From whence we derive our strength: Devika Brendon reviews ‘Mountain Secrets’ — edited by Joan Fenney

Mountain Secrets edited by Joan Fenney, Ginninderra Press, 2019

I attended the launch of this beautiful anthology of poetry late last year. It was a warm day in early summer. The cicadas had started to hum, and the air was like molasses. A few weeks later, terrible bush fires raged through the region, devastating the landscape. People were advised to evacuate their homes. And a few weeks after that, a scourge of another kind — the terrible Coronavirus Covid19
— began to afflict the country.

Now there has been regrowth and renewal in the bush land, and the resilience of the people and the land itself is showing. The unique colours of silver grey, ochre, rust, olive and pale green are resurgent in the foliage. Symbols of constancy and bulking support in a shifting world, mountains are tremendous manifestations of natural power. Tolkien describes them as having roots, like trees, and you feel that power, in their presence, as we move about on their surface.

The poems in this collection celebrate the mists and the muscle and the mysticism of mountains. The poets show us in a range of registers and timbres their panoramic appreciation of these landforms and the mind adventures they inspire.

There are more than 150 poets whose work is presented here, selected and edited by Joan Fenney for Ginninderra Press. The sequencing and individual layouts are so well aligned that they appear organically positioned, the poems being divided into short sections non-intrusively introduced by excerpts from the poems themselves, each taken from the lines in the first poem of the next section, thus beckoning us further, presenting another facet or angle of the multi-sensory mosaic of the mountainscape.

Each poem has a page of its own, and its own music and place in which to stretch. The poems can be read and thought about individually, or absorbed  in a series of sips, as the cumulative impact unfolds like an accordion. The insights they offer celebrate many cultures and a diversity of perspectives, showing the veneration accorded to the natural wonders of mountains by all human beings.

The climbers, the adventurers, their senses attuned to the higher vistas, detail the impact of the crystalline visions in exquisite images:

The bright mounted butterflies.
In the glass and steel labyrinth
Her heart is cantilevered through
This strata-lined rabbit hole,
Time distorted by the false light.

(‘Alice at MONA’, Ann Nadge).

It’s a wonderland.

The air, cool and pungent,
drips with eucalypt.
(‘Namadgi Peaks’, Tony Steven Williams)

The diverse ecosystems of the mountains are felt in the body via the imagination and the senses. The jewelled details of image and tensile sound, and the ebb and flow of the enjambment are varied and dazzling, too numerous to mention. The poets are all masters of their craft. They establish that mountains are not just a backdrop, but characters in our human drama. To enter them and ascend to their summits is to explore within ourselves, and test our inner parameters, and dissolve our own accepted limits. The mountains give us a fresh knowing, a new vantage point:

Your landscape is fresh, scarred and eloquent; high
with seasons I do not know.
(‘You Are Mont Blanc’, Michelle Gaddes)

This is why people retreat from the world into a higher realm, leaving the flatlands behind in the humdrum workaday sphere in which they belong.

Eyes closed, I breathed in the dawn
of a world born anew. (‘Sublime Point’, Brendan Doyle)

‘Higher up! Further in!’ is all the information we really need to have. This book of poems is the ultimate antidote for the restrictions of lockdown, water for the fires of our human anguish.

 – Devika Brendon

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Devika Brendon is a teacher, writer, editor and reviewer. Her poetry and short fiction have been published in anthologies and literary journals in India, Sri Lanka, Australia, Africa and Italy, including Quadrant, Back Story, Other Terrain, MargASIA and Time Of The Poet Republic. Devika is the Senior Content Editor of the literary journal, New Ceylon Writing. Her opinion pieces are published in Ceylon Today, where she is a Columnist, in The Island, and The Sunday Observer. Devika’s literary reviews appear in The Sunday Times, The Sunday Island (Sri Lanka) and in Rochford Street Review (Australia) and JCLA – The Journal of Comparative Literature and Aesthetics (India).

Mountain Secrets is available from https://www.ginninderrapress.com.au/store.php?product/page/2030/Joan+Fenney+%28editor%29+%2F+Mountain+Secrets