Sunday, 21 June 2020

Review: Of memory and furniture by Bron Bateman

Before we go any further, this is one of the best titles that I have seen for a while: it resonates right through to the end. A killer blow.

Australian poet Bron Bateman's latest collection develops through 4 parts and is described as exploring "experiences of female embodiment, sexuality, and relationships with family, lovers and institutions...concerned with expressions of female sexuality in its myriad forms – heterosexual, lesbian, and experiences of non-normative sexuality – as well as issues of maternal subjectivity, mental health and abuse and, throughout, the role of memory in enabling healing."

This is a collection that has a whole ecosystem of vividly realised friends, encounters and locations that ground and validate its often intense bodily and sexual language from the dedications to many of the poems in Part 1 to its lovers, family and transactions through to demeaning medical interventions. The poems' sequence is knitted together with motifs especially blood and piercings to the body. For adornment for example in the poem bars-

you could hang chandeliers from
these he says eyes half-closed
taking my right nipple between
his thumb...[]
I watch him redesign my body in his head.
we can pierce you here...

And pleasure - the intense Needle Play - to the painful self blame transfixing the sense of self in one of the brutal and self-healing concluding poems of part 4 Talisman:

be less serious not think I was a cut above use big words be so sensitive if I were special he would not have dared."

Everything that life throws at the poet in the end can be spoken and makes her voice and sense of self stronger. This is a collection that doesn't shrink from naming the casual diminishing sexism of institutions but also the power of healing available in situations that the poet's sensibility controls - even against what might appear to be the odds. For example in the poem Language

Either my blood, or my baby's.
Never mind, he'll say, his back to me, they're a dime a dozen.
Meaning miscarriages.
This is my first.

Later in the same poem:
I tell him. Tie me up all you like. I'm still a feminist.

The cuts are balanced by a lush sensuality of language and experience which are at times breath-taking; from the opening lines of the same poem,

At twenty, I have: my first child,
bruising, soft and black as summer plums...

to the loving "loll and sway of her thighs" in Catching up and hungry joy for example in PDAs

...I've searched and failed to find a word that adequately
describes the texture of your thighs,
or that my mouth against you
reminded of the peach I ate yesterday, its
tender fuzz against my lips...

The poems build to an understanding of sexual, body image and physical control and naming in the context of past life experience for the reader; glimpsed in poems such as shape of a girl that transforms a submissive sexual role into the powerful place inhabited by subs:

the longing to open your lips
feel the shape and weight
of that word
in your mouth

A visceral recasting of life experience of immense strength, this collection reclaims a body space long overlooked. A gift that repays study. You can find out more about Bron Bateman here @BronBateman and order the book here from @FremantlePress.


Cover is also very pleasing but no credit discoverable.

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