Following the Rhythm of the Journey: Heather Taylor Johnson reviews Asymmetry by Aidan Coleman.

Asymmetry by Aidan Coleman. Brandl & Shlesinger 2012

The atrium of the South Australian Writers’ Centre was as packed as I’ve ever seen it when Aidan Coleman said how thrilled he was for the turn out to his launch of Asymmetry. He’d told his friends and family that if they were ever going to attend one of his launches, this was it, because if ever there was a time for him to write the most important book of his life, this was it. The book, Coleman’s follow-up to the Kenneth Slessor Award shortlisted Avenues & Runways, is a testament to human strength and courage, as Coleman writes about a stroke which left him not only without the proper use of his body, but without words. We follow these poems as we would a path of recovery, beginning with ‘I speak an empty / comic bubble’ (‘The Question’, 13) and moving toward reading the newspaper, when words

…come off the page at
different speeds.

I catch, fumble,
drop.
As they enter
the head’s static, they switch –
dissolve…

I begin again,
slower, more concentratedly.

‘The Advertiser’, 19

Then begins the task of writing:

my…………….big……………….hand…………….blots
and pesters………………………sheets of butcher
‘s paper ………………..words…………..shiver
out of me………………………..like lightning
through a turnstile

‘Steroids: The Book I’m Writing’, 33

And the determination to speak:

At the counter my first word
is the wrong foot.

But I make myself understood
and pocket change,
straightforwardly, natural.

A thank-you comes from a distance.

I have my book and my strategies
and time.

‘Coffee’, 43

Finally, once words have found their meaning, and the page, Coleman gives us love poems. In a near-perfect ode to the life he feels thankful to still have, the second half of the book is a collection of poems for Leana, Coleman’s wife who travelled with him on the difficult journey.

What I love most about Coleman’s writing is that each poem is rather short and the style somewhat simple. Not only does this work as an antidote to a heavy and very complex issue, but if feels as though the poems aren’t necessarily rounded off – as if there’s an inheirent inconclusiveness which can only be assuaged by the reading of the next poem, and the next poem, and the next, so that we follow the rhythm of the journey as Coleman did. The fact that he ends with love is a celebration. I adore this book. No pretension –just one small but miraculous word following the next.

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Heather Taylor Johnson is the author of two poetry books, Exit Wounds and Letters to my Lover from a Small Mountain Town. Her third collection will be out in February from IP. She has a PhD in Creative Writing and occasionally teaches it at Flinders University. Her first novel, Pursuing Love and Death (HarperCollins), will be out in August.

Asymmetry is available from Brandl & Schlesinger http://brandl.com.au/forthcoming-titles/asymmetry or http://www.panmacmillan.com.au/display_title.asp?ISBN=9781921556319&Author=Coleman,%20Aidan