Les Wicks was part of the virtual launch for Michele Seminara’s Suburban Fantasy. This is his launch speech.
When I had just started my exploration of Michele Seminara’s brilliant new book Suburban Fantasy, it came to me in a flash that there was something fundamentally lacking in the last poem of my own next collection, albeit totally unrelated to what I was reading. But was reminded again of that frayed border that lies between the poet as creator and the poet as reader.
I have followed Michele’s aesthetic journey with an avid interest from the earliest of days. She, more than any other Australian poet I know, has picked up those ragged strings of boundary – used them as a skipping rope, weaved them to a sui generis design and tied down a succession of the hardest truths. The erasure poem, ‘Into your Fair Hands’ is, to me, the apogee of Seminara’s balletic play with others’ works.
There is such a great dexterity with language, but all the while she never loses touch with what is to me the fundamental imperative for a great book – veracity.
The fourth section of Suburban Fantasy is titled ‘Incarnate’. After this Covid year of no touching, this section is gloriously tactile and yes, touching. Imagery ranges from sea to storm but it is always firmly tethered to the body, to a frangible humanity.
Wonderful lines pepper this section. She had me from the third line of the first poem ‘Southerly Buster’: “Morning smoked on the red roofs”. Marvel at, “our very sense of selves/ must fall in cascades of disguise” (‘Rapture’), “dumb pathways of pain” (‘Migrainer’) and “They scored their grief with razors” (‘Uppgivenhetssyndrom’).
Seminara proposes in the final piece – ‘Incarnate’ – that this poem is “chainmail”. Coming at the end of the book one may feel compelled to consider the proposition that all her poems are armour – encapsulating, protecting, but not of the body.
Perhaps from some perspectives this is so. In writing of something we all must take a step back. The imagery brings to life people and moments – but by capturing them, do the images also lift them somewhat apart? There is much subject matter here that is uncontainable, whether it be grief (made explicable within the image of folding sheets) or looking at the abuse of children on Manus (where self-harm is a means of keeping “score”). We even see the body’s organs which make us all function as encapsulated, contained within a transparent skin (‘Involuntary’).
An elastic covering called skin
encases our bodies, my son reads,
but I am not looking at the inlaid page
with its transparent windows transgressively
unveiling the human form’s clandestine layers —
No, I am ardently watching him:
with his ripening cheeks and fecund brain
and glistening eyes of impermanence
that look to me — to me! — for solace
and tonight, as he reads, I am seeing inside
to the myriad processes functioning to hold us
implausibly within this quivering world —
and it makes my dark involuntary heart muscle shudder.
But irrespective of whether you pursue this proposition, each reader will inevitably be drawn back to the physicality, the pain, the joys of being human. One is unable (and unwilling) to look away from the sheer truths of embodiment captured in this book, whether it be her portraiture of body as pendulous fruit, a drop of water in a wave, or of the tongue as a map.
You will read and re-read this valuable addition to the Australian canon. Darkness alongside peace – nutrition for the mind and soul.
– Les Wicks
Les Wicks has toured widely and seen publication in over 400 different magazines, anthologies & newspapers across 33 countries in 15 languages. His 14th book of poetry is Belief (Flying Islands, 2019). His bilingual e-book is available from the Rochford Cottage Bookshop. He can found on-line at http://leswicks.tripod.com/lw.htm
Suburban Fantasy by Michele Seminara is available from UWAP