Nathanael Pree reviews 'Comfort Food' by Ellen van Neerven, 'Year of the Wasp' by Joel Deane, and 'Invisible Mending' by Mike Ladd

Nathanael Pree reviews 'Comfort Food' by Ellen van Neerven, 'Year of the Wasp' by Joel Deane, and 'Invisible Mending' by Mike Ladd

Comfort Food

by Ellen van Neerven

University of Queensland Press, $24.95 pb, 104 pp, 9780702254055

Ellen van Neerven, Joel Deane, and Mike Ladd present poems about journeys, recovery, and healing, from comfort food to the experience of a stroke, within overlapping landscapes as palimpsests for their respective pathways.

Reciprocity through feeding runs through Ellen van Neerven’s first collection (Comfort Food, University of Queensland Press, $24.95 pb, 104 pp, 9780702254055) – reciprocity within and without family. Staples like bread and noodles bring joy and contact through breaking and sharing. The fibrous texture of mango cheeks paired with a found object – half a tennis ball – correlates to childhood; the softness of pumpkin scones and familial Dutch comfort food represent togetherness and belonging, expressing van Neerven’s mixed Mununjali and European heritage.

Edgier correspondences are found in the elders drying out kangaroo tails on a wire fence crossed by settler lines imposed on country. These create their own twisted hieroglyphics, and ‘out here there’s reading to be done’ in order ‘to be a piece in time / not a timeline / or a picket in a fence’. An old neighbour attracts animals, including ‘a tree snake hung with his belts’ – juxtaposed skins of the living and dead. A woman with cancer remembers ‘that day she found a snakeskin by the river / they say grief infiltrates strange locations / usually ties itself around your lungs like rubber bands’. Such lines within the body and spanning country are spun out deftly through the text.

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Published in December 2016, no. 387
Nathanael Pree

Nathanael Pree

Nathanael Pree is of Australian/German heritage, and was brought up and educated in the U.K. (BA (Hons) University College London). He completed his Masters' dissertation at The University of Sydney on W.G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn. He is currently a PhD candidate at The University of Sydney, researching concepts of polis, identity and space in The Maximus Poems of Charles Olson. Recent publications include a book chapter in A Companion to the Works of Kim Scott (ed Belinda Wheeler, 2016) as well as regular poetry reviews in Cordite.

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