Sweet Music

Poetry Review - Louise Waller

 

Fresh News from the Arctic

Libby Hart
Interactive Press - Emerging Authors Series
ISBN 9781876819347

 

Libby Hart's first collection was highly commended in the IP Picks 2006 poetry competition. Her poems are striking evocations in lyric form. Using various metaphors from nature to extend the range of emotions portrayed within many of the poems, Hart constructs an interior and exterior landscape with palpable resonance and charm.

In 2003 Hart was a recipient of a D J O'Hearn Memorial Fellowship and the sequence which gives the collection its title won the 2005 Somerset National Poetry Prize. Many of the poems in this collection have been published in earlier versions in the 2005 Newcastle Poetry Prize Anthology, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian and The Age .

At fifty pages, this collection is slight, but it does not lack impact. The title poem (Fresh News from the Arctic) has nine sections over seven pages and it opens the collection;

'I whispered: Arctos /and felt the ground beneath me fall. / I observed the swelling of the earth.', Hart hears nuance in the landscape 'Sound overshadowed all other senses.', and 'My sense of smell tightly froze / while I listened to the approaching snow / deepening its resolve, / becoming graceful constellations.'

This is a sensitive, almost fearless sequence in which the content extends beyond the perfection and description of an icy wilderness.

I've been thinking of spirit photography,
of the apparition at my shoulder
fading into paper.
The thought of you remains.
(IV.)

When the sun falls low
dipping to a curved steer,
my heart becomes a heavy stone.
I acknowledge the darkness
like a black seed, which has chosen me
and is nurturing a foreboding.
(V.)

If white were a colorful word
I'd have to strip it down to this -
pale, washed out. An absence of energy
except for the gradation. But isn't life about shade?
Isn't it the shadows that make life interesting?
(VIII.)

 

In another sequence, (The Anatomy of Clouds) Hart uses the different formations of cloud mass to align with her body or state of emotional being.

From Altostratus, 1912 , 'Her home: a room, an idea of marriage, a coat hook / He: a stranger in this part of town' or Nimbostratus, 1911, 'Buried deep is the nimbus // that holds us together / a suspended water, bulking.' Hart doesn't seem to mind using the lyric 'I' and does so frequently. Reading through the collection, there are times when it seems too obvious, although this is intentional, it does sometimes draw focus from very fine lines. From Cumulonimbus, 1913, 'binding our secrets in layers / until I am all but an onion, wrapped tight.' , 'in the energy that strains and boils, and / I remember how you grew overcast' , 'I say, here are my pearls of breath / here are my hands.'

It is clear that Hart does not seek to avoid the ordinary or domestic aspects of life, nor is she lacking a sense or irony and humor, from (The Memory Suite) ;

A mountain of washing
one week long
stands on the cold floor.
I call it Himalayas

(Washday)

 

I reassure myself in the comfort of bandages
the unusual pleasure of the doctor's cool, clean hands.

(Hospital)

 

Another sequence worthy of mention is titled (Nicolas Baudin) and it details the historical and factual account of the transport of kangaroos from Australia to the court of the Empress Josephine. On the long journey some of the kangaroos die, as does Nicolas Baudin, 'If Baudin had survived this journey / he would've known / that seven minus five equals // two kangaroos / arrived safely in Paris.' Hart closes the sequence with her wit firmly in place, 'Today / wild kangaroos / can be found // in the Rambouillet Forest,'
, 'Josephine / would've been pleased / to have a legacy'.

One of the shorter poems in this collection, (Mist) strikes me as a metaphor for writing poetry as the poet is 'Building into night / we construct / a hidden language' it could also be read as a comment on the relationship between the poet and language, 'a block of time / that shapes a sweet music.'.
Hart embraces her relationship with the interior and exterior landscape, 'Like the blind / we go in search of fingertips / or the feel of wet grass under foot. // We breathe stars / into mist.'

There are many poems in this collection which delight on each reading, offering something fresh each time. On the collection's back cover, Chris Wallace-Crabbe suggests 'These are poems attuned to our tough yet fragile planet.' He's right, they are. I'd go further and suggest that it is Hart who is also attuned to our tough yet fragile planet, seeking to define it for herself, based on her own relationship to it. Libby Hart has crafted a distinctive first collection, she is a confident poet and her poems are a pleasure to read.