Marion May Campbell Reviews Rose Hunter and Nellie Le Beau

By | 29 June 2023

Some of the later poems develop epiphanic composites of natureculture: of the human, flora, and the built environment, performing in their mosaic progression the embeddedness of everything.

There emerges something like an Arcimboldo allegory of the season, but more radically heterogeneous than his vegetable portraits, as in the marvellous ‘washington + lee highway (rush hour)’:

red brake lights march rain cold
and the boy is honeyed
a tight green but a stamen pistil
all things growing.
past concrete barrier, hubcap,
the median meadow holds
poppies in july august honeysuckle
black eyed.
the boy is lavender, aster
high golden rod, a nest of bees.


By contagion with the flowering freeway median strip, the boy becomes an embedding of culturenature, whereby the implied “high golden rod” Nikes suggest buzzing fertility, and the Biblical Samson’s riddle becomes active once more: “Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet” (Cooke).

In a hilarious demolition of the cosy concept of home Le Beau asserts in ‘returning’ (57-58):

                                                           is the cross, the bema
                                                        an ark made of termite


Once more, Le Beau demonstrates the comic plasticity of any concept when subjected to the mix-master of verbal inventiveness, thus the stabilising pretentions of allegory self-deconstruct in mirth:

                                                                    puts its best face 
                                                                                  on, kicks
                                                                         all the bottles 
                                                      the bed, heaves itself up
                                                 and opens the door	


The last cluster of poems investigates what escapes inheritance, or is bound to cultural amnesia, or aberrant recoding. What is evanescent, what endures, can, ironically, be the most fragile, ephemeral image, forever airborne in a surviving consciousness:

Divining rods find fruit, 
turquoise, the malachite ring my
father gave his love. She pawned it,
“Cheap shit” she said.
        […] On the last day
he built me
paper airplanes. O look, Nellie
see them fly.

(‘The Many-Worlds Interpretation’, 61)

Or, in a savage indictment of our capitalist-industrial hubris, we find ourselves inheritors of the toxic travesty of sacred breath:

When gods have lungs, they speak through

                                                        Smokestacks, breathing
Xylene, naptha. Birds are signs.

                                                      What will they think
                      When they find our glass

Buildings climbing towards something —

                 This slow world, spinning.

(‘Deer Park Tank Fire – Hell Creek Formation’ 63-64)

The degraded sacred still speaks in poignant ironies:

In cities of the dead —
through the iron gate
I pass to sit —
on whale stone where
the buried view the sea.


As uncompromising and restlessly inventive feminist works of poetry Body Shell Girl and Inheritance both succeed disarmingly and emphatically. Hunter’s verse memoir fearlessly tests the paradox of a poetics of witnessing for a traumatised and evacuated self, and does so through synaesthetic image-making and phrasing. Le Beau’s debut collection brilliantly shuttles through space-time, through woundedness and laughter, to perform a diasporic consciousness, of what our human and more-than-human inheritance might be, in a world that seems hell-bent on its own catastrophic future.

This entry was posted in BOOK REVIEWS and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Related work:

Comments are closed.