A review of Opus: A life With Music by Pip Griffin

Reviewed by Beatriz Copello 

Opus: A life With Music
by Pip Griffin
Ginninderra Press
July 2023, Paperback, 88 pages, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1761095702

Opus: A Life With Music is a fascinating autobiographical book which, like slow tempo and gentle melody, induces a sense of calmness and tranquillity. This is the case even in the more dramatic poems in the collection.  

The book is divided into seven sections which are both interesting and inspiring. The first section titled “A song to remember” explores memories of growing up during war times. Later at thirteen we find Griffin as an anxious and shy young girl who hides herself from the world in a Kevlar coat.  At sixteen music took her by the hand into a new life and from then on, the life of a strong and intelligent woman adorns the pages of Opus.

This collection of narrative poems are full of strong lyricism, stories that flow like music accompanied by rich imagery.  The poems grab the reader with filmic images of the poet at the pool, unhappy with her body, disillusioned by her shyness but also we see her having fun with her friends or going to a dance:

‘Moon River’ plays on the sound system
sweet music that sways you towards love.
One of the boys is a ear above you
tall  rugby  player  smooth talker
you’ll die for him if he asks
but if he does what can you say to him
you shy bumble-tongued teen
fed romance by the classics?
He might be your Mr Rochester
Heathcliff  Mr Darcy
But will he ask you to dance? (“First dance – Reader I married him – Jane Eyre”)

I loved how the poem captures the excitement and nervousness of the first dance perfectly. It brought up so many memories. The imagery of the blue taffeta dress, the heart palpitations, and clammy palms really sets the scene and makes the reader feel the anticipation of the moment.  The reference to classic literary characters adds a layer of depth and complexity to the young Griffin, as she navigates her own romantic hopes and fears. 

Griffin is a poet of philosophical refinement and linguistic delicacy, the poems in this collection are also compelling and wise, each poem a seed planted in a garden of beauty. 

In the second section of the book titled “Air on a G String” with the following quote by Louis Armstrong “Music is life itself”, is a poignant and touching section full of family stories about what life gives and what life takes. In one of the poems, we sense the pain of losing a sister which sprinkles sadness to the collection. On the other hand the strength of the poet is evident particularly when she cares for her mother.

“New Song”, with its epigraph from Anna Goldsworthy, Music promises to deliver us to our inner lives is the title of the third section. This is an important section because in this part of the book we learn about Griffin strongly embracing music and poetry while moving from adolescence to adulthood. The poems in this section are very true to life, particularly about the developing self and the changes we experience from adolescence to womanhood and finally finding oneself. Well, not everyone is so lucky many die without finding themselves. 

Section four titled “Duet”, with its epigraph Anna Boyd, “music is the language of the emotions” really touched me because I saw myself in the poems that describe the conundrum of a young woman wanting to experience sex but never getting around to the actual act for fear of becoming pregnant. 

In this section we also find Griffin teaching in a country school. In the following poem titled “Ukulele boys” the poet tells us about the challenges and joys of teaching as well as the complexities of working with difficult students.  The poem conveys a sense of empathy and understanding which speaks volumes about Griffith as a teacher:

Big Brook, black fuzz on upper lip, is class bad boy.
His defiance holds her captive.
Drained by defeat she co-opts a male teacher
to punish him but is punished in her turn.
His hard, accusing eyes.
Her guilt.
Yet others   Honi, Tim, Tipene
still dance brown fingers over ukulele strings
their easy going natures rocking the classroom
into a state of truce.

The next section of the book titled “Right of passage” has an under title by Ludwig van Beethoven which reads “Music can change the world”. We encounter a grown up woman who like most of us thinks that marrying the prince you love will bring happiness for ever, but this fantasy does not live long. The poet marries the man she loves, has children, buys a house, travels around the word and then…staleness and boredom.

The book does not end there. There are two more sections where we encounter a grown up woman, secure of herself who loves to sing, is free to travel. Music is her life and she knows what she wants. Opus is a rich book full of the music of life.

About the reviewer: Dr Beatriz Copello is an award-winning poet, she writes poetry, fiction, reviews and plays. The author’s books are: Women Souls and Shadows, Meditations At the Edge of a Dream, Under the Gums Long Shade, Forbidden Steps Under the Wisteria, A Call to the Stars translated and published in China and Taiwan, Witches Women and Words, No Salami Fairy Bread, Rambles, Renacer en Azul and Lo Irrevocable del Halcon (In Spanish).  Copello’s poetry has been published in literary journals such as Southerly and Australian Women’s Book Review and in many feminist publications. The author has participated in international conferences, has taught Creative Writing at W.S.U. and other scholarly institutions, she has read her poetry at Writers Festivals and other poetry events in Australia and overseas. Copello is mentioned amongst the forty “most notable people” graduated from the University of Technology.