Bone Ink by Rico Craig, first Published 2017 by Guillotine Press, republished by UWAP 2019
Rico Craig teaches us through his writings. The opening poem ‘Angelo’ of the 2017 Anne Elder Award winner Bone Ink exposes the underbelly of Craig’s stomping ground in Western Sydney.
On the day he died we drove stolen cars
through the suburbs, spray cans knocking like eggs
in a swaying nest. …..
………. Cops Killed Tsakos
………. Cops Killed Tsakos
At the funeral his mum howled her dark haired
…..All she wanted was good boys..
Craig’s debut is an elegy that ‘cast[s] [its] hands in wet cement’…’ a concrete tattoo’; it traverses loss, companionship, ‘danc[es] [itself] towards firelight’ by evoking suburban myths before moving to memories of a Malaysian childhood then mournful odysseys. It is an honest collection that fuels imaginative provocations with ‘love […] in [his] veins, heart beating against [his] throat’. The lessons are ‘so many things / waiting to be scattered’, it unreels cinematically scene-by-scene into fragmentary ‘downpours’ from lived experience of brotherhood—the ‘gulf of years’, with the wavering ‘voice of [their] mother in [their] eyes’.
Bone Ink was also shortlisted for the 2018 Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry. In their comments the judges said of the collection:
Craig’s quicksilver lyricism and assured sense of form are inspired by a refreshingly romantic metropolitanism. Drawing upon key movements in twentieth and twenty-first century poetry and poetics, Craig’s poems synthesise tactile, vernacular speech with a sensuous, immediate sense of place and an insightfully nuanced reach for allegorical possibility.
The book is dedicated to kv and pv, and is in two parts: ‘Bone Ink’ and ‘The Upper Room’. The partings are not necessary, for each poem in the sequence are melded together in the overall thematic. While there is a strong connection to place, there is uncertainty, and instability in belonging. Indeed, there are ‘taste(s) of places bright enough to burn sand into glass’, yet encounters are ‘shocked’, ‘seeking salvation in a slab of brie’. Moreover, there is stark commentary on the perceived connections to people, e.g., ‘Word on Facebook’ as ‘fake news’; opting instead to trust ‘prophecies’ and whispers from the grapevine to hearken truth/(truths).
The poem sequence contains movement much like a ring of smoke. They contain ‘voices in twilight jesting’, ‘battered through bruising’, ‘struts’ and are ‘tethered’. There is a tenderness that marks each rendezvous, as if ‘happy as a child’ of ‘past(s) never / said, [nor] confess[ed]’. Past loves/lovers as ‘coats lost’, never a delicate ending. Yet, Craig reminds us: ‘Youth’s centripetal force is the only thing / holding us together’.
There is a sense of ‘twisting history[ies]’, a longing for air. Craig knows that ‘water / doesn’t hold shape’. An almost clinical precision marks his word choices, leaving enough room to evoke sensual rhythm, to ‘unveil euphoric’ breaths. There are extraordinary battles, blood-lines, ‘reek[ing] of desire’. Nights are devoured. And Craig emerges, not as the ‘hunter’, but as a ‘shadowless’ muse.
Craig is a ‘ghost coming home’, at an intersection, where there are ‘slow changing traffic lights’. ‘Summer[s] of love’, ‘gloved fingers’, ‘play[ing] / endless games / on the blade’. There are incisive and insightful memories, ‘stamping thunder’ to life, obscuring the shapes and curled edges of reason. He marvels at the simplicity: ‘rain on concrete’, ‘playing cricket in the rain’, ‘blood / on the bumper’, being ‘groggy from waiting room[s]’, ‘fundraiser[s] in the carpark / of a local Bunnings’, ‘vows […] lift[ing] from the menu at Happy Cup’. These are wise poems, with depth and candour. Yet, with each poem, and at each station, the heart flutters, and reminded are we of our ‘gleeful…humanity’. What is hidden from the depths emerges, as a passage, a way, with truth through ‘trails of pollen’, dazzling with intensity, ‘tarred with menthol smoke’, and ‘too much sting in the sunlight’.
Perhaps we collaborate, ‘repeati[ing], repeat[ing], through ‘an excess of consciousness’. Perhaps liberation is to confront the barricades in our hearts. Like ‘eating the dead’, each threshold is worth a prayer. We spill and ‘fall between end lines’, we ‘rip ‘holes in darkness’ through the ‘arcane & intimate’. There is movement. There is movement. And yes, there is movement. There are ‘alternate trips’. We lick our teeth clean as we wake, ‘search[ing] to begin’ and repeat our hearts promise.
– Harold Legaspi
Harold Legaspi is a poet writing in Darug land.
Bone Ink is available from https://uwap.uwa.edu.au/products/bone-ink