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Rose Lucas

Saltblood by Francesca de Tores

July 2024, no. 466

Tell me your crow name. Tell me the name you will wear to the bottom of the sea,’ begins the narrating voice of Francesca de Tores’s new novel, Saltblood. These opening words, spoken by the central character at what we come to realise is the end of her life, highlight the novel’s key themes and imagery: the play of names and identities, sometimes given and sometimes taken, but always something to be worn or cast off; the call of the sea and its persistent presence of sparkle and depth throughout this chronicle of an unusual life; and the blue-black image of the crow itself, the speaker’s constant familiar, an intimate figure who lurks, ominous and comforting, in the sway of rigging. Unfolding her story in the shadow of imminent death, the reflective, determined voice of de Tores’s narrator is as deep and unpredictable as the ocean itself, thereby setting the stage for a story of introspection and observation, resilience and desire, swashbuckling action, and quotidian seaboard life.

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how this slow tide
and sighs against
the flank of patient night –
the driving pulse that
aches towards the
of dawn then
and curls around skin’s soft
warmth, that quiet space –

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In her short life, Lesbia Harford (1891–1927) created a body of poems which have become increasingly important to scholars and poets in understanding both the impact of poetic modernism in Australia and shifting concepts of gender, class, and the tensions between a personal and a collective politics. While Oliver Dennis’s 2014 Collected Poems of Lesbia Harford presents Harford’s full oeuvre, the new Text Classics edition, selected and introduced by Gerald Murnane, brings a sharp and accessible focus on this seminal Australian poet, highlighting her key themes and demonstrating a literary style that straddled worlds: from the formal structures and decorous themes of late nineteenth-century poetry to the challenges to form, voice, and subject matter that characterised the emerging revolutions of literary modernism.

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Spore or Seed by Caitlin Maling & Increments of the Everyday by Rose Lucas

July 2023, no. 455

Sharon Olds, author of twelve poetry collections including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Stag’s Leap, has said that when she wrote about motherhood forty years ago, she was advised by editors (‘very snooty, very put-me-down’) to try Ladies Home Journal. For Olds, now celebrated as a bold poet of the body, there is some Schadenfreude in the anecdote, like Bob Dylan’s in ‘Talkin’ New York’ as he recounts his arrival in New York, ‘blowin’ my lungs out for a dollar a day’, only to be told ‘You sound like a hillbilly / We want folksingers here.’ 

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Tara Calaby’s début novel, based on her doctoral studies, wears its clearly extensive research lightly as it weaves an engrossing story of a young woman’s struggle in 1890s Melbourne towards something a contemporary reader might call social, emotional, and sexual independence. Focused around the story of an individual, House of Longing also traverses a broad canvas of social issues – class, gender roles, attitudes to mental health and its treatment, the importance of friendship, and the possibilities of sexual love between women. 

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Ordinary Time by Anthony Lawrence and Audrey Molloy

December 2022, no. 449

These strange years of pandemic and lockdowns certainly brought challenges and unusual experiences – those of constraint but also, surprisingly, of opportunity and richness. The curious spaces we occupy in the ether have become a seedbed for conversation and exchange; for connections that otherwise might not have found a field in which to prosper. Despite or perhaps because of the limits of the digital, perhaps even because we were undistracted by physical proximity, these spaces seemed to offer the potential for a raw honesty – lacunae of sotto voce conversations which brought us ironically into a form of seemingly unmediated communication. From the hermetically sealed bubble of lockdowns, digital connect took on the intensity of embodied dialogue, the intimate voice in the ear.

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In Ghostly Subjects, her first book-length collection, Maria Takolander brings a sharp, wide-ranging voice to various themes of haunting. What, after all, does it mean for a subject to be ghostly? Takolander reveals a fasci-nation with the ways that surfaces of many kinds might be disrupted within the poetic text – for example, the ways in which the present can be interrupted by the pressures of the past, or an external geography of landscape by the private desires of the heart, or the stage of global events by the graspable scale of the local. And as these boundaries blur and suffuse, Takolander’s poetry suggests that the subject is not only the world under the scrutiny of the poet’s eye, but also the subjectivities of poet and reader, both drawn into these shifting spheres of light, shadow, and surprise.

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Beginning in Sight by Theodore Ell & Trap Landscape by Nicholas Powell

September 2022, no. 446

One of the many life-challenging things that poetry can do is to prise open unexpected spaces and take us somewhere entirely unanticipated, whether it be in terms of how we live, how we understand the world, or how we link the fabric of textual utterance with that of our lived experience. These two new poetry collections set about this labour of disruption in very different ways, demonstrating some of the pathways available between poet and reader.

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‘See, my hands, they reach for you. My heart is a hand reaching.’ So begins Hannah Kent’s wide-ranging and poetic new novel, signalling its key themes of love, longing, and the pain that arises from division. While hands reach out, desperately seeking each other, Devotion explores the possibilities and the limits of such clasping. This is a powerful narrative that grapples with what connects passionate bodies and hearts and what might keep them apart, be it physical distance, religious constraint, or the limits of the imagination. Through the motif of devotion – religious, emotional, sexual – Kent’s skilful novel considers the fundamental human experiences of attachment and desire as experienced by characters who carry the weighty impress of the past, with its complex tracery of love, geography, and suffering, into the unfolding possibilities of new worlds.

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Maria Takolander’s fourth book of poetry, Trigger Warning (University of Queensland Press, $24.99 pb, 100 pp), is a sharp and arresting collection, fierce in its emotions and determination to make language do the hard work of speaking that which hovers at the edge of articulation. This is a poetics that traces everywhere the lurking presence of the disruptive – in domestic life, in global crises, even in our most intimate experiences. Takolander’s courageous poetry becomes both a landscape in which to inscribe what is unbearable and a sphere in which it might be, at least partially, managed.

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