Rosalind McFarlane Reviews Lesley Synge

18 November 2012

Synge’s preoccupation with the present moment and the sacred nature of everyday experiences continues in the second half of the book as she becomes a ‘dharma bum’ on an organised walk, again with her son Declan. This section is much more prose-oriented and the poems appear scattered in between lyrically-written passages. Much like the section on Korea, the idea of being in the moment is an important force: ‘The waterfall says / blimmgblee / blleloblobloo.’

In her use of made up words to represent sounds, Synge foregrounds the nature of reading as being located in the present. The reader is required to pause and consider how the made up words may sound, and whether they consider them an accurate representation of a waterfall. Also in this section on Australia, the experience of the everyday is again coded as sacred: ‘this time next year I will drink tea / that comes from water made by clouds / i’ve known.’ In her connection of an act of sustenance (drinking) to an act of previous knowledge (walking among the clouds that will later drop rain) Synge presents the everyday experience of walking as an element of a much larger cycle of life, death and renewal.

This codification of the everyday as sacred along with the focus on the individual and the present moment is what gives this collection its strength, but also its weakness. While each moment is recorded in a way that encourages reflection, the connection between these reflections and particularly between the two journeys is never explored in depth. In her introduction to the book Synge states:

Both journeys have much in common. They required us to slow down, to let
go of our habitual lives and to let the mountains do the teaching. In both, we
trusted others to lead the way ... Two journeys ... or is it one?

However, upon reading the collection it seems indeed it is two journeys. Synge is right in that both of her trips share features, yet the poems do not reflect on or interact with each other across the central divide of the book. Experiences detailed in the section on Korea are not re-examined or reflected on during the Australian Dharma Yatra. Also, during her re-visiting of the Korean poems Synge does not comment on how her consequent experiences in Australia may have shaped her view of these poems. It is easily claimed that these connections are for the reader to make themselves, however the poetic style is grounded, personal and conversational.

Synge also foregrounds the idea of taking things as they are. This suggests that if Synge wanted to make more of the connection between the journeys she would have done so within the poems themselves. The postscripts give some brief information about the son, Declan, and Bilen Bilen, an important Yugambeh Elder; however, again, they do not offer a more interactive view of Synge’s two journeys.

Mountains Belong to the People Who Love Them embodies the idea of a travel narrative, combining poetry, prose and photos in a way that allows them to complement each other without either form overwhelming the others. The focus on the present, the way everyday activities can have an element of the sacred and the intensely personal voice that comes through in the works is a great strength. A little more cohesion and comment between the sections detailing the two journeys would have allowed for a different kind of reflection and could have been an interesting addition. However, the personal journeys Synge describes are just that, and these are executed using her own experiences in her own words.

This entry was posted in BOOK REVIEWS and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

About Rosalind McFarlane

Rosalind McFarlane recently completed her doctorate in Asian Australian poetry and depictions of water at Monash University. Originally from Western Australia her work engages with ideas of place, collaboration, ecocriticism and representations of water. She has been published in various journals including Cordite, Antipodes, Axon and Colloquy.

Further reading:

Related work: