It’s rather ironic that in the last week or two when I’ve written a couple of posts about Australia’s image* as a “sunburned land” (Barbara Hanrahan) or “sunburnt country” (Dorothea Mackellar), the image the world has been seeing is somewhat opposite – a raindrenched land. Then again, Dorothea Mackellar did also write that this is a land “of drought and flooding rains”.
So, I thought this week I’d share a few images from current poets – from The best Australian poems 2009 book which I was given a year ago. For most of these poets the imagery might come from the land and the weather, but the subject is not necessarily so …
Sarah Day‘s poem, “A dry winter (Some observations about rain)” is particularly poignant – though no less real – given current events:
… This rain moves on swiftly
leaving sun and silence in its wake …
And the poem ends with
Mostly too little rain falls here.
There is only the silence of the sun.
Even in winter after low skies
and the impression of rain
for days and weeks, the earth is dry as dust
under trees. Cracks refuse to close up
in the cold months. This makes rain exotic.
Something to pay attention to.
John Leonard’s “Rain in March” captures the cleansing effect of rain. His poem ends with:
Chirping crickets and autumn peepers
Trilling with the carolling of magpies
And currawongs, and a brief clamour
In the muted darkness
The front passes, single drops
Spitting from a matt black sky –
Rain has washed through the world,
A faint, cool wind lifts
Branches heavy with wet leaves.
“Fred’s Farm” by Astrid Lorange is about more than the land, but it starts with
yes this is a field of gunmetal glinting like weather
an entire ecology of dead thistles mapping a drought
That imagery rather sets a tone doesn’t it … The poem is not so much about Fred’s farm – a self-consciously neutral title – as the poet’s stream of consciousness reflection on remembering a past. She’s a new young poet and one to watch…
For Robyn Rowland too, in “Is the light right?”, landscape and weather are closely related to mood, but there’s no simple polarity to the imagery. The water, for example, is “blood-warming” but “dark”. Her poem ends:
What if tomorrow, light is too big when it comes,
never a shadow to rest in,
no blood-warming pools of dark water to drink from,
sky never again boot-black and anxious,
and I forever driving through burning day
along ten thousand miles of loneliness.
In “The orchardist”, by Petra White, the tough needing-to-be-irrigated land breeds tough farmers. Here is a description of the landscape, with “we” being fruit pickers:
At night we walked the river, following its curves
that wound us out to where a redgum
stood marooned at water’s edge, fossilised in thirst
And then the farmer:
All day the farmer circled on his tractor, mad as a bull-rider,
lurching on thick dry mud-tracks…
Finally, a poem that harks back to the terrible fires in Victoria just two years ago, reminding us again of the extremes wrought by our “drought and flooding rains”. The poem is titled “Kinglake“, a town which bore the brunt of the Black Saturday fires. It’s by Fiona Wright and she concludes her poem about the devastation with:
Your orchard eaten into black dust.
I send you irises,
and try to write
some kind of greening.
This post is, I know, rather bitsy-piecy. The poems, which vary in theme and style, aren’t necessarily my favourites in the collection, but they show that sun and water still pervade the Australian consciousness even if the purpose to which they are put, poetically speaking, has diversified. I may return to this book in the future … but in the meantime would love to know if there’s particular imagery that represents your nation’s “being”, or, if you’re Australian, whether agree with what I’ve written?
* After all, wasn’t Bill Bryson’s book on Australia published overseas as A suburnt country?