Shimmering with exuberance: Devika Brendon reviews ‘Out of emptied cups’ by Anne Casey

Out of emptied cups by Anne Casey, Salmon Poetry, 2019.

This collection of poems is charged with electric musicality, full like a glass at a wedding or a wake – and the cover equates the human being, arms extended, with a chalice which evokes the human spirit itself. The elixir this work contains is spiked with anger and despair, but it also shimmers with exuberance, and the draught it offers is addictive. Anne Casey’s work opens up issues of war, of degradation, of disrespect, covetousness and harassment, which drain us of hope, and dignity. She shows that the compulsive reaching and releasing which shapes our lives makes us weigh the cost of our human greed and grasping materialism, and leaves us empty in a world which was given to us in an abundant condition. Yet from that emptiness, and in our drained state, we must still generate the will to live, the energy to surge, to rise and renew ourselves. 

Casey is sensitive to the texture and shape of words, and their placement in sequences which resonate. Several of the poems are typographically shaped structures, in the forms of a cocktail glass (‘heat’), a dance (‘in their scores, by sixes and sevens’) , a heart (‘darkness’), and fruit (‘persimmon and rose’) . Alternation and intermittency are embodied in these structures: the poet allows the grace of conceptual and emotional emptying and filling to occur in the process and progress of the poems. The particular and specific positioning of each word becomes visually acute and precise, and as readers our imaginations sharpen as we follow and respond to the symmetry of precision. 

The myriad cups referred to in the poems refer to the capacity of human beings
— particularly women — to create, to produce, to generate life, amidst the constant shedding and draining experiences the world brings.

The cup takes many forms. It is the belly, which ruptured when children were brought forth in ‘if I were to tell you’:

when i stretch to parting-kiss the soft pink cheek
of my son now twelve towering
over me i feel again the wrench as they pulled
him from my ruptured belly

It is the bivalve oyster shell and the emptied sacs of ‘awash’:

i might never have
emerged from the shell
clinging still to the 
illusion of some submerged
labyrinth where my
air-deficient sacs

might drift weightless forever
in that unending blue

and the champagne flute in ‘nothing happens in the burbs’:

we split a cider
yours straight from the bottle
mine from a champagne flute
making an occasion out of nothing

The cup is the speculative gaze of an onlooker rendered like an accordion narrowing and expanding in ‘Portrait of a woman walking home’; the opening and closing of the scathing labyrinthine mind in ‘Please do not feed the animals’. 

The remarkable nature of Casey’s versatility is shown in her range and her generosity of theme and stylistic exploration. ‘Burnt offerings’ evokes the pervasive sensory nature of grief, the very taste of it:

and my mother in a box too small
to hold her all
laid in a field with all the others
when she could have flown
with the four winds
so I could taste her again
the sharp tang of her loss
married to the rest

‘Leonara is grieving’ evokes the: 

Holes they tried to fill in
with forgetting and shallow shiny sands
slipping through their hands. 

The surge and the swell of human desire, and the urges of life recede and ebb in these lines, creating rhythms which reverberate, and evoke a mise-en-scene of emotion and thought which, like a gritty, glamoured residue, stays with us and prompts a continual re-reading. 

The collection reminds me of the ‘Five of cups’ card in Lisa de St Croix’s Tarot de St Croix. Three goblets of blood-red wine are seen spilled in the foreground, and the grieving querant walks, with her head in her hands, towards a small bridge in the distance to cross to the two cups that remain upright and full of promise, on the other side of what she is experiencing. 

These poems evoke an emotional courage which is inspiring. They replenish the reader. To contain ourselves, to hold the forces of life against the inevitable losses and harms inflicted on us, is the message of the glorious ‘Cup in hand’. The brusque poems which overtly critique the mad leaders of the world are tangential in effect, in comparison to the multi-foliate blooming and unfolding of the imagery of religious ritual and the divine symmetry of the poems detailing the natural and social environment. 

 -Devika Brendon


Devika Brendon is an editor, reviewer, and teacher of English literature, and a writer of poetry and fiction. She was awarded the Henry Lawson Memorial Prize for Poetry and The Adrian Consett Stephen Prize For Fiction in 1989 at The University of Sydney. Her doctoral thesis examined Jonathan Swift’s use of the epistolary mode in poetry and prose satire. Her short stories, poetry, reviews and opinion pieces have been published in anthologies, journals and print and digital publications, in Australia, India, Sri Lanka and Italy. 

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