Liana Joy Christensen launched Backyard Listening by Coral Carter. Mulla Mulla Press, 2019. was launched at the Perth Poetry Club, Moon Café, Northbridge on February 15, 2020.
Coral Carter’s poetic skills easily navigate the long highway between the stage and the page. ‘In the beginning’, the opening poem of this new collection, drops us straight into the immediacy of spoken word with its sharp, plosive, one syllable words. It’s impossible to resist speaking the lines out loud. Deeper into this complex poem, however, it becomes evident that the impact of the opening lines is effective, but not solely there for effect. Certainly, the poem demonstrates a love of sound and pulsing rhythm, but nothing is just an empty sound bite. As the poem unfolds, it reveals its thematic depth in a structure based on ever-widening concentric riddles: with the repeated pattern of “It is not/even though”. This skilful building of tension gives the denouement of the closing line “Bleached of meaning” its great power. Right from the start you know that you can trust the surety of Carter’s poetic vision and voice.
The opening poem also deploys the clipped, elliptical phrases that prove to be a hallmark of Carter’s style throughout this collection. There is no excess. Everything is stripped-back, bare, sometimes harsh, frequently beautiful. Just like the country she writes into. In these poems you will find tenderness without sentiment. Toughness without violence. Whether the poem invites you into remote country or a suburban street, Carter uses the lens of her camera and her words to capture unflinching pictures of how we live in this place, at this time.
To me, that is the heart of her work. Without pretension or semantic dancing Carter is willing to be Australian with full knowledge of what it means to know that we are on stolen land. The poem ‘Vanishing Point’ opens with the lines:” On the road to the vanishing point/we layered our stories/over the Inggarda stories” then the poem shifts to geological strata before returning us to a brief recounting of a cross-cultural conversation that makes the reader wince with its casual, unintended devastations. This acute awareness is present in a number of poems where it is not necessarily the central theme. It is always a given. However, the choice of ‘And in the end’ as the final poem reveals exactly how central this underlying theme is (and ought to be) for anyone one attempting poetry in Australia. Read it and weep.
On its own ‘And in the end’ is a gut punch of a poem. But I invite you to notice the arc between opening and closing poems: the first captures the bankruptcy of the Christian/colonial project and the final one looks directly at the devastations this project wrought on this land and the First Nations people to whom it belongs. Marry the two final lines: “Bleached of meaning/things end” and you will recognise the utter courage of Carter’s willingness to see everything.
This willingness to see is not solely focused on the worst aspects of Australia. There are plenty of wry, amused moments to relish. I’m guessing most of us here would relate to ‘Backyard Listening’, the eponymous poem. Who has not suffered this absence of the poetic muse? The poet also sees and writes of many things . . . large, small, bemusing and amusing. To read Carter’s poems is to encounter the multiple passions of the poet: meteorology, geology, landscape, people, birds, clouds. She documents the discarded, revels in selecting the minutiae that best reveal something true of people or place. She has a particular talent for the overheard conversational phrase, layering them into rich, allusory poems that hint at multiple layers of meaning beyond the face value of the words. To read them is to eavesdrop on the slipstream of culture.
We have the whole afternoon to delight in listening to Coral’s own selection from the collection. There are so many gems, and it’s not my place to jump the gun and read one from her list. Besides which, it would be too hard to choose. I have so many favourites. Still, before finishing I must make a special mention of one small and charming word sketch. And I’ll take a launcher’s liberty of reading this one, as it captures our shared love of dancing and tiny creatures.
As I cut a mango cheek
a tiny spider
the colour of heartwood
performed pas des bourrée
across the chopping board
at the edge
eight legs trembled en pointe
executed a grand jeté
to the windowsill
took a curtain call
So now I will take my curtain call and declare Backyard Listening well and truly launched. Secure your own copy today. Buy one for a friend!
– Liana Joy Christensen
Liana Joy Christensen is a poet, author and poetry editor. Her work is widely published in Australia and internationally, including The Fremantle Press Anthology of Western Australian Poetry, Prosopisia, Once Wild, Veils, Halos and Shackles, and The Enchanting Verses Literary Review. She has won the Peter Cowan Writers Centre Patron’s Prize for poetry, as well as being shortlisted for the Newcastle Poetry Prize in 2014. For seven years she was the MC of Fremantle’s Voicebox, Western Australia’s longest-established poetry reading
Backyard Listening is available from https://www.mullamullapress.com/
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