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