Indigo: Journal of West Australian Writing Volume V edited by Caroline Caddy et al
Tactile Books, 2010
In the interview with Tim Winton in this issue of Indigo, the acclaimed author provides a valuable reminder: it’s all very well to go to literary parties and drink lattes with the top Eastern States editors, but writers must also write. And read, widely. And, in Winton’s case – and that of many of the writers in this collection, it would seem – there’s no harm in lurking on the edge of the Indian Ocean, picking through detritus, gazing out at surfers and then returning, again and again, to the blank page.
For this review I’ll focus on the poetry, selected by Caroline Caddy. The word accessible – like quirky or clunky – is getting a little tired these days, but I felt it was one of the strengths of the writing. Almost any reader, even those who might declare ‘I don’t get poetry’ would find something tangible and clear in every one of these poems ‘ an image, an emotion, even a joke.
‘You finish a good book with the sense of having lived through something,’ says Winton. Perhaps, then, you finish a good poem with the sense of having understood or seen something, even for a fleeting moment. Reading Linda Bradbury’s ‘Landscape Shaped By Play’ is such a poem, allowing the reader to see a landscape through the eyes of the narrator’s Aboriginal aunty. A rock slide with ‘an unusual indentation sunside / a stripe with little round hollows top and bottom’ was, the Aunty says, formed by ‘thousands of little black nakedy bums’ – an indigenous version of the backyard plastic sheet and garden hose, and an image that stays with you long after finishing the poem. Winton talks of the Australian landscape as ‘requiring a long steady immersion, an intimacy, in order to sense its riches,’ and Bradbury’s poem points to such intimacy.
‘Fifth Generation’ by Flora Smith is also about the way landscape holds history, in this case an ancestral farm that the narrator hopes to ‘trap in memory’s amber’. Smith evokes the charge of certain landscapes, the way they catch hold of your imagination, leaving you with ‘a heart that flickers at its edges, runs now, blends in / another land whose softer colours call me back.’
‘Bush Journal, entry 49’ by Annamaria Weldon describes the startling immediacy of landscape, its sudden events and movements ‘ as it ‘rains down shards of Splendid Fairy Wrens’ ‘ in clear, succinct language, while ‘Ice Moon’ by Frances Richardson captures its nocturnal atmosphere, when
the pale old Ontario moon
with its moth-eaten
veil of clouds
keeps the unwary awake
etches and illuminates
Henry Moore shapes
trying to sleep
on this Greyhound bus.
But poetry isn’t only to be found in beautiful or rural landscapes, as Horst Kornberger’s ‘The Conspiracy of Crows’ reminds us. Here, a narrator tries to ignore the crows that
strut my territory
in their blackish ways
tilt their heads in cold control
and peck the eye of hope
from every place.
Anyone who has felt the beady eye of a crow upon them will appreciate the image of a walk ‘stitched with stares,’ and anyone who has ever felt trapped in suburbia will enjoy this evocation of its stifled, even menacing, atmosphere.
Unsurprisingly for a collection of poems written on the edge of the Indian Ocean, the sea appears more than once. Jacqueline Gregson’s compact ‘At the Cove’ leaves the reader with a satisfyingly apt metaphor ‘ surfers on the lookout for waves are ‘black Labradors that sniff the air / wait for yesterday’s swell’. And ‘Stormwrack’ by Graham Kershaw beautifully expresses the end of a relationship, and its accompanying regret, by naming the detritus lining a beach – a sea cradle that shatters into ‘brittle white confetti’ along with ‘three old thongs, six tennis balls, one grand fish’ that ‘the sea has cast aside, for beach to reconnect’. This is followed by a powerful change of register, a direct address to an unnamed person: ‘In other words, I’m sorry.’
‘The world is gone. I must carry you’ said Paul Celan, and a number of poems in this collection painstakingly carry someone who has recently died. Kevin Gillam’s ‘What the Living Do’ talks about the battle of just keeping going, the way that the living want ‘more and more and then more of it’, before contrasting that frantic activity with a moment of stillness: ‘giving the cadence time for breath. This is the thrum / and hush/ I am living. I remember you.’
The repetition of the pantoum form in Erin Pearce’s poem ‘Three Years Later’ illustrate the way someone goes over a traumatic event in search of illumination or a chance to ‘to rewrite that fading letter’, especially an event that has come out of the blue. And in ‘Green as the Dead,’ Denmark writer Virginia Jealous conveys in an almost conversational tone the strangeness of someone so recently departed that the world hasn’t quite registered the absence as permanent. ‘What’s it like, learning to be dead?’ she asks, while the final three lines pin down the sadness of someone slowly fading from view: ‘The space you took got smaller and more fragile / but now it fills this house / with absent presence.’ Mags Webster’s ‘Prognosis’ is about the conveying of bad news to an estranged loved one, and depicts this by following a letter ‘over the rim of the earth to the other side’, while its sender sees it arriving
in a moment made possible only
through sleeplessness and the conspiracy
of a million stars.
Other poems are about character. ‘Meeting Tatania’ by Rose van Son sketches a friend with small, specific details while ‘Moon’ by Dick Alderson addresses the night sky, and also, perhaps, an intimate acquaintance in an arch, questioning tone, ending with a sly question: ‘and those horns you’re growing / is that what keeps you up?’
‘My Father Played His Lover’ by Julie Watts made me smile, with its image of a man bent over his beloved cello while his wife misses him ‘discordantly’, an adverb that mirrors, in its own discordant sound, the imperfections that she despairs over when faced with her perfect, curved rival. Cas Rawlins writes of another kind of parent in ‘Saturdays’, an estranged father who is always late to pick her up: ‘Mum says it’s in his nature / something about men and timeliness’. And the final poem in the selection, ‘Dad’s Lamp’ by Will Schaefer, is about paternal influence, with a slow, almost reverent description of a lamp “lighting the smooth osmosis of your way” as a central image. I liked the way the poem refrains from describing the lamp’s appearance, instead leaving it to the readers imagination.
After reading and re-reading these poems over a few weeks to write this review, and finding more to like about them each time, it was dispiriting, to say the least, to learn that Indigo, which has developed over time out of a local writers’ group into its current incarnation, is now to close through lack of funding. It will publish its last volume in December 2010.