Saturday, June 1, 2013

Honey & Hemlock by Julie Watts
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

REVIEW: Honey & Hemlock by Julie Watts (Sunline Press, 2013)

I’m commencing this review with a quote from Gertude Stein who said, it is so very much more exciting and satisfactory for everybody if one can have contemporaries, if all one’s contemporaries could be one’s contemporaries. [1] As a member of the same OOTA writing group and also a friend, I come to this review as Julie Watts' contemporary. Therefore, as a poet and reviewer it is much more exciting and satisfactory for me to highly praise this debut collection of poems from that premise.

I also agree with two other reviewers, Les Wicks (Rochford St, Review) and Dennis Haskell (The West Australian); the latter seeing the modernist view of form and feeling, aligning her text with “D H Lawrence’s own heart, finding contemporary actions and events aligned with archetypal forces and our beings as genetically determined.” Wicks on the other hand states that the book is “even more enriched by the gift of her language… the way she enlivens these themes.”

Again, more words from the wise. “Poetry is, above all, an approach to the truth of feeling.... A fine poem will seize your imagination intellectually—that is, when you reach it, you will reach it intellectually too— but the way is through emotion, through what we call feeling.” Muriel Rukeyser (The Life of Poetry)

So in this context, it seems to me, a lot of contemporary Australian poetry is heading into the post post-modernist vein which is often devoid of feeling as the language works only on a literal level, and doesn’t delve into that deeper metaphorical framework. Honey & Hemlock brings satisfaction to the reader because of the complexities of emotion and relationships that the poet is conveying. It reaches into that subterranean area we know as “the mind/heart” binary. In her poem When Father Hit the Dog, tension builds in the closing of the tea-towel drawer.

When father hit the dog
for digging up the garden

mother, folding tea towels, flicked him
and undercut of a glance

and said, you shouldn’t do that –
females never forget

later when the dog shrank
from his touch

she mutely closed the tea towel drawer
nice and tight.

There are all kinds of shared distinctions in this work. Clusters of events, family pets, the poet strolling into the natural world, birds are prominent, colour is pictorial, and the sea obviously holds a special place for the author. In Girl on the Jetty there is motion and tenderness in the gaze:

Legs off-key and thrashing
slicing through
the shifting afternoon

hip to heel and pumping
that briny air

for all its pungency

In Seagulls Sleeping, images of birds, their ‘shoulders of wing / and eyes, minute black lines / drawn on white / canvas’ are juxtaposed with a distant similarity of ‘black dots - / children on the stairs.’

Poignant and heartfelt the poems about Watts’ mother and father send a message most of us can share about aging parents. From Mother, ‘knees drawn up / tight against your chest / your eyes – lost discs / wandering…..if I could give you your time back…you would drop / your knees and your / wandering.’ And from Putting Hand Cream on my Father 94 , ‘His hands are pale leaves / clamouring for the sun / quivering for touch.’

Some images are irresistible and should not be left out of any review.

‘The viridian thrusts / of lavender      purple-nibbed’    After the Eye Injury

‘The marching communes of ants’
‘And the strumming bees / missionaries in the stamens’     And Everyday is Sunday

There are many more great lines and poems in the sweet reveal of Honey & Hemlock. You can purchase this book from Sunline Press and at all leading bookstores. It’s a collection to keep dipping into over and over, but pardon the pun, like a bee into pollen.

Helen Hagemann
Copyright (c) 2013

1. Composition as Explanation by Gertrude Stein
2   Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980), U.S. poet. The Life of Poetry, ch. 1 (1949).,

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Published by Australian Poetry Centre, Melbourne

of Arc & Shadow

of Arc & Shadow
Published by Sunline Press, WA

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