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The ink brushed distance

A rainbow in a fish’s eye

Poetry Review - Jena Woodhouse


the ink brushed distance

Lyn Reeves
Walleah Press, North Hobart, 2008


There is something about the delicacy of imagery and emotional nuance in Lyn Reeves’s poetry that reminds me distantly of the tradition of court poetry and its corollary of courtly love poetry. In the present case it is the court of classical Japan and its poetic arts that form the ink brushed distance lending perspective to Reeves’s work.

The weeping cherry will discard each leaf,
parsley and silverbeet bolt to seed,
honeyeaters drain nectar from the last red grevillea.

Our bed will bear sleep’s tangled impressions.
The empty space beside yours
will be dense with my longing.
(Empty Space)

Today it is raining –
the sky is grieving over all the earth’s pains,
the little and big losses,
the lovers parted by distance or betrayal
or by age,
their once-lovely limbs
a melancholy shadow.
(The Saddest Lines)

The practice of haiku and tanka forms, and their traditional emphasis on subjects and themes from the natural world, have undoubtedly influenced the style and technique of the longer poems in this new chapbook selection, and it is the extended pieces in ‘the ink brushed distance’ that I personally prefer.  However, it is probable that they owe the fineness and refinement of their detail, deriving from an acuteness of observation and perception, to the rigorous discipline of the miniature Japanese forms.

……………………My hand, holding
this pen, is a shadow puppet. On the page
it makes the shape of a wren,
tail feathers erect, foraging.
(Morning with Birds)

It is this rigour and the clear connection and acquaintance with aspects of Japanese classical tradition that avert any danger of detail becoming merely decorative, though it is occasionally ornate (…‘sunlight presses gold leaf/ into vellum-shadowed paths’), without seeming overly or overtly so. A spare elegance, where every detail is telling, evocative, eloquent, is the hallmark of Reeves’s style.

spare-limbed gums drop leaves
onto heat-stained grass

a track stamped between the trees
clips the side of a skeletal shed

slides under the unhinged gate
into a rutted drive

the paddock is cropped by a single cow
circling all day behind barbed wire

mosquitoes and flies prick her neck
needle her brindle flanks

the sandpaper rasp of her tongue
nuzzling my hand
    (Herd Animals)

The poems in ‘the ink brushed distance’ vibrate with sensory and sensuous impressions, not of court life but of the natural world, and specifically the natural world of this land. They exemplify the poet’s cautionary words to ‘tread softly as a rainbow in a fish’s eye’ (‘Going Back’), and it is this lightness of touch – of brushstroke – and tread that is one of their distinctive qualities.

carry nothing in your backpack
but a lucky stone
and a curled leaf you can blow through
to whistle up the sun
(Going Back)

The imprint of these pieces is always fresh, the images new-minted. The language has a pellucid quality; the lines are permeated with light and air.

In the light of the poet’s awareness of and practice in two poetic traditions, the poem ‘Eucalyptus’, which concludes this chapbook, has an iconic resonance.

Elongated leaves
turn this way and that, slowly
stroking the air
like a lover.

This is where
my life is
planted on the edge
between settled
and untamed
roots holding me fast
branches reaching
to gather the wind’s
gleaming rumours
the moon’s honey
and to brush the wild
dance of the sky.

From the prose poem ‘Off the Map’ that opens the collection, through ‘Simple as Breathing’, ‘Alfresco’, ’Laughter in Any Language’, ‘Slow Rain’, ‘The Saddest Lines’, and poems that contemplate creatures, details of life forms and atmospheric effects in the natural world, interspersed with complementary haiku, this collection is a distillation, a drop of dew on a leaf, refracting fleeting facets of life, love, beauty, art: ‘a rainbow in a fish’s eye’.


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