By Ellen van NeervenPoetryUniversity of Queensland Press

Throat

I am not aware of my power

you watch me build my weapon

Throat is the explosive second poetry collection from award-winning Mununjali Yugambeh writer Ellen van Neerven. Exploring love, language and land, van Neerven flexes their muscles and shines a light on Australia’s unreconciled past and precarious present with humour and heart. Unsparing in its interrogation of colonial impulse, this book is fiercely loyal to voicing our truth and telling the stories that make us who we are.

Portrait of Ellen van Neerven

Ellen van Neerven

Ellen van Neerven is an award-winning writer of Mununjali Yugambeh (South East Queensland) and Dutch heritage. They write fiction, poetry, plays and non-fiction. Ellen’s first book, Heat and Light, was the recipient of the David Unaipon Award, the Dobbie Literary Award and the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Indigenous Writers Prize. Ellen’s second book, a collection of poetry, Comfort Food, was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Kenneth Slessor Prize and highly commended for the 2016 Wesley Michel Wright Prize. Throat is Ellen’s highly anticipated second poetry collection.

Judges’ report

Throat is an urgent and ambitious interrogation of the colonial gaze, responding to the pressing need for difficult speech with a defiant voice that bridges the public and the private. The collection is rich with tender intimacy for Country and Culture, for Blak and queer life and love, and moves to variously embrace and challenge the reader. Taking a wide array of forms, van Neerven's poetry is both relentless and tender, courageous and considered. It is a tribute to van Neerven’s ever-expanding talent, and ever-developing sharpness as a writer.  

Extract

Memories sometimes come backwards. They haunt-walk in.
My therapist – in our last session together before she left –
asked me to describe the creative process. I said a voice to
throw belief at. How I sit at one side of the table to tip tap
on the laptop and the other to write in my notebook. This
morning I faced an identity crisis organising my wardrobe.
It is mid-spring and I’m not yet warm. In my home, my
Country – now several hundred kilometres north-east from
here – the sun sits on my shoulders. Every breath is a loss or
gain of water. Here, my legs curl to my knees and my throat
is always dry.

Memories sometimes come backwards. They haunt-walk in.
Haunting, walking, and sugar from the chocolates my friends
give me after ‘the incident’. ‘We are in great admiration of how
you handled yourself. We thought you conducted yourself
with such dignity and grace.’ I did nothing but lie in my
bed. As I search for a card in the chocolate box, something
tells me I’m not meant to hear about what people think
about me – this kind of aggrieved love – until I’m dead. So
I’m walking-dead-haunting-live and there seems nothing
left to do but write about my trauma. My therapist has left
and I haven’t done my hw for my osteo. My inbox is full of
sympathy and unsympathetic requests.

Memories sometimes come backwards. They haunt-walk in.
Writing around trauma is easy when the commissions keep
coming. I’m flirting with myself, my reflection in the glass
door does not need to ask for my number. My laptop screen
greens with displeased fingers. After ‘the incident’ my gf
spends time weeding my emails, we are e-entwined. If I get a
+ve one I promise to respond in 2–30 days. If I get a -ve one
I promise to screenshot.

18Cs

1.
calves strung on the massage table
my body’s caught in a bad memory, she says
it can be overcome
she says I respond well to firm pressure
let this be my response.

2.
Carlton: walking to my new residence
take three steps through what looks like fingers and blood
before I register: chips and sauce
trams are waiting.

3.
community was so welcoming. it felt like my welcome here.

4.
sovereignty was never ceded. why do we need to reference
the invasion, we are continuing our ancestors’ talk. I
can close my eyes and you are gone – that’s the power of
Country.

5.
cut my hair today with nurses’ scissors for it’s my health I
consider. where did the words on the street come from? and
what will take away their protection? it’s just hair.

6.
commission into black deaths in custody, commission to
write my name out a bunch of ways, to write a blog on
safety, commission into black deaths in custody, my skull
size was commissioned, my heartlines were commissioned.
this was a commission too.

7.
copycats are back. what you told my grandmother you told
my mother you told me. there’s a crossover of words and
tones and spins. copycats are back.

8.
careful with the way I pick up a pen, careful with my words,
Mum taught me that, culture taught me that.

9.
culture can not be multi not even for a politician’s
convenience not even for a white man’s lie. still selling but
the world’s cottoning on.

10.
class was nice, instructor was poetic, said practice was like
coming home. noticed girl with sky blue jumper. saw her in
the organics store after. mentioned jumper’s colour. she said
it was like the walls of her first bedroom. a double comfort,
I said, and helped her find ingredients for an orange almond
cake until she said it was for her boyfriend.

11.
created communities are a way to design our futures.

12.
colourblind is a common complaint. you claim you don’t see
colour. how about I show you the colours on the awnings of
your church, the posts of your university, the gates on your
homes. let me illuminate this cos you’re in the dark.

13.
chills. they didn’t bury you right.

14.
cost-effective Friday night dinners – how about I drink the
salted water I soaked my toes in, how about I call Blackfella
Eats and ask them where the yams are, how about?

15.
Citizen was waiting for me at the bookstore. becoming a
habit to walk home with brown paper parcels. I’m looking
for comfort now my protection has gone. I’ve grown up
to a world that was uglier than the one I was promised.
I remember days where I would skip home. my feet would
get this much off the ground. tell me where did all that
hope go?

16.
can we be post-gravity too? post-cop-killers and
post-take-the-children-away?

17.
coast trip tomorrow can’t wait to be on the waves and see
my location with a bit more perspective.

18.
courage is telling them what you think of that play. that
script they try and write us in will no longer contain us.
bring me a new coat of oppression. this one’s wearing thin.

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlist