Chasing the Line: An Anthology of Poems from The Back Room; Well Thumbed Poets 2022, 139pp. $25 (+ p & h) from Well Thumbed Poets
The back room of the title refers to a room in a bookseller – Well Thumbed Books in Cobargo NSW, a small town four hours south of Sydney on the Princes Highway between Narooma and Bega.
The introduction to this volume describes a long wooden table where a group of seven local poets — Linda Albertson, Leigh Crowe, Kai Jensen, Kate Taylor, Sandra Taylor, Glenda-mai Morgan and Peter Storey — have worked over the past few years to produce this rich volume. The latter two also provided the gorgeous colour illustrations for cover and the chapter dividers.
Turning to the profiles of the poets – some have been writing poetry for a long time, others like Kate Taylor are ‘growing into writing’. Leigh Crowe focusses on social commentary; Albertson on reconciling the tension between belonging and the heartache of leaving; Sandra Taylor brings her love of the forest to her writing; Glenda-mai Morgan and Peter Storey are both artists bringing that visual sensibility to their poetry.
There are seven chapters each titled with a play on the ‘line’ motif: Roving the Line, Seeking the Line, Crossing…, Unravelling…, Holding…, Knowing… and All on the Line. Although the distinction between these isn’t always clear, it provides a nice breather between one set of works and the next.
One theme, and perhaps the real strength of the collection is landscape and setting – these are poems of a specific place. Linda Albertson’s poem 19 kilometres outside of Bega describes a particular vista glimpsed at 100 kms an hour…
‘It’s like opening the fridge door
to see someone’s done the shopping…’
Flickers of yellow and generous greens
across a valley juiced up after rain.
Barragoot by Glenda-mai Morgan starts her poem about a local beach with…
‘Am I in a Rothko painting live?
Am I in a Turrel’s room of living light?…’
Kate Taylor in Bermagui Salt Marsh, takes us to a disused airstrip at sunset, now the realm of kangaroo and wading birds, where the ephemeral past is lost to the eternal present of tide and sky.
It’s not just natural landscapes that feature; towns, cities and even cemeteries are settings for the poets. For example, Kai Jensen’s two poems On Tilba Cemetery echo with the comedy of an outing for the poets as well as meditations on mortality:
The poets have gone home now
but the dead are staying on.
The poets are in bed now
while the dead lie in a kind of swag
their coverlet turf
no roof but the wheeling stars…
A second theme in the collection concerns the landscape of the body. Some bodies are being operated such as Linda Albertson’s Tildes, a brief harrowing poem on breast surgery; or Leigh Crowe’s Life’s Knife Blade where Life initially imagined as butcher’s blade that ‘carves its own random path through the juicy flesh…’ becomes, by the end of the poem, a surgeon who ‘…rests her heart in you. Connections are formed, sutured.’
Other bodies are just getting old, as in Peter Storey’s poem Ahead – which describes how to approach new challenges when the ‘…forward track is shorter that the one behind…’ The poet concludes that a new venture seems not impossible where the alternative is stagnation. As he says, ‘armchairs in all of daylight / don’t fit my Zen’
A third theme of the collection is rebirth and renewal. Cobargo was one of the towns devastated by the fires of 2020 with six deaths and 300 houses destroyed in a small community of around 2,200 people. While this devastation is lightly touched on in Chasing the Line, it’s not ignored. Sandra Taylor’s poem Re-Turn describes the blackened forest as ‘just another garment in the wardrobe of the life of the Forest’ and later ‘… I who heard the screams/found the charred bodies/weep/her pain is my pain/her loss is our loss. In Regrowth Kai Jensen describes the forest’s renewal:
‘Where the fire went through
fourteen months later
a thousand small gums rise
‘…locals, mostly women,
set up stations through the state forest
with water, fruit, roo pellets.’
As I was writing this, I was musing on the drive to publish. As poets and writers our resumes swell with publications and we’re always working on the next book or the next collection. In Chasing the Line I’m reminded that it’s the work, the writing, the collaboration and support of peers, the gathering of poets around a long table in some back room somewhere, is where poetry lives.
These seven poets each with their distinct voices have brought a fine collection from that long table in the back room to the page. This is a rich anthology, in which any reader will find something of interest, will find a voice that resonates.