Ali Whitelock was part of the virtual launch for Michele Seminara’s Suburban Fantasy. This is her launch speech.
This house, so the opening poems goes, has too many windows. Anyone can see in. Each poem in Suburban Fantasy is an invitation to step in through one of these windows into a house that feels so familiar it could be your own. Memories of terrible things linger in each of these rooms. Michele’s voice speaks so truthfully, so darkly, and so urgently that it too could almost be your own.
Poets often apologise for their poems being dark. My response is always, I don’t go to poetry looking for the light. I go to poetry to see my own darkness reflected back at me. I go to poetry to see myself in the poet who has dared to put such terrible truths on the page. But if the poet has done their job, and Michele has certainly done her job in this collection, we find the light in ourselves.
When the artist Mark Rothko was once asked what was going on in his paintings, he replied, ‘You’ve got sadness in you, I’ve got sadness in me – and my works of art are places where the two sadnesses can meet …’
And I apply that same principal here in regard to Suburban Fantasy.
Take, for example, the poem ‘Ms Suburbia’:
What a tame beast she has become, idling
in the paddocks of her family’s unmade
beds and mountainous dishes
circumambulating, endlessly, the dead heart
of this domestic poppy field; pausing
with lost purpose to pick up
some thing here
place it there —
in abstract justification
of an involutionary existence.
Look, see how she is self-
restrained by sedatives and spurred
to life by stimulants then lured
to the end of day by the promise
of the darkling hours in which to unfurl
her monstrous might and play —
(What desperate play!)
Such a noble beast is man
and such a cowed
beast is woman —
tethered by the whim
to her most
These poems feel as though they were written in the corners of a house where ‘lights out’ has always been decided by someone else. My own fears, disappointments and deadness are ignited in this poem. And I feel less alone having read it.
Similarly with the poem, ‘Plot’:
Remixed from Philip Larkin’s ‘The Whitsun Weddings’
All afternoon the women shared their wounding.
Loosed from fathers, free of knots,
under their belts, the secret smut,
a hothouse lark, the race to wed,
time gripping tighter.
Along the line, children defined
the marked off landscape of their lives:
marriage struck then swelled then slowed
the girl displaced inside.
A blinding sense of nondescript,
bright parodies of dull success;
their aims like arrows falling
out of sight as if they’d died —
And not one flashed uniquely,
and nothing fresh survived
Read these poems to understand the silent scream of every woman you’ve ever known. Women are screaming all around you. More often than not you can’t hear them. How well we keep it all inside, push it all down, present ourselves in our “best blue dress” (‘Morte Nature’ p 38).
I read these poems and my own screams are heard. Suburban Fantasy holds up the mirror of life and it is reflected back at us in all its terrible beauty.
– ali whitelock
Ali Whitelock’s poetry collection, the lactic acid in the calves of your despair was long listed for the ALS Gold Medal for an outstanding literary work in 2020 & is published by Wakefield Press. Her debut collection, and my heart crumples like a coke can, was published in 2018, also by Wakefield Press, with a forthcoming UK edition by Polygon in 2022. Her memoir, Poking seaweed with a stick and running away from the smell, was launched to critical acclaim at Sydney Writers Festival (2008) & in the UK (2009).
Suburban Fantasy by Michele Seminara is available from UWAP