Review The Sorrow in our Marrow, Domestic Interior by Fiona Wright

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                          “Domestic Interior” by Fiona Wright

                                                                          

Giramondo Publishing
Poetry, Paperback, 96pp
2017
$24.00
Print ISBN: 9781925336566

Reviewed by Jena Woodhouse

 

In a review of Fiona Wright’s second collection of essays, The World Was Whole, which is currently long-listed for the 2019 Stella Award, Gabriella Munoz references Fiona Wright’s PhD dissertation topic: Staging the Suburb: Imagination, Transformation and Suburbia in Australian Poetry, and  notes the connection and continuity between the dissertation, the  essays and the poems of Domestic Interior. (Mascara Literary Review, January 22nd, 2019)

Fiona Wright, in an interview with Bri Lee of Kill Your Darlings (04/08/2017), expresses this opinion in relation to genre: “I’ve always thought that poetry is much more interested in momentary stuff, in capturing intense moments or thinking about tiny things – well, not tiny things, but details and moments of significance rather than trying to weave those moments together to create a more coherent story which is what I really like about essays and memoir – the drawing together of things that might not seem to hold together from the outside.”

While it’s true that poetry collections generally work differently in their internal dynamics from prose ones, nevertheless the poems in a well-constructed collection do talk to each other and set up a subliminal hum of associations, consonances, dissonances, which can collectively evoke a sense of the poet’s inner world and orientation to the outer world; a sense of the poet’s way of being in the world, an internal coherence. This is certainly the impression created by the poems of Domestic Interior, a collection disarming in its seeming absence of contrivance; its ability to write the personal/ subjective in ways and modes that do not follow the confessional prototypes of earlier generations; its air of vulnerability and implicit acknowledgement of the precariousness of being, which we all share, but which is Fiona Wright’s lot in perhaps greater measure than most. These aspects  of the poet’s perception of and attitude to the experience of living in outer and inner Sydney suburbia, and in her own skin and consciousness (her own particular and personal “psychic geography”) are variously manifested in elements of idiosyncrasy, superstition (and idiosyncratic superstition); phobias, the mock-sinister that lurks in the banal suburban settings of Gothic imaginings and figments of fancy, for instance in the poems “Inner Suburban Omens” (24); “Suburban Monsters” (28); “Charm Against Casual Cruelty” (62).

A black dog leashed to a bike rack bespeaks fair weather.

A windfall will follow

When spotted – in this order – are coconut water,

coconut water, a coke bottle,

half-empty or half-full.

(“Inner Suburban Omens”)

 

*

There’s one that lives

in the hollow heart of a rolled-up yoga mat,

another just beneath

the garage door:

One that nestles in

amongst the scrunched spare plastic bags

shoved underneath the sink and another

in the bathroom vanity – it feeds

off cotton buds and old toothbrushes

There’s always several hiding in the fridge.

(“Suburban Monsters”)

 

Domestic Interior is arranged in five sections, with the part-titles Origin; Never Simple; Elsewhere; A Crack in the Skin: On Illness; Enviable: Love Poems. Origin circles through suburban landmarks and events familiar to the poet, focusing on such topics as Miranda Fair, Sunday en famille; “Centro: Bankstown”; “Tupperware Sonnets”; whereas the second section, Never Simple, introduces quirkier, darker, sometimes sadder themes, as in the two poems quoted above, and the title poem, which, as Wright explains elsewhere, is a response to a short-notice eviction pending the sale of a share-house where she had been part of an urban family.

I had a mirror mounted opposite the window and the steady hum

of light refracting: I have lived in a belly of sun.

I have lived, I have been loved inside this house, and I have cried;

I have danced in this kitchen, and though my potted herbs

have always died, I have loved this house.

(“Domestic Interior”)

 

Impermanence, the desire for stability, the unlikelihood of ever owning a home of one’s own, the threat of chronic illness are aspects of the precariousness of being that recur in various guises in these poems, albeit obliquely. Elsewhere includes poems from a residency in Berlin:

 

They say this language can’t be hypocritical

or overly polite, they shout me down

when I cross against the lights: das darfst

           du nicht! I learn

 

three different words for lonely

 

but they’re all too big

to fit my frame.

(Neukolln IV)

 

The poems in Elsewhere evoke a sense of vulnerability, angst, evanescence, new discoveries, wonder.

 

A Crack in the Skin: On Illness casts an at times forensic eye on the elusiveness of wellness and the implications of this. Recurrent themes in these poems echo those identified by Gabriella Munoz in her review of The World Was Whole (cited earlier) as body, home, food, ritual.

We ate it first that autumn

when we pooled

what strength we had

my soft-eyed friend and I

we took things slowly, kindly

for a change.

For months, we held on only by our rituals.

(“Pasticceria”)

 

Rituals, often involving the minutiae of daily life, are important to the poet, as she has stated elsewhere. They provide structure in a life subject to the vagaries of illness and disrupted by the impermanence that not owning one’s home imposes on many people of her generation – the anxiety induced by housing insecurity. It follows that rituals are sometimes generated as charms against random threats to order and stability:

Take a small green chilli, an eggshell

a peanut, a wheat husk

a fish scale

the peel of a mouldy orange,

pollen from pigweed or goosefoot, acacia

or oriental lily. Wrap these in raw silk.

Drink gin. Press down on a splinter or an ingrown hair

and thrice chant

foreign body.

(“Charm Against Casual Cruelty”)

 

In the poems of this collection, attention to detail, often interior, sometimes bordering on the obsessive, is balanced by more expansive vistas of the natural world, as in “Wallis Lake”, “Riverina”, “Flowering Cherry”, “Surely”, and other poems. Space, in various senses, is something Wright is acutely conscious of, and attentive to. (“I want…to be/ my own psychic geography.” – “22 Days”). There is a tension set up involving different kinds of space; between an impulse to freedom and various forms of constraint; between a sense of precariousness and fragility and the courage and strength to survive and celebrate the minutiae of daily life. Hallmarks of Wright’s poetic style include her delicacy and lightness of touch, her deftness in negotiating painful terrain with an understated grace.

In the hospital

I watch my pulse throb on a monitor,

a pediatric cuff around my forearm

 

and know

I have to make this fertile, know

it’s all I can do.

(“22 Days”)

 

In “Small Sad Poem”, the themes of space; the body, its interior life; the human condition and its mutability; animal incomprehension and inchoate sadness in the presence of mortality: the mysterious nature of being – coalesce in nine spare, eloquent lines.

How did it help us

when we were animal?

Did we carry sadness in our heavier bones?

It rests inside the body, hot and wet,

it sits in the scoop of the clavicle,

all our cavities. How did it help us,

the sorrow in our marrow?

What could we harvest

from the salt of our own skins?

 

(“Small Sad Poem”)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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