Sarah Holland Batt

The Jaguar by Sarah Holland-Batt

by
June 2022, no. 443

I first encountered Sarah Holland-Batt’s poem ‘The Gift’ in The New Yorker. It begins, ‘In the garden my father sits in his wheelchair / garlanded by summer hibiscus / like a saint in a seventeenth-century cartouche’ – an unremarkable opening, I thought, to a poem of personal anecdote, a genre too ubiquitous among our contemporaries. Rereading the poem in the context of her third collection, The Jaguar, I became acclimated to her style and manner, and admired the alertness of its verbal performance. If the new book remains a personal memoir, narrating the devastating illness and death of her father, it is also charged throughout with a strong writer’s intelligence and vulnerability. ‘I will carry the gift of his death endlessly,’ she writes, ‘every day I will know it opening in me.’

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Beside the fountain’s troupe of sun-bleached rubber ducks, / in the gardens, under a shade sail, / my father is crying about Winston Churchill. / Midway through a lunch of cremated schnitzel ...

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Sarah Holland-Batt’s Fishing for Lightning is a book about Australian poetry. As such, it is a rare, and welcome, bird in the literary ecology of our country. It is welcome because poetry, like any other art form, requires a supportive culture that educates and promulgates. Not that Holland-Batt, herself one of our leading poets, is ‘merely’ didactic, or a shill for the muses. Holland-Batt, who is also an academic, writes with great authority and insight, and she is a fine stylist, penning essays that are packed with humour and playfulness. These essays cater for all kinds of audiences, from newcomers to poetry experts, which is no small feat.

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In the garden, my father sits in his wheelchair / garlanded by summer hibiscus / like a saint in a seventeenth-century cartouche. / A flowering wreath buzzes around his head – ...

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To hell with what you think of me.
I’ve started drinking martinis at three.
I wake, I walk, I write, I sleep.
I snooze the alarm. I doze. I read.

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As my plane drops down in turbulence

I think of you and of Salt Lake City,

I think of ice stealing over the Great Lakes

and of Omaha and of adamant plains.

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Sarah Holland-BattSarah Holland-Batt is the author of two award-winning books of poetry, Aria

Sylvia Plath wrote her last letter to the American psychiatrist Dr Ruth Beuscher a week prior to her suicide on 11 February 1963. In it, Plath castigates herself for being guilty of ‘Idolatrous love’, a concept she drew from psychoanalyst and philosopher Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving. ‘I lost myself in Ted instead of finding myself ...

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What are the limits of maternal love? How do children fare in its absence? Is mothering a socialised behaviour or a biological impulse? These are the questions Alice Nelson pursues in her second novel, The Children’s House, which draws its title from the name given to the separate quarters ...

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‘When I was younger even the appearance of “I” on the page made me feel a bit ill,’ Zadie Smith confesses in her new book of essays, Feel Free. Shades of this chariness about the personal pronoun still persist in her non-fiction today, which is markedly self-effacing. From the outset, Smith repeatedly attempts to ditch ...

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