Melody Paloma Reviews Emily Stewart

13 February 2017

While these poems contain Australian concerns, they are less concerned with Romantic or Pastoral worship. Knocks is imbued with a sort of reverence for the technological and cyber, it’s a collection that sits ‘at the outskirts of internet’s bloom’. ‘Coral troppo’ is dictated by the language of an international Valley Girl, both mocking and embracing the idea of SMS speak, it feels like one long text to a girlfriend, with lines like ‘take a / pic / make it your phone / background / ssssssssunset vibessssssss’ and ‘neoliberalism / ;)’. But it’s not just parody; there’s sincerity here, too, and while it is self-effacing (like a lot of the poems here), it also celebrates youth and the joy of female friendship, as noted in the poem’s dedication ‘for Vanessa’. As a female reader of the same generation, I can’t help but feel, not exactly jealous, but the need to proclaim my own personal bonds with women, which is mostly encouraged by lines that could be nothing other than in-jokes or private memories. The book’s final lines read:

i miss u 

1. dumplings 
and hot sauce

2. jägerbombs on the 
danse~flo0rxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

Stewart’s regard for popular culture, whether celebratory or denunciatory, reminds me of Frank O’Hara’s brittle commitment to the metropolitan over the pastoral:

I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life. It’s more important to confirm the least sincere. The clouds get enough attention as it is and even they continue to pass (‘Meditations in an Emergency’).

Or perhaps more directly linked to Stewart’s influences, I think of certain ‘dead ringers’ like Gig Ryan’s ‘A car is better than a tree’ (‘King’s Cross Pastoral’).

Of course, Knocks is aware of these influences, and part of what it makes the book so good is that it is intelligent in the way it extends and exists in conversation with them. Knocks is hyperaware of a lot of things – its youth, its femininity, its generational tics, its ‘place in the anthropocene’, in the global information age, and of course, its ratbaggery, or better, girlery. All of this is risky. To be a female ratbag, to be involved in girlery, is risky. As Lorange writes: ‘Women aren’t often called ratbags because they’re sooner designated as hysterics, cheats or succubi … women ratbags are often not perceived as such by the collective lore that names, loves, and reifies male ratbags.’ To speak so loudly to your influences in the way that Knocks does is a risk, a risk because homage isn’t entirely an altruistic act, it’s a ratbag’s move; to pay homage is to speak to one’s heroes and heroines, to get them to notice, it is to say ‘I’m here, I’m good, probably as good as you, pay attention.’ If you’re going to get away with it, it’s got to be true.

(It is).

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