived’, the poet reflects on responsibility for a friend’s overdose, concluding ‘that no-one, least of all me, could have saved you’. Poetry, if nothing else, allows us to look back on past events with an understanding and a compassion that would have been beyond us at the time. The language overall is simple and unadorned, neatly avoiding romanticising or over-embroidering these stories of domestic violence, PTSD and suicide.

In ‘End of Days’, a poem which catalogues contemporary disasters, ‘the future no longer beckons – it threatens’. This language simulates that of contemporary media (anti-poetic even). It could be the language of the nightly news broadcast. The use of many four- or five-syllable words slows this poem down and forces us to pay attention to each horror enumerated.

Entire ecosystems are sacrificed
cultural genocide accelerates
as traditional communities atrophy
under machined theft by corporate barons
to steal the essential commons:
water and air.

In other poems such as ‘Enough Rope to Hang Us All’ the poet casts a withering eye on effects of colonisation on a nation and its people. The poem posits: ‘Europeans couldn’t see the delicate balance of life / on this island continent’, then concludes that ‘given our nation’s heartless response to others, should we / become climate refugees – who would take us in?’ This poem is structured as a series of stanzas, each of which builds the argument for climate action – abandoning poetic pretence.

The word ‘pathogens’ appears in several poems and suggests a disease at the heart of society. This idea is particularly apparent in the poems focusing on violence against women or ‘home-grown terrorism’. In ‘A Refugee of the War Indoors’, a poem in which a woman’s ‘home became a torture chamber’, it is an ‘unnamed suburban terrorism’.

‘Pulpit Hill Road’ is another poem that addresses this violence, hinting at a situation of danger for a woman driving home alone, ‘pressing the door-lock button’.

There is a sleight of hand going on here as we initially worry for the safety of the narrator, only to have that expectation overturned in the final stanza, where:

my lights penetrate the cabin of the Corolla
a woman of about 40 is settling in and looks up
fear wide in her eyes under the high beam’s glare

The language here is vernacular, typical of Adair’s simple storytelling style, totally accessible.

Adair is a poet prepared to confront historic and violence too, even familial, as she casts a microscopic gaze in a longer poem of three pages – ‘The Gunner’ – the story of a family forebear who fought in WWI,

Medalled but never supported
Stiff upper lip by day
The bottom of a bottle at night.

There is nothing triumphant about war here, no romance, just ‘horrors never shared / seared into his psyche’,

and the agonies of others

Although the lineation here follows poetic enjambment, it could have read as a piece of prose. The tone is direct and, typical of Adair, unwilling to distract from historic details with too much poetic embellishment.

Adair’s tone is not always anti-romantic, however, and a beautiful poem, ‘Word Play Love’, in which the poet looks back on a long-sustained relationship, the language is full of emotion and romantic imagery:

two impassioned refugees
found a vision through the mist /
sutured each to each
skins hearts and minds

The emotional imagery and language continues in ‘The Light Far From the Hill’, (another longer poem of two pages) and my favourite poem in this collection, as a mother re-assesses her family’s ‘brutal / history told at the famine museum’ but still looks with hope towards the next generation and her ‘lucent child’ whom she names ‘bringer of light’. Although she identifies the pain and shame of earlier generations, she is no longer weighed down by it. The light motif appears in every stanza, ending with the ‘solo candle … in this window’ as a final symbol of hope.

The poems in this collection focus on the ‘shattering caused by violence and its ‘consequences’ (both intended and unintended), whether these are historic, familial or society-based in a language that often avoids being laden with too much imagery or metaphor. The antidotes here are the more personal poems of love, of family, relationships and hope. This is a collection that moves easily between an authentic, yet angry honesty finding hope and healing in human relationships.

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