Mar 28, 2014

Book Review – The Butcher’s Window by Carmel Williams


The Butcher’s Window is the third Picaro Press work I have read and it continues a run of accessible, enjoyable poetry collections. I was privileged to have read a very early form of this collection, having known and worked with the poet before.  Compared to those previously reviewed collections, Little Bit Long Time, and Nothing Here Needs Fixing, The Butcher’s Window comes in at almost double the size, some 80 odd pages.

It’s also a debut collection, though it feels like the work of a poet who has been at the game much longer than that would indicate.  Indeed nicely structured in four chapters or sections it carries a narrative, partly autobiographical.  There’s also a definite impression that Picaro is giving the reader value for money.  In terms of pure page count you are getting almost two collection worth’s here but more than that you are getting a full work, a solid chapter of a person’s existence. 

Like Eckermann’s Little Bit Long Time there’s an affinity with the work stemming from a shared experience of place in a lot of the poems.  A fair amount of this collection was written in Alice Springs and there are some iconic landmarks (Anzac Hill, Bradshaw Drive) that will act as touchstones or points of reference for readers who have an experience of the town.

Beyond any personal friendship I may have with the poet, there is a joy, almost a comfort, even when the poems describe events that aren’t comforting as in Red Car,

Ever body that cradles a womb

down Bradshaw Drive, heard that scream

It was a little death, a rough shove into that special groove

into which you were born

A comfort that you are experiencing poetry and a poet that is close to you. You can appreciate poetry for language and its technical proficiency but I find those poems that tap into your experience constitute another layer of immersion and enjoyment. 

If I can hurl an accusation at some of today’s poetry, it is that it’s distanced, requiring refined knowledge and understanding to fully appreciate.  Not so with the work I have read from Picaro and not so for William’s collection here. William’s doesn’t let technique, form or avant-guarde experimentation interfere with what she does, with the message or story she is telling.

An advantage of knowing the poet, is of course that I know, rather than have to surmise or guess, that these poems are at times brutally raw and honest.  There’s skill in Williams poetry but no sneaky poetic artifice, no careful manipulation of the readers emotions.  That skill is evident in taking the intensely personal and making it accessible for a wider audience.  Nowhere is this more evident than in On being a woman and other mass generalisations written for a daughter on the verge of becoming a woman:


You crept up

like a thief

stole the child we loved


Reeling we watch

this birth of separateness

and remember


Your body is a sacred place

take time to know it

But you won’t understand


Unless its taken away, given away

and you have to go through hell

to get it back

While a lot of her poetry is intensely personal, there’s a breadth of technique on display, an indication of a practised poet with a firm voice that has the facility to choose form to suit the subject matter.

When Williams does experiment, the form suits the subject and for me this is most clear in an early poem titled Reverberations ( a poem for three voices).  Three distinct contradictory and uncomplimentary voices are written at the poet, creating a sense in the reader of reverberating, echoing negative commentary on the poets action, inaction or unwilling participation.

Julia Wakefield reviewed The Butcher’s Window at Rocheford Street Review and she talks at length about the narrative of the work and suggests that while it’s not a verse novel there is a story and a growth or transformation of character experienced through the text, there’s a resolution with some of the themes in the work.

For me it’s a personal pleasure to see William’s work in print and there’s a closeness to the events and place that some readers may not be able to experience but I don’t think that’s going to be any barrier to your enjoyment.  Like Wakefield above I think you will enjoy/appreciate the “character” of the poet and her journey.

If you like honest poetry that’s bedded down in human experience, if you like hearing/reading a strong voice then (with personal bias noted) I heartily recommend The Butcher’s Window. 


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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