Aug 28, 2014

Book Review – On a moon spiced night by Jude Aquilina

on-a-moon-spiced-night

In a short space of time I have come to really enjoy Jude Aquilina’s work.  On a moon spiced night, released in 2004 by Wakefield Press, is however, the first collection solely made up of her work that I have read.

On a moon spiced night fits neatly into the kind of contemporary poetry that I have, through the course of the last couple of years, come to discover I like.  It’s accessible, it riffs of nostalgia, it hooks me in and elicits an emotional response.  That’s not to say that it’s simple nor that I don’t appreciate works that require some poetry reading experience to fully appreciate.

That Aquilina is a South Australian poet writing at times about South Australia, obviously adds a little extra.  I know the places that she is describing and evoking.

It’s a diverse collection structured in four separate categories: Habitat, Love’s Dream, Seeds and Creature Acts

The poems in Habitat seem to centre around experiences of growing up in Adelaide or observations of the city and suburbs.  There’s some subtle experimentation with concrete poetry and some clever choices in format and presentation and I find myself noting some of the choices she has made for my own learning.  The poems Street Fabric and Pointillism best display what I am talking about but are hard to present here in the appropriate format.

Grace versus The Highway is my favourite poem in this section, outlining the struggle of a South Road (presumably) resident who has survived a husband’s death and sons moved to foreign cities, only to have her home bulldozed so the government can widen the highway.

A hanging garden chokes verandah posts;

violets and agapanthus bury the pathways.

Entwined in her nest, Grace is safe for now

until the rats in suits and ties arrive

bearing smiles and papers to sign.

Her shrine will be desecrated by July.

 

Love’s Dream collects Aquilina’s love poetry, whether this be yearning, remembrance, celebration or vengeance.  We have the racy The Lonesome Cowgirl Blues with such suggestive lines as:

 

…I wanna feel like Dolly P  when I hold

your hard mike between my parted pouted lips.

 

and the chilling calculation of a murderer in  Diary of a Poisoner. 

Overall I found a playfulness in this section, an invitation to enjoy love and life, passion and yearning. 

Seeds, which featured a collection of poems about Fruit and Vegetables didn’t grab me as much as the other sections in the book, except for perhaps Outside the Market, 7 am. which illustrates the callousness and indifference that we can have to the destitute when presented with it on a regular basis.  The opening lines resonated, because this sort of indifference was part of my youthful experience:

 

Don't worry luv

their ears go blue

when they’re dead,

the market man says.

 

Creature Acts as you might expect contains observations of and questions asked of our pets, wildlife or ourselves.  King Gussie reveals me as a lover of cats and by extension of cat poems, his antics remind me so much of my own that I had no chance with this poem. 

But lest you think its all fluffy and cute Aquilina gives us some of her emotional heavy hitters here, particularly with The Horologist, about a father who was a fan of clocks, whose interaction with them is a daily ritual. Its a skilfully evoked and executed snapshot of a mans life and its ending.

For decades, he sat at a felt covered bench

poring over tins of sorted springs,

cogs like serrated coins, one eye shut

the other adhered to a magnified lens.

Then suddenly his heart beat stopped

and one by one the clocks followed.

 

Selling poetry whether it be the actual selling of poems or the concept of the art appears to be a difficult act these days outside of the community of poets.  I have some inklings, some gut theories about why this might be.  Folks baulk at paying the same amount  (or more) for a collection than they do a novel.  So I hope that my discussion here has awakened interest, particularly in those who normally pass over poetry.

I think On a moon spiced night has wide appeal and if the thought of taking a chance on poetry (which admittedly can offer diverse and strange fruit) makes you hesitate, try and find a copy at the library. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.


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This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women..

 

 

 

 


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Aug 22, 2014

Book Review - The Falcon Throne by Karen Miller

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What I really enjoy in a good book is total immersion; the kind that makes you forget your concerns, that actually leaves you feeling relaxed. Karen Miller’s The Falcon Throne did this while flaying me emotionally.  I dear reader, may even have required tissues at some point.  I enjoy being emotionally manipulated when it’s done well and I felt that Miller was masterful in getting me to love and hate the various characters, to break me by breaking my favourites.

Comparisons will be made to GRR Martin and the back cover blurb on my ARC mentions Abercrombie and Canavan.  

It’s not as drawn out as A Song of Ice and Fire, and while the cast of characters will probably scare readers of mainstream fiction (it includes a Dramatis Personae), the scope felt a little smaller than what you’d expect from “he who kills all his characters”.  Where real similarities can be drawn between Miller and Martin though, is in the ruthlessness they treat the characters you come to love. 

The comparison to Trudi Canavan is apt as well, structurally I found it exceedingly sharp, well paced and when I put it down I was hankering to get back to it. It’s not quite thriller paced, but I certainly felt like the story moved. 

The Falcon Throne is its own book though.  For your 600+ pages you get 4 tightly woven plots that deliver a wealth of conflict and one larger story arc that hints at what the rest of the series will be about.

Roric, a bastard reluctantly slays his tyrannical cousin, helped by disgruntled Lords who have had enough of living in fear. A widowed duchess struggles to hold onto power in a man’s world. Power will corrupt brotherly love and set the wheels of war turning and always, there is the presence of a power moving in the shadows that plays these personalities like pawns.

If you are looking for high fantasy, you won’t find it here.  There’s greed, ambition and trusting fools.  There’s war, pestilence and sorcery.  If you are squeamish when it comes to the suffering of children, or with sexual violence used against either gender you might want to pause – these are not overwhelming elements but The Falcon Throne isn’t a Disney fairytale.  I’d rate it as one of my best reads of the year and would expect Miller to join Rowena Cory Daniells as one of our best women writers of Grimdark.

Enter this tale at your own risk, Miller will slip the dagger under your guard and twist.  You will feel pain.

This review was based on an advanced reading copy.


This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.awwbadge_2014

 

 

 

 


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Aug 16, 2014

Book Review – The Duties of a Cat by Jenny Blackford

dutiesPoetry featuring cats is not unheard of, T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is one famous example, though I am not sure how many folks realise this collection of light hearted rhyme formed the basis for the musical Cats.  Then of course the internet is powered by pictures of cute kittens.  So on the face of it, a collection of cat poems is probably a very good idea.

The Duties of a Cat is described by publishers, Pitt Street Poetry as a pamphlet, a collection of 12 poems.  It’s similar in size to some poetry chapbooks I have purchased previously.  But whereas most chapbooks are small collections produced cheaply to give the reader the words in the cheapest fashion, Pitt Street have managed somehow to produce a compact, high spec collection, illustrated by Michael Robson, and saddle stitched with a heavy card cover for just $10.

For lovers of cats and poetry the collection is a no brainer as a gift.  But for those strange folk that don’t happen to like our feline masters companions I shall expand a little. 

Blackford can be hard to pigeonhole as a writer, she’s more than dabbled in a number of genres and forms (see her Snapshot Interview) and this facility is evident in the variety she presents in this short collection. The reader is treated to beautifully articulated observational poetry as in Soft Silk Sack and Learning how to be a Cat, to humour that will have even dog lovers generating a grin with The Duties of a Cat, to the dark in Something in the Corner which displays Blackford’s penchant for the weird and to the science fictional in Their Quantum Toy.

I tend to struggle with overwrought diction and experimental syntax and thankfully Blackford is one of those poets who tends to be be more direct.  We get clearly evoked or described images and subtle rhythm. See the excerpt from Dream Hunt below:

 

The white Cat sleeping by the window growls.

I glance across. One pale curved paw, pressed hard

across his eyes, keeps out the daylight world.

His other paws are trembling, desperate to run.

 

While I am admittedly a cat lover and probably outrageously biased, I did enjoy the craft Blackford displayed and the words as much as their subject were a pleasure to read.  On this work and other poetry of Blackford’s I have read, I hope we will see a larger collection in the not too distant future.


awwbadge_2014This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014.  Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.

 

 

 

 


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