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.)

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.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

More Intisar Khanani

 May – Get Caught Reading month + Short Story month.

I can still be caught reading YA Fantasy by Intisar Khanani, really really good stuff. Have now enjoyed The Theft of Sunlight, the sequel to Thorn, and am both feverishly disappointed and utterly delighted to find this will run into a second book, not yet available. Also found two excellent short stories as separate parts of this series: Brambles and The Bone Knife. Now am about to catch up with her previous series, the Sunbolt Chronicles: Book 1, Sunbolt and Book 2, Memories of Ash. All found on Kindle.