Julie Chevalier, Linen Tough as History (Puncher & Wattmann 2012)
I just couldn’t get on this book’s wavelength. I appreciate the cleverness of many of the poems, but very few of them speak to me personally. I’m glad I read it to the end, because the poems I most respond to occurred in the final section: ‘crease’, about enduring tensions between mother and daughter; ‘fifteen kinds of infidelity’, which is what it says on the tin; ‘the moon and the stars were our chandelier’, which lives up to its excellent title.
A number of the poems are self-described ‘responses’ to other poems or works of art. ‘Corner of Glebe Point Road and Broadway’ and ‘the day we almost hung’, for example, play with Gwen Harwood’s ‘Suburban Sonnet’ and Frank O’Hara’s ‘The Day Lady Died’ respectively, each line (with one exception in each case) ending with the same word as that line in the earlier poem. It’s clever, and fun, but the effect each time was to send me back to the earlier poem, in whose light the present poem seemed a pallid, arbitrary thing. Similarly, when I read the poems responding to work by Ron Muecke, Diane Arbus, Cy Twombly, Hans Bellmer and Giorgio Morandi, I went to those works, either in memory or by Google, and felt no particular urge to come back. Maybe that’s a problem inherent to ekphrastic poetry, or – more likely – there’s something I’m not getting.