This Woman by Adrienne Eberhard. Black Pepper, 2011 Reviewed by: Marietta Elliott-Kleerkoper
The title of Adrienne Eberhard’s new collection of poetry states her intention boldly: This Woman. ‘This’ signifies the place: the here and now. ‘Woman’ signifies the feminine, the female domain, a domain also encompassed by the symbolism of Susan Hawthorne’s ‘Cow’. Margaret Bradstock, in her review of the collection in Mascara Literary Review (Issue 10 October 2011), states that it is ‘female poetry’ and that it is ‘confessional’. I find these epithets limiting. Maybe ‘personal’ and ‘lyrical’ are more apt. However, as we know, the personal is both universal and political. And these qualities are not necessarily ‘female’, as is demonstrated in new collections such as Luke Davies’ Interferon Psalms and Christopher Swan’s Daylight Dark and Shadow.
One of Eberhard’s most significant and enduring influences is Seamus Heany:
Seamus Heany … his ability to invoke childhood … his ability to use language and metaphor … his way of anchoring his poems in the natural world … Heany was (sic) a poet of place …
And Eberhard is herself a poet of place. How could she not be, living by the beauty of the D’Entrecastaux Channel in Tasmania?
… Across the Channel,
Bruny stretches like a tawny lion, colour leaching
from tawny hills until grassy slopes are sandy
as the beaches rimming the island like an endless
string of pearls …
Within this landscape, under the ‘enamelled cobalt’ of the sky, are the children ‘claiming the world with their noise’. In this way, the microcosmic and the macrocosmic are united.
The notion of place includes its history (a previous volume was ‘Lady Jane Franklin’). While Margaret Bradstock may have a point, that Eberhard has romanticised that history in omitting its less palatable aspects (I am not qualified to judge), Eberhard does not shirk from confronting even the most painful experiences. Her poems on breast cancer are hard-hitting, almost savage:
Soon her own breast will radiate lurid colour, her son
will hold out his small arms and she will turn away,
her breasts dangerous. The surgeon will take his knife
and rectify. Her breast will follow the knife’s hollowing,
all pertness spent in the sharpness of steel,
falling into itself, as if trying to salvage something.
and there is the pain of witnessing her son’s colour blindness, a condition ‘carried by daughters, inherited by sons’ (‘Vision’). For me, these poems are the most poignant, perhaps partly because I too have suffered breast cancer.
Another way Eberhard says Heany has influenced her is in his use of metaphor. She says of metaphor:
… in the beginning was metaphor. This is what enables us to see the potential of the world
Kinzie has defined metaphor as follows:
Usually something physical and capable of being imagined by us visually … is transferred from the literal realm over to the spiritual
Mary Kinzie: A Poet’s Guide to Poetry.
University of Chicago Press, 1999
In Eberhard’s case, the ‘physical’ is commonly the landscape or the body – one expressed in terms of the other, for example, in poems such as ‘The Natural Order’, where the girl is described in terms of the wind, and ‘Trust’, where the child in his different stages of growth is described in terms of the animals he encountered. Out of this comparison, the message is that we are anchored in the natural world. The comparison can also enhance the description of both the landscape and the figures in the landscape. However, if this becomes too much of a pattern, the power of the comparison can be weakened.
Kinzie also points out that:
… the poet must find the right objects and the means of shifting the conception of them from one realm to another.
This can be difficult to achieve. There is a danger of bathos (so well illustrated in the works of Alexander Pope, who uses this device with intent): for example: the comparison of a flock of crows with a bikie gang; a bird’s nest ‘soft as suede shoes’ (reminded me of Elvis: ‘Don’t step on my blue suede shoes!’).
A further issue with comparison is its formulation. Simile (‘as’ or ‘like’) introduces a foreign element, to paraphrase Kinzie. In this way it is less direct. Moreover, there is an inherent ambiguity in the simile: the two arms of the comparison are as much unlike as like. It is less of a shifting from one realm to another. In Eberhard’s work there is a preponderance of simile, as opposed to a more direct form of metaphor. Take, for example, the similes used in ‘Littoral’ (see previous quotation).
In relation to diction, Kinzie states that:
… the more syllables in the word, the more conceptual, cerebral, conversational, and/or editorial it will tend to be.
Eberhard seems to have a fondness for the longer, latinate word, such as ‘luminous’, ‘translucent, ‘illuminated’, ‘excoriation’. Clearly, there is a place for both what Kinzie calls ‘objective, thing-or texture-filled’ language and abstract language. However, at times, this kind of consciously poetic language, especially if repeated from one poem to the next, or even in the same poem (see use of the word ‘golden’ in ‘Instructions for Learning the Saxophone’, p.80) the language seems over-written, especially in the case of phrases such as ‘luminous light’ and ‘ancient past’, where the adjective is in fact largely redundant.
In this collection, the poet has drawn us into her world with intimacy and honesty. It is a world rich in beauty, in history, in love of family. We are indeed ‘very lucky’:
And if we are very lucky … the poems we write will briefly repair the holes, the tears, the scatterings, the separations, so that for an instant, as the transaction between reader and poem takes place, the reader will inhabit a world made whole.
Marietta Elliott-Kleerkoper was born in Amsterdam and survived the Holocaust in hiding. She arrived in Australia at the age of 11 with her family. She taught foreign languages and English as a Second Language and lectured in Teacher Education at several universities. She has been published in Australian and overseas journals and anthologies, has won several poetry prizes. Her Dutch-English poetry book and CD Island of wakefulness appeared with Hybrid in 2006. She is a former president of Melbourne Poets Union.