Where We Are
Cordite Books, $20 pb, 73 pp
Hazel Smith’s ecliptical features an image of a Sieglinde Karl-Spence work of art, ‘Becoming’, a pair of ‘winged feet woven with allocasuarina needles’. It is a striking image, evocative of Mercury, with one foot resting on the other, as if the right foot’s instep is itchy. The idea of ‘itchy feet’ is something that ties ecliptical to Alison Flett’s Where We Are. Flett and Smith are both migrants to Australia; their poetry is sensitive to its site of writing, and to international and interpersonal connections.
Hazel Smith is relentlessly experimental: no two poems seem alike in form. Her poetic range is impressive, too; she works along a spectrum from expansive, prose-poetic writing to highly compressed and disjunctive poems. This means that ecliptical, in spite of its experimentation, is not always difficult to read. ‘The Lips are Different’ writes of Suaad Hagi Mohamud, a Somali-Canadian woman denied re-entry to her home on the grounds that she didn’t match her passport photograph – according to officials, ‘the lips are different’. This poem eschews complex image-making in favour of plain speaking and exposing privilege: for white travellers, ‘they are happy to believe that you are / who you say you are’. Just as the poem moves from lips to voice, noting that Mohamud’s voice wasn’t heard, Smith pauses: ‘let me be clear / it’s unwanted ventriloquism / for me to speak for her’. As activist writing, Smith’s political poems are carefully considered.