A review of Green Point Bearings by Kathryn Fry

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Green Point Bearings
By Kathryn Fry
Ginninderra Press
March 2018, ISBN: 9781760415129, Paperback, $20aud, 90pp

The poems in Kathryn Fry’s Green Point Bearings are so immersed in the natural world they almost appear to transcend the limitations of a human viewer. As the title suggests, the work is steeped in the local surroundings of Belmont’s Green Point reserve, where the poems moves over water, rock, through the multi-layered history of the place, and observe the changes of light, colour and season slowly, thoughtfully and with deep reverence.  There’s a natural motion to the work that mirrors progression: the world spinning as a boat moves through heavily timbered waters, fingers touching bark:

Nature knows her reasons: curved low in
this hedge of Osage Orange and reaching
into the shaded earth, its wood loops

in the colour of clean, clear flame. (“Under the Old Tangle”)

The title poem, which won the 2014 Newcastle Poetry Prize’s Hunter Writers Centre members’ award, takes this exploration to an extended level, following the beauty of the reserve and its sensual delights, the flora and fauna, and the changing light, but also across time, connecting past with present:

I’m taking Green Point bearings acoss
a lapse of time. A river valley becomes
a lake holding bark canoes, murmurings
of Awabakal. Over the centures, spent
shells in the sandy gravel have rolled

into bleached bits by my feet.

Nature is definitely front and centre in these poems, which have the calm mindfulness of meditation, but there is also the poet’s gaze, which perceives implications, context, and the precariousness and mutability of all this beauty.  There’s an invitation, sometimes implicit and sometimes explicit, to pay attention, listen, look, smell, touch, taste: “come then…”.  The poet is asking the reader to slow down and join in: “In my mind I show you.”

Though the poems in Green Point Bearings are grounded in the natural world and are rooted  in place, particularly Lake Macquarie, the Hunter and Northern Sydney, there is also something a bit magical in these poems.  There is a mystery in this natural world that is inexplicable, arising from the spaces in which the poems are contained, in the rock, the trees, the flowers and shrubs that are everywhere and still precious, always in motion and changing: “Everything here speaks of infinity”.  Nearly all of the poems also contain a deep sense of the human historical underpinnings of the land.  Fry pays homage to the spirits of the original inhabitants, early homo sapiens (Mungo Lady), rock paintings, creation myths, and the Iningai:

Wild orange and bush bauhinia shading
the clay: spirits free again to read the shifting
stars or just now, singing up the swelling clouds. (“Iningai Reserve”)

Many of the poems are Ekphrastic, written about artworks such as Bea Maddock’s Terra Spiritus…with a darker shade of pale (1993-1998), a forty metres extended installation which depicts Tasmania’s coastline viewed from the sea.  Fry’s response, “Histories”, is also extended, using structure, rhythm, description, and a post-modern self-awareness to illuminate Maddock’s piece but also to create a new work of art with its own internal coherence:

She sketches wide custodial curves of story
to take beyond the baked sandstone
and the spinifex and silver-leaf.

The “Art Talk” section is all Ekphrasis, exploring a diverse set of works by Australian painters, mostly landscape artists whose work aligns with the visual quality of Fry’s poems.  Margaret Olley’s still life Chinese pots and lemons (1982) is given the same close exploration as the natural world, paying homage to the craft of Olley’s brushstrokes, but also the process, the colour, and the curve: “How she spaced curve and lip, belly/and thin handle, ridge, neck and sure/base”.

All of the poems in this collection draw heavily on the senses, from the dripping juice of a mango, the scent of a fejoa, the feel of fabric beneath the fingers, the scent, texture and taste of making sushi or baking with rosemary, or the rich sound of music such as Jacqueline du Pre’s performance of Elgar’s Cello Conerto in E minor, Opus 85:

She draws chords for an ocean at dawn,
a wavering along the shoreline,
a tarry on the sand. (“With Jacqueline du Pre”)

The “Greater than the Sum” section explores grief, though it’s never maudlin. Though loss is present in all of the poems in this collection, there’s a transformation and solace from nature, and from the continual change that come with genetic inheritance and children. This is particularly the case in the last poem in the collection, “Holding Firm”.  I first came “Holding Firm” a few year ago when I agreed to read it aloud at the Catchfire Press Home is the Hunter launch that Fry was unable to attend.  “Holding Firm” won first prize, and reading this beautiful, extended poem explores the ongoing connection between the natural world, grief, and the great and transforming love of a grandmother for her granddaughter nearly brought me to tears.  Coming across it again in the context of this collection, the poem takes on new resonance, weaving an exploration of time passing into a rich tapestry that engages all of the senses into a very present moment of discovery.  It’s a perfect way to end what is a beautiful, tender and consistently powerful first poetry collection:

claims her line to the unseen soul,
the huddle of snug spirit to come among
the billions, all breathing and beating,