Toby Fitch Reviews Holly Friedlander Liddicoat’s CRAVE

By | 23 October 2019

Liddicoat’s writing is joyfully and cynically specific. Skimming through CRAVE you’ll find termite trails, an 8 ball and 5 grams of MD, sexual assault near Grant Close, spit in ashtrays, nitrous oxide balloons, caramel bickies, REM twitch of an iPhone, Menulog, kiss emoji, the 8:40 from Lewisham Station, jacarandas, 24-hour Bong Benders on the Lower North Shore, RSI, a blue business shirt on someone’s head, and ‘an ice porpoise melting in a bowl in the living room downstairs’.

This last image ends one of the strongest poems in the collection, ‘WOLKENFORMEN’—the title a German compound word for cloud forms—a poem that explores the negotiating of boundaries between two friends, ‘two clouds in bed’. Here are the opening and closing stanzas of the poem:

think about large fonts and small fonts next to them
think about what this means and the space in between
think about two clouds in bed
              two new friends
              two friends with their hands out looking with fingertips
think about this, think about the distance
that has to be created between people to let others in
think about how eggs look fried on toast
              an avo in bed


you make up new words for sensations, mates
above a poster:          Status
repeat this image of a tally ho being pulled from its packet in my head
I get tangential telling you a story
you ask: what was the point of that?
there’s an ice porpoise melting in a bowl in the living room downstairs

The ice porpoise comes to represent multiple paradoxes at once, melting as it does toward the conclusion of the book. It alludes obliquely to climate change, but also, and inversely, the protagonist’s warming to romantic connection, perhaps a subtle message of hope despite global warming. The ice porpoise also symbolises the many ludicrous, ephemeral objects that have become fetished commodities under late capitalism. At the same time, its conjuring in the mind of the speaker represents tangential thinking—the quick and weird associations our minds can make and be awake to, even when in the moment of intimacy in bed, and how even then we are within and without our selves, our bodies. These so-called tangents—because they’re not really tangents but what our minds do—these associations, are poetry, are the ‘things’ worth fetishising, worth craving; the things that make unique meaning and speak to our at once individualised and collective bodily existence.

First books are often miscellaneous bodies of work, but in CRAVE Liddicoat has put forward a cohesive assay into book publishing (yes, even poetry exists in the commercial realm) with an assured yet complex, subversive voice that isn’t afraid to grapple with capitalism and emotion. The book’s sketchy play with form and style, and its innate sense of how anything can find its way into a poem, have set up a number of interesting directions that Liddicoat’s work could take in the future.

Disclaimer: This review is adapted and expanded from the launch speech given at Better Read Than Dead bookshop in Newtown, Sydney, on 29 November 2018.

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