Feb 8, 2014

Book Review – nothing here needs fixing by Maxine Beneba Clarke

maxineI first came across Clarke’s work listening to her read  the short story, Harlem Jones, on the Overland Podcast.  She’s a previous Australian Slam Poetry champion.  She won the Victorian Premier’s Award for an unpublished manuscript in 2013.  The manuscript, a collection of short stories, will be published this year by Hachette, under the title Foreign Soil.

But, nothing here needs fixing ?

I have to admit I am finding I have more of a connection with spoken word poetry even when I am just reading it, when I haven’t heard the poet perform it. I am also thoroughly enjoying all the works I have purchased from Picaro Press.  Clarke’s collection is no exception.  At the risk of sounding cliché, it’s real, it feels raw and honest and takes me on a journey that as a middle class white male I won’t probably experience otherwise.

There’s something to be said for puzzling out avant-guard and post-modern works, to applying a close reading to really dense works.  But there’s also much to be said for works that can get you thinking while lighting a fire under your arse.

I love Clarke’s play with language, cadence and sound in the collection opener in karikatur austerlich duetsch, the longest poem in the book.  It is I assume, biographical.  It’s both an affirming, thumbing of one’s nose at all the people that sought to disempower a schmal braun frau, and a criticism of the racist society we subject(ed) non-white Australians to.

This battling as a single black mother against banks, school community and welfare is one of the stronger themes in the book. The titular poem, nothing here needs fixing, speaks of the importance of love and care over money.  That we are not the labels, not the designation we might be given in a sociological assessment.

broken home/nuh uh

there is nothing here/ needs fixing


Don’t think that it’s all angry and up in your face though, there is anger but there’s also a call to think beyond your own settled and sheltered lives, such as in Somewhere on your street:

somewhere on your street
there is a mother
who kept her children home from school
tuesday of last week
who couldn/t scratch the dollar fifty / each
to send with them
to the stall
who paid a day of education
to erase their shame [read more]

Clarke’s work is equal parts anger and loss, loneliness and joy, momentary defeat and battles won toward victory.  In pointing out the faults in the system there’s also a healthy introspection – particularly in the closing poem, being alice walker’s daughter.

Nothing here needs fixing is another of those collections that I recommend without reservation.  Accessible, beautifully written poetry with rhythm and while it may throw some clever and stinging punches it also gets under you guard in subtler ways in works like thin air.

it is three thirty pm
primary school pick-up time
& you
have looked all over the schoolyard
for your five-year-old child
the teacher looks at you
clipboard shaking
eyes open wide
& it is then you realise
this morning
your child
did not

[read more]

You’ll only be able to buy it through Picaro Press or really groovy independents I suspect. But like Ali Cobby Eckermann’s little bit long time this is a collection I will cherish.

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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