Lucy Van Reviews Merlinda Bobis

By | 1 March 2018

Bobis authenticates this need on a number of levels, at times with the lucidity of ‘Cassandra’ and at other times with greater metaphorical ambiguity. Always, she addresses the complexities of this need with humanity, with the drama of bodies on the line:

She circumnavigates the rim of the cup with a finger:
once for worry, twice for deep thought. Now it’s six
times underwater in the sink, but pausing on a chip only 
her seasoned finger knows. A world wounded six times

(‘The Story of Blue’)

These often voluptuous lines attempt to access and reconstruct submerged histories. Cobalt brought from Iran to China is worked into the story of a Willow Pattern cup, and a wave of global history breaks and ripples into the realm of the personal, touching a family across India, England, Sydney, and Kokoda. A son challenges his mother, ‘eyes bloodshot and speaking in tongues: That blue is not // English or Chinese, mum, it’s Muslim Blue, don’t you know that? And the story is not always about us’. But for Bobis the story is always about ‘us’ – and all there is at stake in the notion of us. Her poetry speaks of an indomitable curiosity and compassion for fellow humans, and the act of ‘composition’ delights in surprising details that can yield a vision of how others see the world:

Suddenly shadows
after the noonday glare
and you look up
and understand

why the suddenness
why the shadows
after so much sun —
look, a green canopy

(‘Calle Verde’)

An ode to Bobis’s evident influence in Lorca, ‘Calle Verde’ also enacts a fantasy of shared illumination, ‘caught again / by the ghost of a poet / looming Green, green, / I love you green’. This desire for such a shared vision propels composition in its search for the accident, for the lucky find, for the story that survives. Accidents of Composition is testimony to all who have ‘accidentally’ shared their visions with the poet. In the company of Lorca, Magellan, Ian Gentle, Cassandra, a boy named Denmark, and a vast array of others, an anonymous writer retrieves his story in the wake of Supertyphoon Reming:

He found it. 
Ballpoint ink weeping
on the cover page
but still readable: 
English Composition.

But inside 
it’s waterlogged,

(‘The Lost Notebook’)

From its core, this collection radiates an ambitious vision of kindness. The notion that the heart has space enough to imagine the story that remains unfinished, to attempt to see what lies beyond our borders, is made compelling by Bobis’s immediately intelligent and vivid reading of the world. With a voice courageous as ever, Bobis stays full of novelty and surprise in her generous, beautiful entreaty to look and listen to one another anew.

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