The Writhing, Hissing Life Force of the Poems: Liana Joy Christensen launches ‘Snake Like Charms’ by Amanda Joy

Snake Like Charms by Amanda Joy, UWAP 2017 was launched by Liana Joy Christensen at Voicebox, Fremantle on 24 April 2017

Your friend, an elder
from Broome explains the snake
is your guardian
 – “Your Ground”

Amanda Joy. Photograph Alex Chapman

To say I was charmed by the invitation to launch this collection is not a platitudinous social nicety. I was literally charmed in the original and potentially perilous sense of the word.  The meaning invoked in the title.

I had the privilege of encountering many of these poems during their season in the hibernaculum, the ‘winter tent’ of their gestation. They were powerful then, the poet’s voice singular and distinct.

The charm began in earnest, however, when I lay by a river in the karri forest, my sole companion this extraordinary volume. Taken collectively, these poems possess a power that commands and handsomely rewards a reader’s attention.

Amanda Joy chose a phrase from Luce Irigaray as the epigraph to the poem On Warmth: “don’t let any parts of us be amputated that could be expansive for us”.  This struck a note that resounded well beyond the individual poem to the entirety of the work. It is evident throughout that this poet has refused any such amputation.  And the volume gains a complex richness from her courage. For me there is a deeply intelligent and particularly feminine sensibility in Irigaray’s exhortation and Amanda Joy’s willingness to refract it past all clichés. She doesn’t do “pretty”. Her vision is truly fresh. And, at times, frightening (and I am not referring here to ophidiophobia!). There is a fierce intelligence at work in these poems.

The work is also coruscant with joy, wit and sudden startling insights. Here are just two of the many that struck me:

From “Girt”

………………………………………………..nationalism makes of each
landscape a bestiary.

and from “Medusa and the Taxonomic Vandal”:

She was pregnant with sea salt
and suddenly headless
eternally looking
at herself

and you want to focus on
what sprung from her head?

The reader will find many more examples to hold as touchstones or turn over in their mind’s eye. The pages of this volume seem barely able to contain the writhing, hissing life force of the poems within. Some will strike you. Some are self-efffacing and slither just beyond the limits of meaning, turning to promise more. In one light the poems are dense with mystery and in another plainspoken as day.

Read them by a river as I did and you will be astounded at the breadth and depth of the cultural knowledge and the lightness with which it is sown through the poems. Read them in the city and your heart will be broken open at the poet’s rare ability to conjure what is wild. A single reading would never suffice – each encounter yields new layers of meaning and of life.

Kenneth Slessor said: “I think poetry is written mostly for pleasure, by which I mean the pleasure of pain, horror, anguish and awe as well as the pleasure of beauty, music, and the act of living”.  Snake Like Charms qualifies on all counts.

It is for the poet to share with us a selection of her work tonight. I will conclude by reading one: “Sea Krait, Broome”

How slow an approach when viewed
from a distance. How more likley
the encounter if the ground is clear
A voice saying always ‘go ahead’
…………calls it freedom

Above the 27th parallel is the heat
I know as home, in my bones always
untouched by city’s cool centrifuge
that refracts a kind of light
which bursts and vanishes on the spot

Heading North, I escape the fray
Green hem of the outskirts, roadside
facade of forest, hiding a casement
of burnt earth, silent as myself

Outside, a poet ghosts a window
Writing back into life his night
parrots. I drive lines from water
to water, guzzle roadhouse coffee

Warming up, there is a conflict
of appetite, a surburban tree, black
with cockatoos shucking almonds
A dolphin trapped in a rockpool

Cane toads storming the Kimberley
in wet, find it planted with sugar
An olive python curled under a van
belly beaded with feral kittens

After three days of seated travel
I lunge from the car, sprint the length
of jetty, deaf to the man screaming
warning. Only in mid-air do I look
down to the sea, the time it takes
to panic

Two yellow and black krait, vivid
bandwidth of danger, turning on
the turquoise surface, and all
I can do, is fall

Sea Kraits may indeed be present in these pages. But I urge you to launch yourself into the collection with the same spectacular fearlessness.

You will be charmed in every sense of the word, so buy up big. The book is now launched.

 – Dr Liana Joy Christensen


Liana Joy Christensen is an ophidiophile, as well as a writer and poet. She is the author of Deadly Beautiful (, and Wild Familiars, prose and poetry, respectively. Her work is widely published and she was shortlisted for the Newcastle Poetry Prize in 2014.

Snake Like Charms is available from

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