A Slow Unfolding: Patrick McCauley Reviews ‘Limen’ by Susan Hawthorne

Limen by Susan Hawthorne. Nth Melbourne. Spinefx Press. 2013.
limenThis is an act of poetry described in a poem. It is a loose, easy, open poem that travels in the narrative of a summer holiday camping trip caught in a rising flood. The characters, woman 1, woman 2 and dog describe their inner and outer landscapes as events unfold and the flood keeps rising. The prologue reminds the reader of ‘”tongues/ unforked for renewal/ muscles unwound/ ready for life’s next pounce” and moves gently into a naked river swimming, sensuous, camping holiday that seems to take place around the new year. We could be anywhere in Australia as there are no place names except the weather and the descriptions of the bird life, a cormorant. “…in the melaleuca/ its paperbark ruffled/ as a frilled ballgown” – perhaps takes us to a place coming into the wet season, North Queensland, the Northern Territory?
If it was me, I would have been out of that camping place by page 30, but woman 1, woman 2 and dog make it right through to the Epilogue on page 166. The book is best read in under an hour. It is loose with its free verse and generous with the occasional surprises in images and drama. The battle is between wet and dry, car and road, submission and action. I get the idea that the trip actually happened and that it may have ended up a little wilder than was originally planned. The idea of poem as a planned action with an uncertain outcome which is then translated faithfully into a poem is one particularly close to my heart. There are ‘acts’ of poetry which must be entered by the poet if she is not to be completely drowned in the second hand information and theoretical world of the literary/academic life. The narrative and the poem work gently together as the flood rises and we see woman 1 and woman 2 and dog reveal their various vulnerabilities and fears. Simple joy is evident throughout the book. “She is sitting with her red pashmina/ like a wound around her naked body/ even wet is warm”
It is also a very feminine book. Its images and metaphors, its slow unfolding, its fears and joys celebrate the feminine. The hero might be the dog or the boys, but it is also not woman 1 nor woman 2, who seem to have a gentle solitariness about their togetherness. I feel a little voyeuristic reading this novella, as if I have been let in, a little, to a world of women where I have never been. These women are easy with each other. They are relaxed and happy with each other – even the stranger women are loose and joyous. I may have been in such company once or twice in my life, but if so, I cannot remember it. Yet the book brings old hippy memories close again and I remember the wonderful feeling of being publicly naked. There are some beautiful simple, black and white pencil drawings throughout the book which soften its softness even more, so that the epic poem/novella becomes an understatement for something far larger. Perhaps it shows me what to do with peace, a matter that has concerned me for some time.
– Patrick McCauley
Patrick McCauley writes poems and essays, grows tomatoes and goes fishing around Clunes Victoria.

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