Ivy Ireland Reviews Ali Whitelock’s and my heart crumples like a coke can

By | 8 April 2019

and my heart crumples like a coke can is casually hilarious in tone, and quietly devastating in subject matter. This careful wit is sometimes caustic or sardonic (the cutting but oh-so-apt observations in ‘a friend of mine with low self esteem’ made me personally glad mine is not ‘a very high-brow bookstore’), sometimes self-deprecating, yet often simply heart-broken. This is how Whitelock chooses to tackle those immense struggles of being and being human in our time; tackling themes that some might shy away from, subjects that are much simpler to avoid. In, for example, ‘there is no sound when it snows,’ Whitelock is very aware that she is romanticising the expat’s yearning for home, in this case Scotland, where ‘conifer boughs layered with thick snow sway / like fat babies just fed’; comparing the struggles of goldfish poaching in a pond to her current situation in Australia: ‘sure this hot country is no place for a goldfish / this hot country is no place for me.’ Moreover, this space of voluntary exile builds a place for empathy when considering the utter horror of the enforced exile of the refugee. This brutally illuminating and evocative observation is taken from an art gallery gift shop:

… there is an arsehole in there wearing
jesus sandals though he bears no resemblance 
to jesus and the arsehole says to a random woman
(who turns out to be an arsehole too) he took
a holiday in paris once on the left bank some
thirty years back when it really was something
and if hitler were alive today this whole thing
with the syrian refugees would not be happening
and the female arsehole agrees then the jesus
sandalled arsehole says what’s going on over
there is nothing but a european invasion (‘mia council casa es tu council casa’)

It rarely happens that I read the blurbs on the cover of a book of poems, let alone wade through any sort of forward to a slim volume. More than likely, I’m just plain lazy, but I think to think it’s also because I just don’t like want to spoil things for the poor wee book. Blurbs, forwards, etc. give everyone something to react against: oh ‘Bukowski with a Glaswegian accent,’ eh? We’ll see about that. And then came a comparison to Sharon Olds. While it might feel strange to see a contemporary Australian poet – and this collection feels very much Australian in tone – compared to two canonical American greats (though the compliment is certainly well-earned), perhaps this poetry is ultimately, deeply, Scottish. I sense a strong dialogue with the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy throughout. In any case, after carefully avoiding the remaining blurbs, and skipping straight to a gaggle of poems somewhere in the middle, I found myself going back to read what had been written about this book, all the while whispering ‘yes!’ under my breath. I was driven to read the forward because I simply had to find out: do other people see this like I do? Turns out they do. I feel Mark Tredinnick captures the genius of this book of poems precisely when he writes ‘[Whitelock’s] poems traffic a profane divination of a self – her own, although she could be any one of us at all.’

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