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Patricia Prime reviews ‘waves whisper the shoreline to life’ by Agnieszka Niemira

waves whisper the shoreline to life, Agnieszka Niemira. 
Post Pressed, 38 Suncroft St., Mt. Gravatt, Queensland 4122, Australia.  www.postpressed.com.au.  2010.  98 pp.  ISBN 978-1921214-63-9.  AUSS$19.95 + p&p

Reviewed by Patricia Prime

waves whisper the shoreline to life is Agnieszka Niemira’s second book of poetry.  This is a more substantial volume than Niemira’s first collection, Making the Invisible Transparent.  Here again, we have a beautiful volume published by Post Pressed, with front cover photo by the poet, back cover photo by Elleni Toumpas and additional photos by Barrie Frost.

A very different presentation characterizes many of the poems in this collection.  Many of the poems are longer than in the previous book, although it also contains haiku and short poems.

The first lines of the very first poem, “the story begins” reads very simply:

 it is quiet

 the house is asleep
 i am enveloped
 in its imperceptible breathing

This process of discovery, from inside to outside, the search to establish some sense of possible relationship between the inner self and the exterior world, is central to this collection.  The same initial poem concludes thus:

 i will love
 i will question
 what love actually means

 should i be trusting you with myself like that

 and would you trust me      to be taken where I go

waves whisper the shoreline to life is characterized by Niemira’s alertness to incidents that took place in wartime.  “visitors” and “survivors 1945” are concerned with the horrors of war.  From “visitors”:

 a gun pointed at my brothers and me
 my father     watching

and from “survivors 1945”:
 a single woman
 her house destroyed

 they give her
 one of their rooms

The ideas in these two poems are fully felt, unsentimentally realized and emotionally felt.  The precariousness of human individuality, the difficulty of sustaining family values in the face of war, functions in Niemira’s work not just as an intellectual conceit but as emotional reality.  In the poem “echoes,” for example, the poet lives with “grandma and grandpa / in a post-german house.”  But, though they are surrounded by “wetlands / meadows    gardens” animals, friends, and relatives, all is not well in this idyllic setting:

 grandpa drinks
 i dread seeing him
 leaving the house with his mates

but by the end of the poem, we discover the reason for grandpa’s drinking and anger:

 he survives a german forced labour camp
 i listen
 i hear screams

 grandfather talks
 war echoes

Niemira’s poetic persona has a confident, but not over-confident, sense of its own identity.  Niemira is able to write of others with a degree of empathy.  There is an impressive meticulousness of emotional observation and a lack of sentimentality which isn’t flaunted, as we see in the love poem “summer loving”:

you come with delicate breeze

you take me into the sapphire-blue snowstorm

we experience the omnipotence
of misty sanctification

the mysterious kiss ripens
in the freedom of the night

The registering of human emotions is one of Niemira’s strengths, and it is in her treatment of those people in her immediate circle that her work is at its most quietly moving.  One has no doubt in believing in the truth of what Niemira says in a fine poem “the world has no sharp edges”:

 so the world is round, no sharp edges,
 she tends to relax into various colours:
 sea green, purple, blue . . . rainbow . . .
 could be falling out of the sky too,
 perhaps being flexible and bouncy
 with an honestly smiling face.

A longer poem “dimensions” is full of Niemira’s experiences, full of her sense  of love, warmth and peace and in both the apprehension and comprehension of what is implied in the recognition of herself in a photo:

 what is this     she points to the screen

 marcus looks at the photo

 his tearful eyes find me
 is that you

But Niemira is not simply a poet of emotional lives.  She also writes poems in which the search for an axis of living is conducted in natural settings.  In the poem “dawn,” for example, she hears the birds and goes outside to listen to them:

hearing the birds singing their greetings
i go outside to unite with the world of awakening

i breathe in the freshness

the place is alive
though people are nowhere to be seen

In such poems the precision of Niemira’s writing is a recurrent delight.  Niemira’s real but unaffected attentiveness to nature is registered in a language which, very naturally, makes such attentiveness evidence both of a stilled self-consciousness and of a process of self-discovery.  There is a breathtaking responsiveness to simple beauty in her work.  In “the intimately known mystery” she observes that “my baby is out of my womb / out of my body // quiet for a moment / then crying / i stroke my son’s cheek     featherily.”  Another poem “motherhood” also recalls the poet’s experience of being a mother, “before i was just myself / now i am a mother / to eternity.”  The long poem “perfection” shows us the child’s humming and laughter:

 the music is perfected
 by my son’s humming and laughter
 i want to delight in the moment
 but the longing to see him
 overwhelms me
 i open the door to my bedroom
 he runs towards me
 and gives his mother
   the morning hug

“laughter” is a poem at ease with itself, conveying with skilful brevity the love between poet and grandmother:

 i come in quietly
 the house breathes to its own rhythm
 hello granny dearest     i say softly
 she does not recognize me
 but I know what to do
 . . . i laugh
 oh agnieszka     she smiles
 and dozes off in her armchair

In these poems we pick up on the poet’s relationships as subject, with a smile towards her feelings, shown in simple language.  Niemira pays minute attention to language, managing to achieve warmth and humour with concision and pointedness; and invention, either in the form and layout or use of space. 

In “silencescream” the effect of dreadfulness is conveyed by subtle and varying line length, reflecting the state of mind of the personae, in which everything is disjointed.  This is hysteria with a strange inevitability:

 in silence
 you tell me your story
 i see the scars
 looking into your young eyes
 i notice
 there is beauty but no youth in them

 the bloodstained images
 you’ve brought to life
 stay with us

 we fall asleep regardless

After this there is a group of tough, short poems which reveal the terrors of war.  In “terror triptych” “girls for sale / girls for the taking,” while in “honour” we see a “gang-raped woman // stoned to death.”  “staying alive” describes the persona of a young woman in an unpleasant situation.  A feat this, to picture such ugliness in an excellent poem.  Finally “this is my home” tells us that the poet would invite us in “but I had a bad experience.”

Although many of the poems make one look at hard subjects, reading this collection with its terse but vibrant images, tense voices and lives, the poems gather momentum each time you read them.


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