Scar Country by Rebecca Edwards
Scar Country contains poems recognisable from Edwards' early Metro Press publication, Eating the Experience. Her editors are to be commended for including these early poems, as they serve as an excellent introduction to the texts of a fine and strong Australian poet, even as we familiarise ourselves with her self-exploratory, anatomical style of writing.
she'll sew you
into a quilt square
she'll scrub your bloodring
from the boarding house bath
('Always the Mother')
As fortune would have it, I managed to catch Edwards reading from new work at the 2003 National Poetry Festival in Brisbane, and was very pleased when she read the poem 'Medea's Dream' from Scar Country alongside new work composed while living in Japan.
Scar Country is our landscape, here in Australia. It examines interpersonal relationships and lets you in to see the things we all see from another's eyes, the familiar laconic attitude of our fellow countrymen, the roadside hotels, the cities, the valleys and the cab drivers, the people worse off than us in the jobsearch queue:
Tonight I own two beds, four towels,
I am nameless as the colour of the carpet.
There are lovers in this mirror.
There is smoke in the curtains
a thin black hair in the drawer.
('One Night Free Hotel')
There's a woman crying at the CES.
She came here hard and brittle as a shard of glass.
She said: I am strong I will do anything.
The blank sun struck off her sharp body
Ticking down like some machine
But the poems also lets us into places unfamiliar, the private world of a woman and her body, the routine coldness of doctors, childbirth, the ever-presence of breasts, the removal of breasts:
When I sliced off my breasts they peeled back, cunjevoi taken for bait
('Weird Sister Shortcut')
Edwards is a complex figure, her landscapes and interiors are by turns agoraphobic and claustrophobic, childish and adult, inferior yet superior. Sometimes she celebrates and exposes her body as we clamber forward to see, only for her to turn suddenly inward and in word, to mock the fragility of the flesh, of her flesh and our flesh and our willingness to succumb to the flesh, or her description of the flesh, to pain, or to pleasure. Often, on the page and while performing her work, she will encompass the audience with a warm embrace and then her words will come down her nose, and one feels like a student, cornered by a strict school marm:
Miss Kirkfitzpatrick had trembly white hands and a soft, secret
smell that poked it's nails into your shoulder while she told you
about the heart of Jesus red and oozing love inside the clean
white shirt that Mary had washed for him
Rebecca Edwards celebrates the contradictions of the body and the contradictions of the Australian landscape, the beautiful and the banal, the ingenious and the pedestrian. She explores the native fauna and the local morality, the bottoms of streams and the edges of bathtubs. The things that she experiences and the texts that result are as sure as eroded stones.
Brentley Frazer lives in Brisbane. He is the editor of Retort Magazine.