Past and present
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.