DRAG DOWN TO UNLOCK OR PLACE AN EMERGENCY CALL
BY MELINDA SMITH
At times, I am reading Pam Ayres and other times, Helen Garner. In yet other poems a darker version of this authorial voice has arrived, to blow her ‘lived experience’ sisters out of the water. This makes for textural ripples that demand further reading; the work is proclaiming its lessons clearly, mirror-like and offered in one dimension. But this is like swearing that the Mad Hatter’s tea party is always just a table with teapots and refreshments. Thankfully, this book is not as neat as that. And these poems do much more than their mission statement.
Her fascination with language is the element that provides the collection’s muscle, and when she does allow it to fully flex it is via the use of form, pushing further into spaces where the language no longer need carry the weight of being known or ‘understood’ immediately.
Despite its central position in the lives of all of us, motherhood has never been a popular subject among serious poets. Or perhaps it has simply not been popular among those people, usually men, who have traditionally chosen the poems that are to be published.
Judith Wright’s better-known works include poems such as ‘Woman to Child’. Yet, certainly when compared with Melinda Smith’s poems, Wright’s seem distant, as if she is observing her experience rather than living it, and determined to make it universal rather than personal.
Melinda Smith’s poems about motherhood, in contrast, are vital and vivid and clearly the product of the agonies and joys of a woman’s life lived and felt to the full. For those readers accustomed only to the euphemised or sentimentalised views of motherhood which still dominate mainstream culture, some of these poems may come as a shock . . .
. . . The poems in this collection cover a multitude of topics in a remarkable variety of poetic forms. Melinda Smith is particularly adept at those poems in which lines are repeated in regular patterns: ‘Discretion’, a short poem about a failed affair, is a fine example. ‘Laura to Petrarch’, a powerful rebuke of Petrarch’s unrequited love, uses Petrarch’s own form, the sonnet.
The short poem ‘Safe’, about an affair that did not go further than the pounding of chests pressed together beneath shirt buttons, shows a mastery of the shaping possibilities of free verse. Like most of her poems, it lends itself to reading aloud. I can imagine an audience at a poetry reading reacting to several of these poems with stunned silence rather than the customary polite applause.
George Thomas, Quadrant