I fell in love with this book quickly, then had some reservations, then I became a devotee to Sarah Holland-Batt ; and this rollercoaster ride went with a lineal reading of The Hazards. Sensual, gripping for the most part, then in moments sort of mundane and overwrought, Holland-Batt seduces the reader into her writing with a telling cut-through array of poems that shows she is a risk taker and a poetry powerhouse. Risk in writing is something I like very much, and something that I feel is rare in Australian poetry. Capturing life’s meanderings and occurrences with reverence and a respect for every moment, every shade, Holland-Batt shows as much flare and fire as she does due diligence and discipline.
From The Vulture
…he is the afterlife of all things:
child, star, pig, the small circumscribed lives
of the apes and fleas. Attendant, absorbed,
he snips the body from its shadow
with a surgeon’s concentration,
sword-swallows tripe rosette,
trotter and gizzard to the hilt,
unzips sun-marinated gristle from the skin
Does Holland-Batt fall into the trap of writing a poem about everything? It seems so at times: birds, cities, seasons, the weather — all legitimate subjects for treatment– some of these make up the lesser works of the collection, the works that highlight the strength and skill of pieces that focus in on human relationships, lust, family, an imagining of Australian history, the beginning of Aboriginal dispossession. Marry these findings up with Holland-Batt’s extensive travel schedule courtesy of an array of funding bodies and fellowships and one starts to understand the pressure on the poet to produce, to come up with the goods in location after location – she has done very well. Regular references to classical music and European art, for me however, clutter the poet’s mind-stream a little. These works can I stress, are still pretty poetry pictures, no doubt, but they are what we call “witches hats” at football training (important, necessary, compact, avoidable). This minimal criticism is the only issue, in a book that was a delight to read, and re-read, with its intense, evocative narrative. No question The Hazards is the work of a master who moves between reality, mythology and metaphor with power, grace and knowhow.
I glide savage, a stinging chandelier,
a brain trailing its nettles
through the anemone swell
and forests of stiff fir.
Mostly a-political works, except for some penetrating, and striking imaginings around Australian history what I liked about the treatment of her subject matter was that there is a hunger for risk, there is a sense of loss, of love, of utter investment in the art, an inkling that there is a wild genius inside these poems, yet Holland-Batt handles things with care and edge. What do I mean by wild genius? Maybe it’s someone who is breaking some new ground, offering some desperately needed edge to Australian poetry, someone who is showing her all to the world, someone who doesn’t really need, or care for, the approval of others. Her language is assured, yet engaging, pushing the outer boundaries of effective communication, yet protecting a sweet thread as the centrepeice.
From An Illustrated History of Settlement
Then the last thing on the crosshatched horizon
is a smudge of centuries-dead parrots
in the shining black fruit of cabbage trees.
Above it, a turbulent bluster of cloud.
There was weather. The sky boiled.
And there was water – a choppy wedge
puffed with cutters’ sails.
From Approaching Paradise
The prodigal sea, bent back on itself,
has the rough green mind of paradise.
Enjoyably gothic at times, Holland-Batt weaves a melancholy into the bulk creating a narrative that demands attention, and leads the reader’s imagination to an emotional and plausible space bathed in poignant lighting. Some pieces exploring relational discomfort are explosive in their intricacy, Holland-Batt is not afraid to explore what’s left in the raw guts of uncertainty after human fun has run out. Surely Sarah Holland-Batt is the leading light in Australian poetry at this time.
From The Hazards
How Calm, how sudden the strait was that day–
humpbacked rocks sloping down into the sea
like the end of a long argument,
everything now peaceful again, but tiptoeing,
and past the sweep of gravelly beach
huge pink ledges lopped off in the water like bread-ends
here and there a stump — call them islands – breaching at
and the slumbering bergs underneath, snub-nosed as marble.
From Last Goodbyes in Havana
…We have cheated, certainly. Lied.
Days we have fought float over us effortless
as grease. Soon I will take a night flight to the Pacific
but there are no reasons left to be sorry.
In Manhattan a woman is waiting for you
whom you have taught more than enough
about patience and her possible life.
Sarah Holland-Batt’s The Hazards, and her debut, award winning poetry collection Aria, are available at cool poetry stores and online through UQP here http://uqp.com.au/Author.aspx/1549/%20Sarah%20Holland-Batt