Jan 2, 2014

Book Review – Ghostly Subjects by Maria Takolander


My plan at the end of last year was to broaden my reading of current Australian poets ( to inform my poetry writing as well).  So I set about first, borrowing the Best Australian Poetry collections.  I find poetry can be a bit hit and miss; it’s rare I think that you will find a book of poetry in which every poem will be a hit.  So the plan was to pick some names from these anthologies and follow them up in individual collections.

I made the mistake of ordering about 20 books through our wonderful public library system in South Australia and they all came at once. Not to be daunted by this temporary to be read pile I plucked  Maria Takolander’s Ghostly Subjects from the ziggurat of modern Australian poetry that had formed on the study floor.

I find a lot of the poetry I am reading a little distant, though not deliberately so.  I feel a distinct barrier, a deficiency in my education or understanding, perhaps perception. I like to look at a poem and

  1. enjoy it
  2. understand what the poet is doing
  3. understand the allusions/ comment
  4. learn from it

I find that some of our most lauded current poets require a bit of foreknowledge, a bit of working up to, perhaps even an academic understanding of the currents that are moving in poetry circles. I will be honest, Ghostly Subjects was not as easy to get into as Eckermann’s Little Bit Long Time.  Takolander is lauded on the back cover a postmodern lyricist.  She’s called challenging, disturbing but  also polished and surprising.

But how did I find her?  I think this is a collection I would like to spend more time with.   I didn’t feel a deep connection with the collection as a whole but there were poems that I was able to appreciate and that injected weighty discussion into breakfast discussion of poetry at our house.  To really appreciate some of these poems requires a close reading or perhaps several. 

On the charge of disturbing…I don’t know.  Sure there’s some confronting stuff in here but nothing readers of the new weird, Margo Lanagan, Kaaron Warren and Kirstyn McDermott won’t have been exposed to. Speaking of McDermott, Takolander’s poem Prosthetic would be a nice accompaniment to The Home for Broken Dolls. Prosthetic presents the relationship of a man to his sex dolls and makes some incisive feminist commentary in the process.

Whale Watching and Seed, were poems that I personally found much easier to appreciate; they are more or less straightforward, beautiful and emotional capsules of life.  The former hinting at the difficulties/detachment of being in a relationship where a woman is not a mother and perhaps has no desire to be; yet must take the whole package of a partner with child.  Seed is an interesting and very personal reaction to the loss of an unborn child.

The collection is broken down into the sections: Geography, Chemistry, Biology and Culture. I actually like this construction, it drew my thinking on poems within each section into focus, it made sense, tied poems that had diverse form together. As Ali Alizadeh points out in the link below the last section doesn’t seem to mesh as well with the first three.  On approaching the different sections as whole entities, however, I did find Culture was the easiest to grasp because the poems deal with things I have more of a reference point for, like Stanley Kubrick movies.

I liked the collection.  I wasn’t blown away, but I suspect that the deficiency is mine.  If you have the time to sit and give individual poems attention it would be well worth it.  And that’s perhaps the pleasure of poetry, revelations that can be nutted out over multiple readings.

I have only dipped my toes in this collection.  And in the interest of brevity while still providing you in depth discussion I point those with the desire for some real critical analysis to Ali Alizadeh’s review at Cordite.

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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