A review of Off Limits by Louise Wakeling

Reviewed by Dr Beatriz Copello

Off Limits
by Louise Wakeling
Puncher & Wattmann
June 2021, Paperback, 110pp, ISBN-13: 978-1922571021

Off Limits is a fascinating poetry book divided into seven sections, each section has its own characteristics and appeal. The poet opens a door in the mind of the reader, her poems lead to pondering, to judge, to be someone else and to vibrate with the resonance of her words.

“Urbanities” is the first section of the book, with vivid descriptions we travel through Sydney and other places, enveloped in perfect lines we feel the heat of the summer in Jibbon Beach or Bundeena or we reflect on the political married to the unjust. 

In “Urbanities” we read poems which embrace ideology and environmental politics, the following excerpt from the poem: “The toad of White Bay” is an example of the power of Wakeling’s words:

White Bay Hotel, squatted in, pissed on, landlocked:
You were always gonna burn, baby burn —
(some idiot blogger puts his oar in:
If someone indeed torched this ugly toad
he did Sydney a huge favour)
only a matter of time before your bricks were levelled,
shovelled into maws of bulldozers.

Wakeling writes lines methodically, in a measured way, never letting her words race ahead of her intended message, whether she is writing about underground stormwater pipes, a power station or the underbelly of a secret Sydney. The poet filters ordinary experiences and places through vibrant images and poignant words.The poet brings to the front paradigms of life and the world, sometimes her observations are like theorems others like syllogisms and others like a work of art.

The poems in the second section of the book titled “Long-distance affair” appear to be more personal.  The “I” is strong and it reveals itself in different places, places that unroll with cinematic qualities.   Long distance love is evident in the poem titled “Siege Mentality”, also noticeable in these poems is the pain of a dead love which shows its ugly head through the cracks of a broken relationship. But what I love about Wakeling is that she is able to insert humour amidst the pain. In the poem titled “We might all be cactus” writing about cacti she says: ‘they are prickly and quirky as a room full of poets’ — What a brilliant line!’

And of course, in all failed love affairs there must be revenge or the desire for it. In the excerpt from the following poem titled “The gift” this is very clear:

That bottle of Carolina Reaper
sauce seating in my pantry —
sent halfway around the world
it mouths your last challenge.
a death’s head grins at me
every time I open the door.
a parting gift.
or a chilli grenade
lobbed into my kitchen?

“Migrations and transplantations” the third section of the book presents poems that deal with the impact of migration and the feelings attached to that experience.  With elegant and precise lines the poet writes fascinating stories about migrants from different countries like the in the following excerpt from “Two studies for Maria” 

herbs in pots barely sustain her, dry as the track
beyond the town; folded arms
ward off the evil eye.  the aging mother
Adamantia broods, a world away in Mytilene,
the father lingers at the ouzeri
and her the guilty one for leaving home —
the groaning ship plunging and rearing
through dark seas to the mainland

“Getting the picture” is the next section in Off Limits and contains several ekphrastic poems where the poet gives a strong voice to images and demonstrates her well-developed powers of observation, her acute perception and her intelligent political statements. The following poem illustrates this: 

  “Sandmining, Main Beach, 1956”

It was the raping of our foreshore — Margaret Olley
a memory of green suffuses this landscape
tincture of cane-fields   rainforest and mountains
of Tully   she remembers banksias
and cottages     assertive grasses compete
for line honours with pipes and shadows
in Olley’s painting seagulls hover
above a cone spewing minerals

“Futurama” is the next section in the book, it contains only five poems which shouts the sad and tragic future possibilities of our planet and its people, a sad and gloomy future.

“Un-earth” is the following section which also explores the future and what we have lost and may never recover.  Wakeling talks about being inside a crazy teapot while earth dries, where whitened sheep skulls rest in gullies, where the land is the colour of failed barley.  In the poem titled “Bird in search of cage” there is a very poignant stanza which in a way opens a door to meaning and purpose,  here it is:

was Freud right
and the meaning of life is death?
beaks ready to tear you to pieces
ontological anxiety
safer to hole up inside
peer through wire
bird in the middle ground
preening your feathers
head cocked for cosmic violence
the world is woven through with meanings
you never get to choose

“Earthed is the final section of the book, through the eyes of the poet we see her world, some are childhood memories with the sadness and happiness of the past, with the richness of experiences. The poet also explores animal lives, nature and its mysteries and she does so with original and creative poems. With beautiful and perfect lines she says what it is and what it is not, ideas and judgements are generated to the point that the reader will be lead to reflect. 

Off Limits is book of alluring, people, places and life are mined for meaning and Wakeling offers a unique perspective.

About the Reviewer: Dr Beatriz Copello is a former member of NSW Writers Centre Management Committee, she writes poetry, reviews, fiction and plays. The author’s poetry books are: Women Souls and Shadows, Meditations At the Edge of a Dream, Flowering Roots, Under the Gums Long Shade, and Lo Irrevocable del Halcon (In Spanish).  Beatriz’s poetry has been published in literary journals such as Southerly and Australian Women’s Book Review and in many feminist publications.  She has read her poetry at events organised by the Sydney Writers Festival, the NSW Writers Centre, the Multicultural Arts Alliance, Refugee Week Committee, Humboldt University (USA), Ubud (Bali) Writers Festival.