Shale Preston Reviews Christine Townend

9 July 2015

The poems in the last section, like those in ‘Speaking’, limpidly evoke the power and majesty of the natural world, but on this occasion assume a third person view. There are many fine poems in this section but I found ‘The Deodar’ particularly memorable and poignant. The poem begins by conveying the sublimity of the evergreen coniferous tree:

In its branches were seasons and climates.
Swathed in the hiss of wind
It latched the earth to sky.

but the third stanza bluntly undercuts this vision:

It took four hours to cut the tree.
Its parts were minced.
Birds fled.

A tree that can live for more than one thousand years and contain an entire ecosystem is unceremoniously cut down and chopped up with no apparent thought for the world that it supports within and beneath its great and fragrant branches. The name deodar may come from the Sanskrit word, davadaru, meaning divine timber but there is no commensurate reverence and once the tree has gone, not even the air can stop to pay homage:

Now there is no embroidery
No fretted cornices;
the air is plain, and passes
Swiftly without bowing.

Many influential figures in history have sought, in varying ways, to negate the lived experience and perception of animals. St. Thomas Aquinas and René Descartes, in particular, have much to answer for. Luckily, in the early 21st century, things are changing, and there are people who have worked at the forefront of animal welfare that we now, more than ever, need to listen to. One of these people is Christine Townend. Let’s hope that her resonant and deeply affecting debut poetry collection will, over time, forge a strong place within the hearts of Australians.

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About Shale Preston

Shale Preston is an Honorary Research Fellow in the English Department at Macquarie University. Her key research interests are Victorian Literature (specifically the works of Charles Dickens) and 19th, 20th and 21st century poetry. She is a former winner of Sydney University’s Henry Lawson Prize for Poetry, Women’s Words Competition, and the University of Sydney Union Literature Competition. Her publications include Dickens and the Despised Mother: A Critical Reading of Three Autobiographical Novels (2013) and the co-edited Queer Victorian Families: Curious Relations in Literature (2015) which examines a diverse range of fiction and poetry in the 19th century.

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