Fierce, tender, delicate poems that combine the sensuous and the spiritual to simultaneously journey us through human interiority and the exterior landscape. They also allow access to an identity emerging in stages as if from a cocoon.
Raghid Nahhas sees the poetry as a combination of the sensual and the ultimately abstract, poems of fire and water. The words chosen, he writes in Kalimat No 9, March 2002, are each by itself so concrete and familiar, yet the combination is so abstract and ethereal.
For Deb Westbury the poems sing with the music of stone, flower, skin and moon, revelling in the rhythms of history and the life of the body. Jordie Albiston believes the poems quietly navigate a rare dialogue between words and silence, showing us that all things are connectedthe huge desert, a single hibiscus. The poems explore contours of memory and longing, the twilight valleys that haunt our dreams, and the hidden promptings of a destiny shadowing us whether we know it or not (Alex Skovron). The collection, writes David McCooey, is marked by prayer and lamentation, celebration and ululation which coalesce into an almost obsessive interest in two things: identityespecially its frailty in the face of erotic love and deathand oppression (Australian Book Review, Feb. 2002).
About the Poet
Liat Kirby holds a BA from La Trobe University (Victoria) with major studies in English and Art History. She currently studies the Hebrew language, enjoys Israeli folk dancing and has the stirrings of a next book. Born and educated in Melbourne, Kirby has been writing ever since she could form letters on the page. Hospitalised for 2 ½ years at the age of 5 ½, reading and writing became all-consuming and would go on to provide her with her main form of communication and sustenance for many years to come. Although her parents were born in Australia she grew up with a sense of displacement and fragmentation. Her father's roots were Scottish, her mother's Jewish, and she was instructed at the age of 12 years to be proud of her Jewish heritage but not to speak of it to anybody. In other ways a rebellious child, she kept this particular command and it was not until mid-life that she broke it. The transformation that occurred is evident in the poetry which has been published in many journals and translated to Chinese, Arabic and Hebrew.
Kirby is a freelance reviewer and currently administers her own business, Lynk Manuscript Assessment Service, which was formerly the National Book Council Ms. Assessment Service. She is available for interviews, attending book club or writing group meetings or discussing her book at schools.
Questions Raised by the Book
- Oppression, yearning, erotic love and identity feature largely in the poemswhat is Kirbys attitude to these elements and does she make a connection between them?
- 'In the depth of winter/ I finally learned/ there was in me/invincible summer.' (Albert Camus) An epigraph for the book, how do you think it relates to the poems and are there any poems in particular you see as a counterpart to it?
- Looking at poems depicting the human condition, viz. love, grief, loss, and poems depicting historical oppression, is the element of oppression evident in both and, if so, do these poems have connecting points? Discuss.
- Irina Dunn says that informing many of her poems lies a wild atavistic gypsy-Jewish elemental spirit who lives simultaneously in the modern age and in ancient times, Old Testament times. I was so struck by the particularity of the language that I re-read The Song of Solomon to find an appropriate companion piece for her volume.
Do you think the emphasis on archetypal connections here is meaningful to contemporary living? In which poems does the poet show these connections and how does she achieve the coalescence?
- The poems blend ancient Jewish culturemoon, desert, almonds, honey, timbrelwith the Australia of currawong, black cockatoo, cracked clay and cicadas. Do you consider this evidence of the assimilation of an Australian identity and do you consider it important for both cultures to take their place in coalescence?
- The poet is interested to explore the intensity of the core of a feeling, articulate its essence and attempt to make the inexpressible concrete or palpable. In this way she believes we acquire a felt knowledge which aids fuller understanding and leads to empathy and compassion. Can you determine the way in which she uses language, abstract in itself, to do this?
- The poems show intense use of visual imagery and metaphor in pared-back, spare form to depict emotion. In his ABR review, David McCooey says, Kirby's poems, however, are most impressive when less concerned with the nightmare of history and more with a dream landscape that gains emotional weight through the strangeness of its metaphors. Here Kirby reaches moments of almost transcendent negativity: I reach/ for nothing/ and/ the moon and I/face/ each other. (a) Discuss the efficacy of this use of language and (b) do you agree with McCooeys statement?
- Raghid Nahhas has commented in his review on the way in which Kirby tends to end a stanza or a poem because her technique is most intriguing for its disarming simplicity and profound effect. Often this ending [depicts] a physical and/or mental state. Examine the denouements of the poems for the dynamics achieved overall.
- Do you think the poems offer elements of human sexual psychology and biology as well as physics for contemplation?
Extract from the Poetry
the white wall smooth-
tongued over timber struts
an insect splay-
legged on the wall
my limbs contorted
in unnatural bent
the clock ticks
each second elongated
my eyes burn green
and would eat you
the seconds fall over
you would screw me
to the wall.
I am myrrh and frankincense.
I am an almond and an olive.
I am the myrtle and the Oyle tree.
I am the stone that sings of
life and death.
I am a grain of sand.
I am desert silk.
I shift with the desert wind
and I stand beneath the full moon.
My skin is gentled and
my eyes light the moon.