A review of Beatific Toast by Anna Forsyth

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Beatific Toast
By Anna Forsyth
General Chaos Publishing
ISBN 978-0-244-08590-2, May 2018, 66 pages

It’s impossible to write about Anna Forsyth without mentioning Girls on Key, the poetry collective Anna founded in 2014. Girls on Key or GOK as it’s affectionately known, has grown rapidly from being only Melbourne based, to becoming a national organization, with branches in Newcastle and Sydney and a global reach as it encompasses poets from New Zealand, the US, Ireland and Scotland to name a few.  Anna has an almost magical ability to bring people together and to encourage a kind of mutually supportive network that is both accessible and utterly powerful. Anna’s own poetic work has the same kind of collective power, straddling the gap between immediate accessibility and openness, while still challenging linguistic norms and creating fresh ways of perceiving and inventing the world.  As the title indicates, the work plays on the intersection of rapture and domesticity: moments of terror and epiphany that occur regularly anywhere and at any time. Nearly every poem has some form of humour, at times very subtle and at times overt, even when facing down deep grief, the struggle for faith, and the pain of change. The poem “On the Blink” is a solemn cry against breakfast and its disappointments, breakfast becoming a metaphor for more general unfulfilled hunger:

The desire for vengeance is sticky
business is slow, all I want:
comfort in toasting.

The poetry is sensual, moving from the herbaceous scent of Issy Miyake, the taste of orange and cardamom, and the astringency of wine, the feel of a cool coke in the hand and mouth, or the languid beat of music – which is woven throughout the book, especially jazz: a trick of the light
/across a Kinda Blue sky.

Though many of the spaces in the poems are domestic, there is also a deep appreciation of nature,  especially the wild beauty of New Zealand, which is often combined with nostalgia for places and people of the past in the “sudden high tide swells at Tawharanui” or the bisection of faith and fear at the top of four vocanos in Four Volcanic Koans:

Like Puketapapa / I’ve been excavated
forgiveness flows like the water here.

There is something elemental in this work. Earth, fire, wind, water combine with self-awareness, self-deprecation, joy and sorrow, extraordinary emotions and strivings, all of which are rooted in the body. Desire and repulsion work hand in hand, but are often set against domestic backdrops that are wholly ordinary: ekphrasis at a suburban shopping mall, Masterchef’s falling macarons “(A slow motion fall from grace / from the trestle table)”, an ad campaign for Coca Cola, reading poetry at Hungry Jacks: “the last syrupy drops of coke/on my tongue/a liquid poem.”

There is something familiar about these scenes that involve television, advertisements and basic needs combined with moments of transition, as in “Reading the Signs” which juxtaposes the sounds of a construction site with the noise of hospital machinery, once again invoking all of the senses as the memory involves a cup of guilt-laden coffee:

My coffee goes cold with the guilt
Watching / helplessly
looking for some signs
of an interventionist god.

Many of the poems are metapoetic, exploring the creative process and its striving to create meaning out of the ineffable:

I wanted to tell her about the quickening
the recognition

I wanted to tell her
about the miniscule.

She doesn’t understand
the poetry of a minute’s silence.

Beatific Toast is a poetry collection that is as rich with silence and music as it is with semantical meaning.  Though the book is only fifty nine pages long – chapbook size – there is a lot of ground covered, with poetry open enough to encourage and reward multiple re-readings. These are poems are charged by sound, by light, by colour and scent, inviting the reader to join in, to participate, not just by reading the work but by moving with it:

All my prayers
are worth it, only
in stillness, the song
emerges, roots
singing wings.