At the heart of The List of Last Remaining lies a remarkable suite of poems about the loss of the poet’s mother, at first to dementia and then to death. Nicholas is fiercest, most tender and wittiest as an observer standing at the two gateways of life. Strong yet subtle poems in this territory are ‘Think of a Violet’ and the troubling yet beautifully generous ‘My mother’s second husband’, in which the persona leaves her mother clutching the invisible hands of her imagined other children. Hands placed one on top of the other in childish games, life-lines traced, and hands stretched out recur throughout this collection, as does the admission in the title poem that we have to live with ‘the silver coins of light…’ / but I also chose shadow’.
I found the truths of the cosy/gritty world of Nicholas’s poetry comforting and alarming by turns. I feel she is an artist who has been utterly enriched by her experiences as both a daughter and a mother, and also by her experiences of ageing. These varied life experiences and access back to a disappearing world make Louise Nicholas a vital and welcome voice in the increasingly ‘academicised’ terrain of Australian poetry. Her work has all the sophistication bequeathed by broad reading and immersion in her practice but she never uses this to distance her various personae from the reader. For all of its own ambivalences, losses and regrets, this is poetry as Keats envisioned it in a late fragment: as a hand to hold (all those hands). Nicholas remind us, too, not to forget to laugh and to hold her [laughter’s] hand ‘when crossing a busy road’.