Tim Wright Reviews Caitlin Maling

By | 7 September 2015

‘How I spent my 18th year’ is a memory and character piece, which seems to have less of the telescopic perspective of some of the others. Having dropped out of acting school, the poet-speaker is temporarily delayed in the world of retail. Here:

                                                               I fall for
the floor manager who is 15 years older than me 
and once was a trainee for the NBL

Those who remember the starry highs and subsequent lows of the 1990s-era Perth Wildcats will gauge the true pathos of that accolade. The poem is funny and to some degree self-deprecating and thereby breaks with the tone of brave determination that dominates. However, it also falls prey to the overly meaningful ending. ‘TV pastoral’, a short poem, would seem to owe something to the well-known John Forbes poem ‘TV’, as Maling’s versions of Greek myth would to those of Gig Ryan. The latter poems, in which Maling leaves aside the strictly confessional, memory-based mode, are some of the more exciting moments in the book.

Many of the poems demonstrate the poet’s turning-back towards a home city which appears, as every exile is aware, overwhelmingly large in one’s memory. There is a lot of diving beneath water in the collection, this being less a metaphor for discovery than for personal resilience among the forces of life one cannot control. It also acts as an elemental counterweight to the flying, the sense of aerial distance that regularly appears. Between water and air, there is little ‘ground’ here, and one does wish for some more of it, particularly in this the land of the Superpit and the FIFO miner (the two functions of the latter being to evade the ground and to dig it up). Centrally, these are poems of family and of suburban rite, accomplished, or not quite, by virtue of parental wisdom, grit and good humour on the part of the poet and those close to her. While the lyric and confessional dominate, there is also a reckoning of other forms, notably the dramatic monologue. The frequent use of closed lyric often left me wondering what was happening ‘over there’, in the poem’s off-screen space, wishing for a deeper conversation with place, and the ways it and the self are made and re-made in language.

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