A pure trajectoryBook cover

Poetry review by Jena Woodhouse

A Sky You Could Fall Into

Pam Schindler
Post Pressed, 2010

 

Even if these poems did not speak to me on a personal level - as they do - through evocations of familiar landscapes and creatures, I would be charmed by the clarity of their language and the sensitivity with which they explore, inhabit and respond to their terrain. An old house and backyard in suburban Brisbane, with its residual flora and fauna, is the setting for a number of poems, including 'Swamp Frogs', which opens the collection:

          at night
          the frogs in the suburbs
          sing into being
          the swamp they have never seen

Other texts that share this locale are 'In Praise of Louvres' and the joyous trio of poems that celebrate Orion's presence in the night sky, making an imaginative leap from the suburban clothesline as the poet pegs her clothes 'to Orion's bright bones'. The coast, the littoral and hinterland of southeast Queensland are the physical and metaphysical locus of a number of poems: 'Night in the Border Ranges', 'Letter from the Island', 'Wallum Banksias, Cooloola', 'Wading the Seagrass'. The sequence, 'In Paperbark Country' simulates the layered quality of paperbark in the way it interleaves observations and reflections on the trees in their watery habitat, the poet's mother, and a blue dragonfly:

(ii)

           my mother hates the paperbarks
           their eerie white scribbles'
           twisted beckoning     but

           their flaky arms above the lake
           their long feet, wet to the ankle
           their listening, their hair shiny with sun
           their fingers full of birds

           are like my mother

                             (In Paperbark Country)

There are also poems set in more distant places: Tasmania, South Australia, Victoria, Scotland, Prague, a satellite orbiting Earth and the Columbia Space Shuttle, but the concerns that illumine Schindler's work and lend it integrity are present no matter where on Earth or above it the poems' coordinates may meet. An awareness of, respect for, and delight in life in its manifold forms, and an openness to places, people, flora and fauna are evident in the perceptions the poems embody.

           another girl has swum in this lake

           wading in through the reeds
           her bare feet in the cool silt

           dwarf melaleucas are awash
           in the dream of the sedges

           that bend and bend in the wind -
           a girl bends with them

                             (Honeyeater Lake)

Schindler's interest and attention are as keenly focused on people and their responses (including her own) to natural phenomena and each other as they are on wilderness in its undisturbed state, and one of the pleasures of this collection is an implicit sense of the possibility of belonging without intruding or despoiling: of being part of the natural world in a way that is aware of the human place in the scheme of things, but is innocent of presumption, pretension or a desire to appropriate.

Among a number of unobtrusively well-crafted personal lyrics, the elegiac "Rusper" is particularly affecting, having been written in the wake of the Victorian bushfires of February 2009, which claimed the life of the person to whom the poem is dedicated.

           the trees are wrung with flame
           the house a burnt mouth
           ...

           outside the bedroom window were old rosebushes
           that filled the room with rose-coloured light
           so that once, after love-making,
           you ran for the camera, saying
           my skin was the colour of roses

                              ("Rusper")

The fate of the eight Australian Orb Weaver spiders (launched into a zero-gravity environment as part of an experiment for a Melbourne high school), which perished when the space shuttle Columbia broke apart during its return to Earth in 2003, becomes the nucleus of an extended meditation with an invisible web of unspoken ramifications:

           You had thought to harvest truth
            here, along the pure trajectory
            of the intellect; I could have told you,
            truth does not require this.
            Here in the place of nothing,
            what I feel are my losses:
            the magpies' branch, the morning air,
            the wide habitable world; and closer,
            up and down, day and night,
            my weight firm upon the web.

                               (The Spider in the Shuttle)

Pam Schindler returned to her mother's homeland, Australia, from her father's, the United States, at the age of sixteen, and lived for many years in Tasmania. In this debut collection she reveals herself as a poet who travels with open eyes, an openness to experience, and an innate sense of affinity with the natural world that nourishes her poetry. These poems offer a 'pure trajectory' in their orientation to their subject matter: an unwavering awareness and appreciation of the connectedness of being/s.

The clean lines and uncluttered imagery, the unimpeded flow of breath through the stanzas, Schindler's ability to reach out and gather in and offer impressions that seem unmediated, thanks to the freshness of her unforced style, are pleasures in store for the reader, of an order not found every day.

Like springwater from a pristine source, they are a gift to replenish the spirit.