A World of Connections: Owen Bullock Reviews Trace by Cassandra Atherton

Trace by Cassandra Atherton. Finlay Lloyd Press, 2015 


  1. Trace – the idea of tracing a person, so unobtainable, so inviting.
  2. Invention: ‘You pressed up against the shiny side, me on the matte side’.
  3. Sometimes the references seem too random, e.g. to Kubla Khan and to being cuckolded – but perhaps I’ve missed something. The tension in the reader set up by the knowledge that the writer deliberately focuses on intertexts. Literary reference as trace – Derrida would be happy.
  4. The poetry is embodied in physical reactions, to love-making and anticipation of the lover’s absence: ‘I trace you for the first time when you are gone’. This is practical poetry.
  5. I’ve read the eponymous poem six times. To find a way to respond creatively as well as discursively. Something about the difference in the lovers’ height resonates. And the message from one of the kauri trees – the giant podocarps of the New Zealand native bush – as I placed my ear to it, ‘you are not a veil’. At the time I thought of this book. Three messages from three different trees, each related to one of the three books I’ve been asked to review. You are not a veil. Less distance between this book and myself. It has to be lived to be reviewed. I respond:

you’re taller
by two inches
I never felt a problem in that

I hugged our visitor goodbye
she’s two inches taller than you
and thought it might be difficult for her
to find the right man
because of male insecurities

  1. Going back to Trace: the voice ends up tracing itself in attempting to trace the other.
  2. The writing has an inevitable quality, in the best sense: it had to take this form.
  3. Accompanying line drawings by Phil Day extend the work.
  4. The picture of the author on the back cover eating a strawberry echoes the sensuality of the writing.
  5. The size of the book delights the pocket.
  6. For ‘Valentine’s Day Massacre’ notes say ‘great image choice’: a high-heeled shoe. The poem begins, ‘You tell me not to answer the phone’. Plath and Veronica Lake – alright by me. Reference to film noir – I remember the massacre scene, nothing else. The voice the femme fatales and could shoot out a heart. I’m writing this in a tent. My partner . . .

asks me to get her chocolates in the camp kitchen one hundred yards of rain between. Heart. Beat. I have some white chocolate left and stand in the rain eating it watching the thousands of ripples intersect like art on the river.

The voice mentions a kitchen at the beginning of Valentine’ Day Massacre, after the phone.

Will you play scrabble with me now darling?

  1. Phrases such as ‘My stripy banana lounge’! Words like ‘Toxin’. Close the topic of Vitamin D. You too can see the connection.
  2. ‘I want to be a square pink button with a harp sound when you click on me’. From Rubbish. Envious.
  3. ‘Kamikaze dress’ evokes and defines and the idea of humming into the decaying emptiness is like laughing at the abyss [Danse Macabre].
  4. The incongruous detail that is human life made clearer with a dash of surrealism – Corner of the sky.
  5. She memorises the sound of the soup spoon scooping up an oddly shaped potato. She makes soup fresh. Listens to her own swallowing. The soup is like the sea. The cake resembles land, the suggestion of ‘desert’ within ‘dessert’ assists. ‘Blue bread’ evokes ‘bluebeard’. Semiotic satisfaction. She listens to the cake. And celebrates the cash in the till; she’ll settle here near Lygon Street.
  6. Why is it that a voice admitting that it’s afraid to live is appealing? A fear of being served coffee that’s too strong for the palette. To soften the serious. The palette [always write whilst reading]. A world of connections. Of the next thought. Tiredness. Is death. Associated Freud’s acknowledgement of the desire for absolute silence. Rest, oblivion. But what is the significance of the title Marzipan.
  7. A skeleton. And five lines on Poe. Follows. Fragment to fragment. The part invites. Gestalt.
  8. Shiny things. Being material. Being heartless. Lessons and fears. She doesn’t remember dying. But you don’t remember dying.
  9. Relationships. Seeking. ‘It’s time to cut you open’. The preoccupations.
  10. William Carlos Williams. Recycled. Then serious issues: vegetarianism. Which resonate:

our friend Mike
greets the cows next door
with open arms
do you smell meat on me?
because I’m just like you

Back to relationship. Mutton as lamb. And Williams: plums. Dragons. Pigs. Cute animals.

  1. The two apples or two cherries that are a bicycle. Phil Day’s inventive drawings.
  2. Murderer. Zygote. Yes, they’re linked. Eggs he buys her.
  3. Personal. Anecdote. Remembrance. But pithy, detailed, challenging.
    The sweetness of bananas. Brown spot. I relate.
    The lonely cat of a teen singer. Promises. No hallmark here.
    Ground zero. The charred lunchbox with his name. The foetal position. Hiroshima. Say no more. Nothing to say, yet still inhabit.
  4. Betrayal. A kiss. Hamlet. Line drawing in duplicate, the skull seems to be moving.
  5. Turbulence. Land. A relationship. [A Midsummer Night’s Dream meets modern air travel.] The line is a cloud. Drawing.
  6. Irrational associations. I love them. Part of the mind to enjoy, not its tedious episodes. Other people’s descriptions intersect. Doubling the stories. I feel like an adverb. That is wise saying. Topics. Mention of the title page near the end.
  7. Shipwreck. Lighthouse drawing. Worryingly phallic. Vertigo.
  8. To go ice skating, because you love the word ‘rink’.
    Initial earlobes – it should happen all the time: the only studding.
    Writing Rebecca on his back. I met a woman who had her sister’s haiku tattooed. And a maitre d with Shakespeare up & down her arms. But plasma’s going too far, isn’t it. The voice makes this clear. And Proust. And Fowles. How far we go.
  9. Size of the book. Less than a hand long. Less than a hand wide. Aesthetic delight. A cat on the front cover. 60pp. Cassandra Atherton. Finlay Lloyd. Buy. Trace. Bookmark tucked in.

 – Owen Bullock


Owen Bullock’s publications include urban haiku (Recent Work Press, 2015), breakfast with epiphanies (Oceanbooks, NZ, 2012) and sometimes the sky isn’t big enough (Steele Roberts, NZ, 2010). He is a former editor of Poetry New Zealand and Kokako; edited anthologies for the New Zealand Poetry Society; was one of the editors who produced Take Five: Best Contemporary Tanka, Vol IV, and edited the first two anthologies from the University of Canberra’s Vice-Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize: Dazzled and Underneath (with Niloofar Fanaiyan). He recently won the Canberra Critics’ Circle Award for Poetry. Owen is a PhD Candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Canberra.

Trace is available from http://finlaylloyd.com/fl-smalls/

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