By Lucy DouganPoetry Giramondo Publishing
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.
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.
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
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 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
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