Drag down to unlock or place an emergency call
Readers of Drag Down to Unlock or Place an Emergency Call will be rewarded by a book full of unexpected and richly varied pleasures.
There are poems with a lightness of touch, and a self-deprecating tone, but there are also poems that deal with more serious matters. There are skillfully rhymed poems, haikus and highly experimental free verse.
From its range of technique and tone to its depth of ideas, imagery and emotion, this collection announces the arrival of a major new poet.
Smith’s newest collection is in part a paean to life even as it elegises several deaths. However, her primary concern is the binary opposition of scribing and erasure. She uses erasure to great effect in poems such as “Darkling with temazepan” (44), her version of “Ode to a Nightingale” and, through her inking and inscription, Smith forges a connection with the dead whom she memorialises and the living who read her work. That connection may be tenuous, a thread as short and slender as a line of poetry, but it is a link nevertheless, and one of great importance. This book is the work of a vivid, vitalic voice in Australian poetry.
Smith is a hard poet to categorise. She often displays a mastery of traditional forms such as the sonnet. At other times she can be almost an avant-gardiste with her use of computer-generated poems and centos (poems created entirely with lines from other sources). She has a seemingly innate feeling for irony and humour but can also produce poems of extreme tenderness and emotional depth when the subject demands them. Goodbye, Cruel displays all of these features and more.
As the pause in the title foreshadows, Goodbye, Cruel asks the reader to fill in the gaps across its poetic and thematic spectrums. It is in five parts, each one particular in focus and tone, yet also bound by a shared elegiac strand that combines landscape markers of geographical location with myth, intertextual references and enactments of crisis. It is a late modern elegy belonging to a hybrid genre that combines life writing, an Australian version of pastoral, with elements of allegory and tragedy. The collection tackles various topics and processes of disruption, interruption, redress and reparation where loss is finally transfigured through the creative act of writing. An exception to that transfiguration is in the second section and title sequence where, as they should, words fail to convey the despair at the heart of the ellipsis: ‘Goodbye, Cruel …’
Winner of the 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Poetry
Melinda Smith won the Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Award for her fourth book of poems Drag down to unlock or place an emergency call (Pitt St Poetry 2013). Her work has been widely anthologised both inside and outside Australia and has been translated into Indonesian, Chinese, Burmese and Italian. She is currently poetry editor of the Canberra Times.