Review Short: Shari Kocher’s The Non-Sequitur of Snow

11 December 2015

The Non-Sequitur of Snow by Shari Kocher
Puncher & Wattmann, 2015


Dr Shari Kocher’s The Non-Sequitur of Snow is her first full-length publication, following nearly two decades of feature poems in a range of Australian and international journals. There is an airy sense of activity throughout this volume. Kocher’s poetic settings range freely between the material and the imagined, forging connections across generations, yet coming through with surprising steel in some pieces. Structurally the collection is diverse, flowing, and occasionally more experimental.

The titular poem pairs with another, ‘Snowmelt’, in the collection’s opening. The latter sets a musical tone with a strong focus on observation rather than direct action, while ‘The Non-Sequitur of Snow’ links this with a more questioning atmosphere and sets up for a more hands-on approach. This investigative inclination very much sets the tone for the rest of the collection, as a series of narrative speakers examine links between family members across generations. In ‘The Non-Sequitur of Snow’ the speaker details a tangled series of assumptions, compounded finally in a delicate metaphorical exploration of pregnancy:

… no prayer but that which exists
          in the mouth on a breast by the river
          built on the fruit of all her soul’s doorways
	
smooth as a wish in the hand
          since ladders climb both ways
          and darkness is water

your soul quivered once
          like mine against a blue wall maybe
          still standing in the bluest dark

the curve of her own imminent horizon
          horizonless and humming what if
          the train was full

the clouds were heavy
          she arrived early and
          it began to snow

The uncertainty and anxiety for answers that commences this poem neatly folds into a scene of internal logic. Kocher’s speaker makes sense of her own questions and assumptions, priding the link between mother and daughter as the culmination of these ruminations. At the same time however, this relationship is not without its issues, as demonstrated in poems such as ‘Spoons’ where:

… crowded in drawers or leaning
precariously by the sink
their metal mouths
pursed and shrinking
the way my mother shrank from us
as if each child that swelled inside her
gouged her out a little more

until we became mouth
by mouth a set of spoons
unpolished mostly bent
but for the one
sterling silver boy
who would save us take us all
away to some shining place …

The speaker’s link with the mother is interrupted by consumptive imagery, pushed to one side as a passive observer of the mother’s fixation on the idealised boy. The poem slips into ambiguity: is the boy her son, or her lover? The absence of obvious distinction compounds the tensions within the piece. Sibling rivalry in ‘My Singing Empty Hands’ equally acknowledges the potential for family relationships to be a source of contention rather than wholly uplifting and supportive experiences.

The role of maternal figures remains a central and poignant focus across this text. It pairs interestingly with a recurring note of disappointment whenever Kocher engages a male persona. The forgetfulness of the lover in ‘Strawberries’ in contrast with the speaker’s vivid exploration of their shared memories, is an elegant poem of reproach. However, Kocher does not shy away from examining far more brutal scenes. The nightmarish murder of four-year old Darcey Freeman, thrown from a bridge by her father in a fit of cruelty as a result of a bitter custody battle in 2009 is strikingly captured in Kocher’s ‘The Bridge.’ Kocher offers a disjointed, chilling narrative of the father’s thoughts, repetitive and entitled, and oppressively misogynistic. The death of the child is a symbolic severance of the links between mother and daughter, snapped in an act of cruel selfishness while Darcey’s brothers voice their confusion. Kocher’s portrayals of children in The Non-Sequitur of Snow emphasise this helplessness paired with a need for speech.

In addition to these emotionally charged scenes, Kocher demonstrates sharpness in other senses of the word in poems such as ‘Cannibals at Dinner in Formal Attire.’ The poem’s cyclic structure and unlikely scenario reuses and reimagines the same words throughout the piece, highlighting dangers of assumption and the malleability of meaning:

… bundles of pus make bellies of shining
tuna fin in the krill of their talk
the windows shade their blinding question
the cornflowers curl their astonishing tips

tuna fin in the krill of killing
a woman picks at the leaves on her plate
the cornflowers curl their astonished lips
while the shadows of birds pass over burnt mountain …

Self-destructive tendencies are presented along with confrontational bodily imagery and unlikely personifications. The central female persona is not the speaker, but an evolving figure on the cusp of understanding. Amongst the most interesting features of Kocher’s collection are her explorations of bodily imagery and the confrontational or evolving ways in which a body-in-pieces is broken and received.

The Non-Sequitur of Snow is a successful combination of lightness and sharp attention to problematic details. The structural shifts of the poems complement the constantly evolving familial relationships detailed within, while bodies are broken down to be better understood. Kocher’s stylistic approach is at once immediate and accessible, yet sharply layered with deeper investigative purposes.

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