Past and present

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Rachel Ed­wards

The first sec­tion, Physique, tells sto­ries of peo­ple and place. Fair Old Clip touches on a young woman’s hor­ri­ble re­al­i­sa­tion of the malev­o­lence and ig­no­rance of her boyfriend af­ter she dis­cov­ers his racist graf­fiti. This cap­tures a dis­ap­point­ingly uni­ver­sal nar­ra­tive, one of racism and abuse, and one of de­cay­ing re­la­tion­ships. Set on Bruny Is­land in 2008, it notes the ca­sual racism of con­tem­po­rary Aus­tralia.

Physick is a book of po­etry that sears and coaxes. No one else takes the tem­per­a­ture of Tas­ma­nia quite like Hay, and no one else uses Tas­ma­nia as such an ef­fec­tive prism through which to con­sider hu­man na­ture. It should be pre­scribed read­ing for all of us.

As should Writ­ing to the Wire, a col­lec­tion of po­ems about the in­car­cer­a­tion of asy­lum-seek­ers, su­perbly edited by Dan Dis­ney and Kit Ke­len. It con­tains work from po­ets in Aus­tralia and from some in de­ten­tion on off­shore is­lands or re­cently re­leased, in­clud­ing the po­ems of a young man named only as B.

B had been in­car­cer­ated on Manus Is­land for 27 months at the time the book went to print. He chose to with­hold his name, as did Tamil poet K, who spent years in de­ten­tion cen­tres.

This is from B’s poem, Night: “a girl-friend with ten­der hands. / Ev­ery­thing is worse than in our night­mares — / tor­ture and de­spair. / Bring me the night.” It stings with its few words, its hu­man­ity and its loss. He may not share his name but with this poem he shares his ex­pe­ri­ence, and makes it dif­fi­cult to ig­nore his mis­for­tune and that of oth­ers in the camps.

John Ben­nett’s Ex­po­sure, Syria 1975-Aus­tralia May 2014 goes be­yond our shores and their sur­round­ing prisons to Syria, to hu­man, per­sonal sto­ries. It’s a con­ver­sa­tion with a taxi driver: “Are your fam­ily here?” “Just my wife and daugh­ter.” “Are your par­ents safe? “No … we are in mourn­ing.’’ His face is briefly bul­lied by grief.

This book in­cludes some of the strong­est and most in­ter­est­ing po­ets in the re­gion today, in­clud­ing Michelle Cahill, David Sta­vanger, John Tran­ter and Ivy Al­varez. Juan Gar­rido-Sal­gado was a po­lit­i­cal pris­oner in Chile and Anna Couani’s grand­par­ents were refugees from Poland.

In the in­tro­duc­tion, the ed­i­tors re­fer to the cul­tural am­ne­sia of Aus­tralians that has been “func­tion­ally and as­sid­u­ously un­der­writ­ten by right-wing think­ing”. Han­nah Arendt is men­tioned, too: sadly, her work is be­com­ing more rel­e­vant once again. These are po­ems about the cru­elty to­wards peo­ple seek­ing safety on our shores. It is a book that will mark our times. is a writer and edi­tor.

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