All in all, these poems are sensitive, moving, perceptive, and carefully crafted gems. Discouragement might lurk in the words, yet the balance is tilting toward hope. As expressed in the poem “A Close and Constant Rage,” the poet notes “my continuous rage colliding / with the natural world, … / surround me with a can-do moment of hope.”
Whitacre makes it clear from the start that this is family folklore handed down over generations at Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas celebrations and other family gatherings. Indeed, the second poem, “Jennie at Thanksgiving,” introduces us to the central figure, now a toothless old lady who is hard of hearing, her food “ground to mush” so that she’s able to eat. “She gums away fitfully.”
Ottaway explores the way that women are often taught to mask emotions which can make diagnosis difficult. The book is also deeply personal, putting the reader directly into the experience and incorporating a welter of complex emotions, sensations, and perspectives that are powerful. Poetry is the right medium, embracing the complexity through rhythm, structure, imagery, and an engagement in the senses that creates immediacy.
O’Hagan manages a delicate balance between immediacy and nostalgia with a light hand that feels natural, inviting the reader into the moment to share in the meaning making. There are layers of desire pervading the work, time and space condensing, folding into itself in sudden revelations that come into a quiet scene with the force of empathy
Moss’ words are eloquent and have a deep ring of truth. I love how he utilises sophisticated words mixed with slang. Several of the poems engage with the suffering of First Nations people including the welfare abuse of children who were taken away from their families. Moss pulls no punches, and his words are hard-hitting and powerful.
Cameron is very creative and is able to reveal a lot in the different ways she writes and sets the poems. For example in one poem she utilises pieces of dialogues which are obviously spoken at the time of the diagnosis. In this section there is also a very poignant poem titled “A Letter to my Body”. We sometimes see our body as a different entity and we question ‘it’,or get angry with ‘it’ thinking or saying “how can you do this to me?”.
The title, Live in Suspense, is an exhortation, a demand that we live in suspense as he attempts to do. He explores suspense as an artefact, quoting Emily Dickinson and Oscar Wilde, Dickinson emphasizing the unending nature of suspense and the contrast of “annihilation” and “immortality,” Wilde calling suspense “terrible,” then saying, “I hope it will last.”
The collection gives us a cohesive, quiet voice of a narrator who seems at times to not necessarily want to talk to us. We’re faced with an internal negotiation, and perhaps finally reconciliation, with one’s own version of truth. The loops of memory – there is repetition in many of the poems – tease us with the fact that history is only ever a partial account of events.
The poetry is often epigraphed by a snippet from a letter, either from George to Jean or Jean to George, charged by its setting as the characters move from Australia through Gallipoli, Egypt, Paris, and Palestine. The result is a tender ekphrastic that utilises these artefacts: a wedding dress, a hat, diary entries, letters, or a pressed flower to bring the past into the present, connecting the generations.
This isn’t a book that makes decisions for the reader. Murray’s knowledge and reference to other forms of art, schools, and theories is broad enough that the reader can find their own stolen moments of either appreciation or critique. But there are consequences for not having an “intermediary structure” (Murray 51) as simple as a porch that potentially shelters a wild cat.