Amongst the madness of last year’s silly season was a little oasis, namely the launch of local poet Suzanne Edgar‘s latest collection, The love procession. It was an oasis not only because the launch was for a book of poetry, but also because it took place in the peace of a garden. Poetry and gardens – a match made in heaven don’t you think?
And in fact, there are gardens in this collection of poems, but before I write about the poems, I’d like to mention the title and cover. As Edgar explained at the launch, the title comes from a painting she loved in the Renaissance Exhibition held at the National Gallery of Australia a year ago. The painting, “Love procession”, is attributed to Marco del Buono and Giovanni di Apollonio, from the 1440s. Apparently it took many months for Edgar and the publishers to negotiate the rights to use the painting, but it was worth it because the end result is a simple, yet rich and stylish cover.
It’s a good title because the collection is about love – romantic and other – and about procession. About the procession of our lives – about love, life and death, about work and the things that keep us going, about friends and family, about nature that travels with us. The subject matter reflects the poet’s stage of life, someone who’s lived more than a few decades, who’s travelled, worked, lost friends and family, managed homes, experienced passion and peace. Well, you know what I mean. I could mention for example a poem about clutter, which conveys the melancholy of time passing:
Wilting hats from our salad days
match skirts too small at the waist.
Or one about the real ravages of age:
A patch of muddy clay could well betray
unwary folk who have a metal hip
and hope to play again another day.
(from “Winter Sports”)
The collection’s first poem is – as you might expect – titled “‘Corteo d’amore’ (Love procession)” and is Edgar’s response to the painting. She imagines the groom waiting at the other end of the procession, reflecting. It’s a cheeky poem that contains both a sense of excitement and uncertainty, setting just the right tone for the rest of the collection:
To bed the girl had always been his goal
but laughing in the square, she’d seemed less grand.
I particularly like the way Edgar varies her tone throughout the collection. There are wry poems, and downright funny ones, and there are the passionate, the sorrowing, and the resigned ones. The style varies too. There are poems that rhyme and poems that don’t. There are three-line poems, a four-page poem, and even a bunch of sonnets. There are story poems and there are ones I’d describe as reflections. The imagery is generally accessible – at least it is to those of us who have lived (are living) similar lives in similar places. She invests the places and objects of our lives with meaning. There’s the woman, for example, who upsizes –
She tries a sea change, a tree change,
an elevated view change
(from “The Leavings”)
– losing, in the process, “her ghosts/ghosts of her children’s cries”. The doggerel-like rhyme and rhythm here are perfect for what Edgar clearly sees as the woman’s silly decision. Other poems speak of chairs that know our lives (“The Life of Chairs”), roll-top desks that trace a family’s history (“A Family Servant”), and of course the gardens that provide “refuge from summer’s sultry hours” (“Two Gardens”).
The poems are unmistakeably Australian with their references to the bush and of course gums, to wattlebirds and magpies, to drought and the pleasures of rain that only dry places know.
My favourite poems, though, are those scattered throughout that chronicle her relationship, at least they feel autobiographical, with her husband/lover/partner/significant other. They are often addressed to “you”. These poems speak of a long and deep love, but one also peppered, as real love is, with differences and squabbles. These poems made me smile, even where they spoke of loss, because they are honest.
Nearly halfway through the collection is a poem that starts:
I wonder where the poems went,
I used to think them heaven-sent.
Life is cluttered with noise and news
(from “Turn Off the Noise”)
Well, the poems are still here and I’d happily recommend Edgar’s collection as the perfect one to dip into whenever you want a respite from “noise and news”. These aren’t difficult poems, but that doesn’t mean they are trivial. Try them, if you can, and you’ll see what I mean.
The love procession
Port Adelaide: Ginninderra Press, 2012