Wednesday, February 3, 2016
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Helen Hagemann reviews Terra Bravura by Meredith Wattison

When receiving poetry collections for review, I generally research online to find other reviews in order to gauge that particular reader’s response. In this instance I was not disappointed to find several written by most noteworthy academics, including Edric Mesmer from the University of Buffalo USA, and Antonia Pont a Senior Lecturer in Literary Studies and Professional & Creative Writing at Deakin University.  Both writers appraised the work in an in-depth, contemporary and erudite way.  Pont felt obligated as a reviewer to mine the work for its narrative / aesthetic arc and themes, while Mesmer explored its tethering muliebrity. Muliebrity! Wattison’s word in her description of 1950s women. (32)
   While I agree with other reviewers that Terra Bravura is a difficult book to read (perhaps it’s the esoteric phraseology), I tend to explore the poetry from the personal point of view (the lyric ‘I’) often looking for a grassroots, emotional engagement. As I wended my way through its rather dense 140 pages, Wattison’s epilogue on the last page caught my eye. Whether this is a single poem or an addendum to the work, it does not matter. Here is a charitable look at an aging father with dementia that we come to know in this family auto/ biography in verse.

   I show him photographs I have had made from some of his slides. He doesn’t recognise my mother on a beach from their honeymoon, but then the placename brings forward a memory of being there, years earlier, and watching a nudist, wearing only a towel draped around her neck, walk from her cottage every morning down onto the beach for a swim, then she’d walk back. ‘You could set your watch by her,’ he says, grinning.
    Lately he has begun to wake distressed, looking for ‘it’ – ‘Where is it?’ He doesn’t know what ‘it’ is. Only that it is lost.
    Only that it is lost and also there, like a woman walking and melting into the sea, at regular intervals, 60 years ago, and now, with fondness. (136)

   Poets and their fathers have been a major connecting subject in poetry from Seamus Heaney, e e cummings, Robert Bly, Robert Burns, and César Vallejo, to name just a few. Poems about fathers by their poet daughters are even more interesting and Freudian linked. Anne Sexton’s poem ‘Daddy’ Warbucks reveals a subliminal subservience to a powerful father, while Sylvia Plath’s Daddy reveals the father as a vampire and a Nazi who tortures and attacks her individuality. Gale Swiontkowski in her study of Sexton and Plath writes that both poets use the word ‘Daddy’ as opposed to ‘Father’ to show a familiar affection and need, while undermining and challenging the patriarchal and hierarchal structure of ‘Father’ as head of the household. In the Oedipal dilemma, both daughters are ‘compelled to defer their position as victim to escape the subordinate role…as with their enduring mothers.’(27-28). It is through poetry that Sexton and Plath form a controlled and creative response to the affluent and powerful, but destructive and predatory father. (29)
  Wattison’s poetry, although a dense and obscure narrative, nevertheless deals in part with the archetypal relationship of father and daughter. For the purpose of empowering, not victimizing herself, Wattison moves away from confessional poetry towards the symbolic and if not actual, to an equality of father and daughter through the mystical power of poetic language  – ‘I do not tire of this combative bloom….he tilts at the enemy/ I am not it.’ (38-39).

There is a candid nothing of our dynamic.
We are graduating foreground
to a flowering azalea.  (115)
The father-eating folktale
is a solarised crop
of subject and infinity.   (116)

This time he waves
as I appear through the gate
as though I wouldn’t see him,
a fluttering poplar, standing
in the garage,
Ach, du, Daddy              (119)   after Sylvia Plath’s ‘Daddy’

to be continued on Plumwood Mountain.......


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Published by Australian Poetry Centre, Melbourne

of Arc & Shadow

of Arc & Shadow
Published by Sunline Press, WA

The Joyous Lake

Par écrit

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Helen Hagemann, MBA(Wrtg) ECowan. Her first literary collection, Evangelyne & other poems, was published by the Australian Poetry Centre in their New Poets Series 2009. 'of Arc & Shadow' is her second full collection published by Sunline Press. She has two e-books, The Joyous Lake & Par écrit: poetry of the feminine @​​docs/joyous_lake/

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