We feel the anxieties in this family as children ask: ‘Can I still call you Mama?’ To which Quinn replies: ‘Yes, of course’. And we sense the child’s search for certainties: ‘But now you’re a boy Mama?’ And Quinn lovingly affirms: ‘Now I’m a boy Mama … adding this new name to the list’. But this book is not only a record of the pain and doubt involved in such self-discovery. It is also a glorious celebration of the joys of parenthood:
And as I walk I know this: not only that these children are the best of me, but that I am the best of them. I walk in my shining skin, gold dust in my hair, the light of a thousand lanterns tracing the darkness and confusing the stars, and my children sing with me. Those piping voices, my cracking notes.
To have arrived at such love, such self-affirmation, as to outshine stars must be a wonderful thing (even when recorded in the ‘cracking notes’ of a metamorphosing voice). And this triumph is possible because of family acceptance and love. In the poem, ‘This Mother Thing’, Eades concludes with the following unforgettable lines:
This mother thing is the making of me but I miss those pulsing rooms, the feel of all of you pressing in on all me.
This is such an understated rallying call. Amidst all our homophobic inequalities and unsafe socialisation there is this hope, this capacity for resilience and renewal. This is a stripped-down lyricism bearing witness against bullying, homogenising ways of thinking; instead, it asserts enough self-worth to make an enriched, diverse society a necessary, achievable place.
There is nothing ‘stripped-down’ in the lyricism of Gabrielle Everall, however; so rich are her images and allusions to lesbian cultural theory, Classical mythology, Ancient Near Eastern history, and late nineteenth / early twentieth century European literary cultures. Everall divides her book into four sections: Sappho; Gertrude (Stein) and Alice (Toklas); Virginia (Woolf) and Vita (Sackville-West); Djuna (Barnes). Each section is a celebration of the secret and public lives of these well-known lesbian and feminist writers. And I applaud General Chaos Publishing (an imprint of the Melbourne salon, Girls on Key) for recognising what an important and brilliant book this is. Everall deserves greater applause, because she writes with all the imagist dynamism and narrative energy of Dorothy Porter.
In ‘Sappho Burning’, Everall writes:
as hot as Judy Graham’s notebook during a police raid as hot as Swinburne’s cannibalistic projections of Sappho’s kindled breasts as hot as her mouth flame-throwing unrequited passion as hot as the hottest papyri found this side of the Western Desert setting the Nile on fire.
How does the poet so convincingly work into just ten lines such far-ranging imagism and historical referencing? The poem sends you to the reference library to discover more about Judy Graham (and lesbian feminist cultural theories) and Algernon Charles Swinburne (and the Decadent / Pre-Raphaelite schools of poetry) but its impact is immediate: this is joyful, unrepentant, lesbian pride. And like Quinn Eades, Everall uses repetition for great dramatic effect. The language is simple, but the reiteration of ‘burning’ / ‘hot’ / ‘flame’ / ‘fire’ is so conducive to an atmosphere of passion. It is wonderfully counterpointed with the wildly unexpected imagism of ‘cannibalistic projections’ and a ‘mouth/flame-throwing unrequited passion’. And who else but Everall, or Porter, could get away with conflating modern popular eroticism with papyri texts? And all this in a book that has a plain, bridal white cover, featuring in black outline a laurel wreath and neatly tied ribbon. Appearing near the opening, ‘Sappho Burning’ establishes the tone for what is to come, and is a welcome to a most unexpectedly daring book.
Like Eades, Everall knows the sabotaging pain caused by homophobia. The poem, ‘I Made Him My Muse’, concludes with the following stanza:
I do not love him the best but my loneliness is a bomb raising a siren call to him. My death is his life he drinks my blood and eats my body from head to toe. My words burn for hours. Oh consuming, consumable muse give me back my life and release me from your pain.