In 2010 five Hobart poets – Karen Knight, Liz McQuilkin, Liz Winfield, Christiane Conésa-Bostock and Megan Schaffner – received the FAW Community Writers Award for Of Things Being Various’ manuscript.
Knight – author of four collections – moves freely from Turin’s streets where Nietzsche suffered a mental collapse after “hold[ing] fast onto the neck/of a beaten carriage horse” (‘Sing Me A New Song’) to a ‘Canonmills, Scotland’ bookshop, where a first edition of Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Tom Kitten vies for the affections of passersby with a “stray/priceless/in his dignity”. Her poems are concise, yet thundering.
McQuilkin’s, comparatively, are quiet, though no less compelling. One might mistake this well travelled, retired English teacher – winner of 2010’s King Island Award – for an ornithologist, so delicately formed her observations:
They dot the Upper Derwent, each an oval islet
with a slender line that rises in an S,
a contrary question-mark (‘Rara Avis’).
Most touching are those in which a mother addresses a son: ‘Last Day Of Leave’, ‘Phone Call From Tarin Kowt’.
Winfield – a solo collection, a chapbook to her name – is a confessional poet. The feline and breath – “The weight of the night on my chest/is a sleeping cat” (‘Another Tired Morning’), “a scene from a dream/a snore of disregard” (‘Breath Collage’) – feature prominently in her short, sharp pursuits of inclusion. ‘The Doppelgänger’’s final lines encapsulate this lust:
If it’s true that we’re reborn,
I want to come back as the real me.
French and English Writing teacher Conésa-Bostock, who moved from France to Tasmania in the 1970s, is “the silenced Edith Piaf … guide between two cultures” (‘Voluntary Exile’). Her poems are as comical (‘Wines For All Types And All Occasions’) as they are solemn:
Today, in my mother’s worn wallet,
I found one she had kept as a souvenir
after my father died.
It writhes and slithers out of my soft fingers (‘Green Pay Slips’).
OTBV concludes with exquisite images by South African emigrant Schaffner, a passionate reader and editor: “it holds you/opens out/billows into silken images … floats you gently/to somewhere you’ve never been before/and with luck you’ll land wrong side up” (‘A Poem Is A Parachute’); “Night’s extravaganza begins/as fireball Sol dives/sizzling into the ocean,/and the Seven Sisters/tilt singing/toward the Cross” (‘Flying West’).
These women work together. Nevertheless their voices are distinct, as “playful … philosophical, tender, sometimes sad” as the rake of McQuilkin’s ‘In Bed with Billy Collins’.
Of Things Being Various – RRP $24.95 (plus shipping) PB 84pp – is available from Forty Degrees South Publishing
Born in Hobart, educated at Monash University (Bachelor of Arts: Literature, Philosophy), Stuart Barnes is arranging the manuscript for his first collection of poetry. At the moment he lives in Melbourne; a move to the Hawkesbury is imminent.