A Welcomed Life: Les Wicks reviews ‘Honey & Hemlock’ by Julie Watts

Honey & Hemlock by Julie Watts. Sunline Press, 2013.

Honey and hemlockWhen I was lucky enough to have a stay at Tom Collins House in Perth I was told about the historical resentment that WA writers had about the exclusionary attitudes of “the scene” over east. Considerably lessened, they’d say, but still very real. I was surprised at this proposition in the age of comparatively cheap airfares and e-mails scuttling across the globe, but in the end I saw their point.

Julie Watts was one of an array of dynamic, fascinating emerging poets whom I ran across during my stay. I was expecting good writing when I received her first book “Honey & Hemlock” but I got a hell of a lot more. Like many inaugural titles the subjects are heavily autobiographical ranging across lovers, parents, daughter, mishap, nursing home and pets. But given that familiarity of theme, the reader is even more enriched by the gift of her language… the way she makes enlivens these themes.

There is a heavy dose of joy and wonder throughout this collection, yet more vital medications for the future of Australian poetry. All within the context of a fully nuanced life; in “After the Eye Injury” we’re breathlessly led along a pilgrimage of newly re-experienced colours to her altar of light. With “A Swim in the Sea” the poet plays with a simplicity of moment to a turn at the end that saw an audible ah from this reader. The familiarity with and love of the sea is evident throughout this collection

Watts savours a real sensuality in “6:45 AM” and “Achilles heel” then follows through with this startling new take on an eggs & sperm in “Eggs” – sperm on a tissue in a bin:

for three days they butt
at a white rough sheet
of pulverised tree.

This open sensuality carries through so much of this collection in everything from the stroking of the cat to breathing salt air… “A Spit of Sun”

and the world bursts
a pollen of people

The expenditure of time honing her craft is evident throughout. “Lilith” is a deeply satisfying study. In “I like Old Women” she comments:

they understand invisibility
no one can touch them now

“Maslow and the Ladybird” is another poem that careens out from the simple proposition of a ladybird landing on the poet’s wrist. It concludes:

vermilion folds a savannah
of all libidos

“So Much Depends” finishes the book and I couldn’t extract a single word from this poem, the whole works so perfectly. Had I been allowed only to read six books this year, there would not be a moment of regret if this had been one of them. Any of us “eastern-staters” who may not have run across her or even Roland Leach’s Sunline Press are strongly encouraged to rectify the issue.

– Les Wicks


Les Wicks has toured widely and seen publication across 16 countries in 9 languages. His 10th book of poetry is Barking Wings (PressPress, 2012). This year he will be performing at the world’s biggest poetry festival in Medellin. http://leswicks.tripod.com/lw.htm

Honey & Hemlock is available from Sunline Press. http://www.sunlinepress.com.au/


  1. Julie is a humble person, so I am extra glad Les has spoken up for her and broadcast his assessment of her qualities. I second his opinion and urge you to purchase this collection.

  2. to get a review this quick is remarkable. says it all for this great new collection from Julie Watts

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