Simon Eales Reviews Jennifer Maiden and Stefanie Bennett

By | 18 January 2016

Treating Bennett as a visionary poet, we can discern an isotope of essentialism in The Vanishing. Her poems are titled for us to be led in this direction. ‘Kinship,’ for example, gives the reader access to the feeling of kinship, setting an archetypical scene of warmth and comfort at the hearth, or around the campfire, while reinforcing instincts for togetherness, sensuality, and our commingling with ‘the elements.’ Each poem is linked to its neighbour in a similar way. The poem following ‘Kinship’, called ‘Smoke’, can be read as a reconstitution of kinship’s overflow (the fire around which we develop kinship produces smoke). This poem produces an imperative that seems to resonate through the collection. It’s a Jacob’s Ladder to the Tower of Babel. Poets not feeling well, as one line suggests, is indicative of ecological sickness. Bennett’s answer is to remain receptive, ‘stay / Sober. Stay serene. / Play / Pat-a-cake / With the screech-owl / in God’s sweet acre’. This imploration to realise what we have and appreciate it occurs repeatedly under different guises. In ‘Rilke’s Desk: A Postscript’, it is ‘Don’t / Scramble / The cornucopia!’. The Vanishing is a humble because fatalistic call to appreciation a la Guillevic, before ‘All’s well!’ disappears.

I wanted to reflect at some point on the status of vermin in both of these books. What happens with the pestilential creatures that often so delightfully hive through subversive poetic works? But neither The Fox Petition nor The Vanishing entertains the idea. Instead, the creatures that would be called so are incorporated. Because both texts stage contests without actualising them, there are no victors; no one stranded on Manus Island, and only people left speaking who can imagine extraordinary compassion. For both, such compassion involves Bartleby-like refusal to play along. Maiden, especially, expresses the importance of maintaining the capacity to resist; to oppose; to imagine difference. She does so sympathetically, mindful that weakened and traumatised creatures can read a helping hand as another backhand whack. Under the spell of ‘eau-de-Cologne,’ regular people who should not be are kept in remote prisons, and foxes are obliged to be shot.

since new laws for Biosecurity,
if I spoke to the fox without 
killing it, I would be charged, but
we once had much in common. A quality
spare and wild with desperation
in its streetlamp eyes, its old headlight
eyes could still suggest a city
in shifting shapes, its identity
aristocratic in lost deceptions. 
                                        On an empty
road by the Lakes, I once met a fox
whose eyes were ghosts with pity. (‘Once I Met a Fox’)

Empathy might not save the day, but we must muster it regardless.

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