By Lucy DouganPoetryGiramondo Publishing

The Guardians

Many poems in this book explore the consolations that ‘the wild’ offers to the subjects of late modernism. The work is interested in the ways in which the past continually intrudes on the present, in all kinds of atavism, and in the ways in which pockets of wildness in built environments are a source of liveliness and a dark sort of energy. Historical sites recur, as do poems about bonds between children and adults, humans and animals, and humans and the physical world. The title refers broadly to these bonds. Ideas about salvaging, foraging and making do have also been touchstones and Dougan has been influenced by the work of artists as different as Elizabeth Bishop, Iain Sinclair, Richard Long and Andrea Arnold. As a contrast to the wildness the poems themselves aspire to quietness, to cumulative rather than immediate effects, and to sustaining a relatively natural and unobtrusive voice.

Portrait of Lucy Dougan

Lucy Dougan

Lucy Dougan’s first poetry book, Memory Shell won the Mary Gilmore Award. Her poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies. Her second collection, White Clay, was published by Giramondo in 2008. In 2006 the manuscript of White Clay won the Arts ACT Alec Bolton Award. She currently works in an administration and research position at the University of Western Australia’s Westerly Centre and is poetry editor of the University of Canberra’s new online journal Axon: Creative Explorations. Her chapbooks Meanderthals (Web Del Sol) and Against Lawns (Picaro) were both published in 2011.

Judges’ report

The Guardians is a profound and intimate poetic peregrination exploring matrilineal discovery and disturbance. The sequencing of the collection creates a cumulative theme of haunting and redemption culminating in Dougan’s reflections on generations of women from insider and outsider perspectives. Significantly, the poems in The Guardians deal with complex vulnerabilities without sentimentality or frenzy. They map a journey that traverses a personal, foreboding and sometimes ephemeral terrain that is ultimately an exploration of love, loss, memory, illness, mortality and the place of art and culture in a human life. This collection marks Dougan as a leading, contemporary lyric poet for her deftness in loosening the lyric mode to craft constantly surprising uses of image and line.


The Guardians


I could not bear the empyrean capped,

not after living so long under the ground.


You were away

when I found the lump.

You came back with a wooden duck

and a black toy dog.

In the thick of it

the duck would come to live

with the small plastic shepherd

and the stone our daughter found out in the river –

its shape sat safe in my hands.

The piggy bank was another gift.

My friend said put a coin in it a day

and smash it when you need to buy the dress

for your daughter’s wedding.

But the dog – the dog was quite something.

Being stuffed, it said nothing.

In a dream it sat quietly by our own living dog

and she looked at me straight out of her old eyes and said

Go on – it’s OK to pick it up.



The Ties My Sister Makes

For Elena


The silk ties my sister makes

lie sheathed in plastic sheets

in their pigeonholes

in the factory

beneath the volcano.

They hold all the colours of the sea

and are scaled like fishes too

so that when I first see them

laid out in their obedient ranks

I want to exclaim like Willmouse

at the Roman fish market

Che belle cose.

My sister’s ties

will be dispatched about the world,

their underwater silvers and greens

flashing in the dark aquariums of shop windows.

I think of all the necks they will encircle,

the men who will make their deft adjustments

and the women who will stroke them and roll them away

with socks or hang them inside wardrobe doors,

unaware of my sister’s clever hands

and of her name

inside the label

beating out its syllables

silently next to their husband’s hearts.


The Forge


The women in these suburbs

flirt with the man who cuts keys, fixes heels.

They can’t help being won over

by the light that glowers at his shop-front.

Too sure of himself by half

my mother would say.

He dyes his hair unflatteringly dark.

Once I took him shoes,

a second-hand pair.

God, love, he asked,

what have you been doing in these?

I laugh at the histories I could invent

for these strangers – sleep-walking, bacchic dance.

I laugh and say nothing

as he hands me the little green slip.

But I don’t go back for a long, long time

(life more ruptured than the wreck

of shoes I handed him, impossible to unlock).

Where you been darl?

(if I could click my heels).

It’s a story I cannot tell –

what kept me from redeeming

something fixed.

At night the women in these suburbs

unlock their doors

with keys fashioned

by the man at the kiosk.

They kick off their shoes

shiny and re-heeled.

They smile without quite knowing

how the man with the dark, dark hair

has eased his way into their smallest secret places,

snug in the palm, firm at the ankle.

And I chide myself gently

for not telling him the story of the book

I swapped for shoes

or why I had been away for so long.

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlist