Rosemary Nissen-Wade: Aussie poet and teacher of metaphysics – a personal view
My bestie nicknamed me SnakyPoet on her blog, and I liked it. (It began as
'the poet of the serpentine Northern Rivers' and became more and more abbreviated.)

Sunday, November 07, 2021

Meghan and Harry: The Real Story by Lady Colin Campbell – Review


Meghan and Harry: The Real StoryMeghan and Harry: The Real Story by Lady Colin Campbell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Her Ladyship builds a case that Meghan is a controlling, manipulative fake and Harry a besotted idiot – all the while declaring at frequent intervals how much sympathy she has for them and how she hopes to see them do well.

In some ways she is quite convincing, partly because she moves in aristocratic circles in which she has access to both facts and gossip that most of us don't. However she is fond of extremely spurious methods of argument, saying things like, 'Some people might think that ...', 'It's possible to interpret this as ...' and so on – and then, later in the book, using these speculative incidents as if they were proven fact, as the basis for saying things like, 'This is yet another example of [some piece of reprehensible behaviour or bad intentions]' or, 'As we have seen, [X] is typical.' (I'm paraphrasing from memory, not quoting exactly.)

She defends the tabloids against accusations of bias, and the British against a racist attitude to Meghan. Sorry – I became very interested in Meghan when her romance with Harry first went public, so I did a lot of research online and read everything that came up about her. In the tabloids, the poor woman couldn't take a trick. Whatever she did, it was wrong.

For instance, I bought the issue of Vogue she edited. (It wasn't distributed to Australia, but I was able to order it.) It seemed a very interesting thing for a new member of royalty to do, so I was curious. That's when I first realised that, whatever else Meghan is, she is essentially a writer – which has now been proved several times over, with other things she has authored. I might add, I consider her a very good writer.

I liked and respected what she had to say there, and other aspects of her editing of that issue. She was soon questioned as to why her own face was not included on the cover, among 'women of influence'. When she said she thought that would seem boastful, this was immediately touted in the tabloids as insulting to both Princess Diana and the Duchess of Cambridge, who had been featured on Vogue covers. Could nobody see the obvious – that there's a vast difference between being invited to appear on a cover and putting oneself on the cover of an issue which one has oneself edited? Of course she would have been criticised for being boastful, had she done so!

I could cite many other instances of tabloid prejudice, distortion of facts and outright lying. Suffice to say that Lady CC's defence of the tabloids doesn't really hold water.

There's also the telling point that Prince Harry's two previous most serious relationships, with Chelsey Davy and Cressida Bonas, broke up (we are told) because neither young woman would continue facing the intense media scrutiny.

I certainly discerned racial undertones in much of the tabloid coverage, as well as snobbishness on the basis of class – a snobbishness which Lady CC's book is also full of. Half the time she doesn't even seem to realise she has this attitude, but it's very apparent. Perhaps someone of her background takes it all for granted. I of course, as an Australian, am one of those colonials whom she gently disparages as not really understanding British manners and mores.

Oddly enough, that very point is one of the strengths of this book. She has spent considerable time in America too, and is able to explain clearly the great differences in British and American customs and attitudes – which account in large part for the very different ways in which Meghan and Harry are perceived on different sides of the Atlantic, and also for ways in which Meghan upset and offended people in her new country without having any notion that that's what she was doing – and without such people realising she wasn't intentionally being rude and thoughtless.

I'm grateful to this author for clarifying that for me, and doing so in some detail. Otherwise I would never have guessed at some of the finer points of British (and particularly aristocratic) sensibility. It's a fascinating look at these social distinctions. Nevertheless I'm disappointed that she only pretends to be giving a fair, balanced and sympathetic point of view whilst really doing a nice little hatchet job. If I ever read Lady Colin Campbell again, I'm afraid it will now be with a fair degree of cyncism.

However, credit where it's due. It's one big mark in the book's (publisher's) favour that typos and other copy-editing mistakes are almost absent.

View all my reviews

Saturday, October 23, 2021

DUPLICITY by Rajani Radhakrishnan

Rajani Radhakrishnan, whose work I first encountered online some years ago, in poetry groups we both participated in, soon became one of my favourite poets. 

Hers is not the kind of poetry I immediately love and admire, go ‘Oh yes!’ and as quickly forget. Rather it’s the kind that – while I do both love and admire it – constantly surprises me with its complexities of language and thought. Born of deep reflection as well as intense emotion, it causes me to reflect deeply too. It can be returned to repeatedly without ever growing stale.

 The blurb of her latest book, ‘duplicity’, says that it ‘examines life and love in a big city, before and during the pandemic, tracing the transformation from chaos and dissonance, hope and enticement to silences and death, loss and helplessness.’

A sombre undertaking? Undoubtedly, but the poetry is so beautifully crafted, the language so original yet accurate, I feel lifted out of myself when reading. And then, perhaps, returned to myself enhanced.

Her craft is meticulous. She is a master of enjambment, and also excels when working in form. Her cherita sequence in this book, Word Upon Brick, is particularly engaging despite its sad subject matter, and the haibun, The stories I cannot tell, is stunning. Its closing haiku is nothing short of profound – even as its message, once stated, resonates as unmistakable truth.

Much of the book is about unhappy love, but it is also very much about the experience of the pandemic. There has been a LOT of poetry written about that subject, yet she makes the known new, e.g. ‘Hope too is curfew, hovering 1.8 metres / away, masked and gloved. … This city / reverberates with the loud silence of prayer.’ from This is the time, isn’t it?  Then there are details specific to her country, India, such as, in Summer: for those who never made it home, the horrifying account of the many who tried to walk long distances to their home villages early in the pandemic, often dying along the way: ‘This / summer of mangoes, red with blood, scattered / on a highway with the luckless dead.’

She is a very clever writer, as instanced in her section titles with their play on the word city: Duplicity (as in the overall book title) and Ferocity. It’s also seen in extended metaphors, e.g a piece called This city as punctuation, using punctuation and poetic language metaphorically to describe so much more, e.g. ‘The space between your arms. The space / between possibility and semicolon. Between / being and full stop.’ Or in The lover who never arrives in which that title begins as metaphor, e.g. ‘But want is this city’s other face. … Want is the litany buildings / hum when they pretend to sleep’ and moves subtly but inevitably to being about the literal interpretation of the title – an agonising poem in the end, in closing lines which manage to be both restrained and intense.

As you may gather from the lines quoted, she is never merely clever, in a facile or attention-seeking way. It’s always in the service of the deeper message, and presenting that in a way so arresting yet right that it first shocks me into fellow-feeling and then consolidate that with its truth.

I could go on and on. Re-reading finds always more to love, admire and praise. But I’d better stop now to let you enjoy this remarkable volume for yourselves.

Monday, May 17, 2021


 Get Caught Reading Month

Today I could have been caught reading MY MOTHER AND THE CAT, a recent chapbook of poetry by Jeltje Fanoy, an old friend and colleague from my Melbourne days. It was published last year by Melbourne Poets Union.

Jeltje's family migrated from Holland to Australian in the sixties. The poems indicate various effects of such relocation, as well as of her parents having gone through the Second World War in Holland –  matters of great interest to me, as my late second husband Bill Nissen's family migrated to Australia from Holland (in the fifties) after experiencing the war years there. Bill's father was in the Dutch Resistance; I discover that Jeltje's was too.

I don't mean to imply that the book is only of interest to those who have a personal connection to that background. Jeltje's poetry always presents specific details in a way that engages a wide variety of readers. In this book she has created vivid portraits and scenes. Born in 1939 myself, I recognise some familiar experiences, e.g.


were still separate spaces

in the houses we grew up in

the table in the dining room

rarely set, or the room heated

it felt like a tomb in there

the lounge room, too, was like some faraway

place where no-one cared, or dared to sit

more like a museum space

displaying artefacts, my Mother

making us sit and eat in the kitchen

and I relate very well to her opening question in Wars:

Wouldn’t you like

to send the bill

for the effect of World War 2

on all of us, to somebody?

Yes I would! (Those of us who were not in Europe were still affected in many ways. Food rationing, absentee fathers, dead or damaged sons, brothers, cousins, neighbours....)

Other experiences could not be more different. For instance, I myself have never migrated to another country. I've lived my whole life in the country of my birth. Yet even when she's talking of things very particular to herself and her family, Jeltje allows me to enter into them.

Jennifer Harrison in the back cover blurb mentions the 'observational clarity' of the poems and 'the poet's mastery of tonal immediacy'. They are certainly some of the qualities which endear these poems to me. There is also a rich background of the (discernible) unsaid, masterfully handled. 

She excels at direct, accessible language; yet I think Jeltje is a very sophisticated poet – without being the least bit pretentious. It's been lovely to catch up with her work in this book.