Poetry d’Amour 2014 : Love Poems edited by Liana Joy Christensen, WA Poets Inc, Western Australia, November 2013, pp. 146. Book Review By- Kanwar Dinesh Singh
It would not be an exaggeration, if I say that love is the raison d’être of most poetry. In fact, the deep-seated emotion of love finds its best expression in poetic outpourings. Love has goaded many poets. Love is the prime force behind most of the epoch-making poetry. Not just poetry, but a number of historical events, wars, monuments, epics and cenotaphs have been upshots of love in its diverse forms– including love for one’s community, relations, nation and humanity at large, besides love for the beloved. Love is eternal, and so the best of love poems too survive the ordeals of time and are no less than monuments on the legendary worth of love.
Poetry d’Amour 2014 is an anthology of love poems selected and edited by Liana Joy Christensen from work by invited poets from across different parts of Australia performing at ‘Poetry d’Amour 2014’, and from entries in the ‘2014 Poetry d’Amour Love Poetry Competition’. The editor has very meticulously chosen and arranged the poems in eight thematic sections each illustrated by an apt and persuasive title, bearing a quote from one of the poems included in the section. Back to back these eight sections show interconnectivity and continuance in poems recounting the timeless saga of the variegated experience of love.
Section One, “The world offers a choice”, as the caption states, contains poems that draw their metaphors and images from the vast landscape ranging from mountain to ocean and from the earth to its infinite horizons displaying sundry hues of love. Section Two, “The city of love”, largely as it refers to Paris devoted to lovers, recounts the unsung tales of human love with equal intensity and fervour found in any city across the world regardless of its name. The poems in Section Three, “Love . . . maybe?” articulate the convolutions, doubts, fears and vacillations of lovers in an engaging way. Section Four, “Love notes”, comprises poems rich in the sweet cadence of spiritual unison of the two souls united by the eternal spirit of love. The poems in Section Five, “The crazy fingering thing”, explore the physical dimension of love, which provides the lovers with a matrix for a realization of their spiritual unity in bodily embrace.
In Section Six, “The stricken heart”, as the title signifies, there are poignant voices of heartache and compunction experienced by the lovers undergoing trials and tribulations of time. The poems in Section Seven, “This place spurns time”, commemorate love’s power to survive through all phases of time. And finally, Section Eight, “Ouroboros”, adds some lighthearted poems, with funny and playful aspects of love, contrasting with the serious and deeper passions in preceding sections.
Thus the present anthology comprises iridescent hues and shades of love expressed through a variety of forms and ways. The poems range from sheer carnal to deep emotional aspects of love, particularly in the socio-cultural backdrop of Australia. Each poem in this anthology has its distinctive persona, outlook and flavour, but for the sake of competition, some poems have been warily selected for prizes and commendations.
Shane McCauley’s first-prize winning poem, “Early autumn at Bell’s Rapids”, depicts love’s might for/in surviving on all “hardened grounds”. The lover’s words sustain a hope in the beloved’s heart:
You said: In spring I will
come here to remember you and the new life
you have flowered in my heart.”
The absence of the lover torments and agitates the beloved completely but optimism and persevere longing keeps the cauldron of love burning within: “Long sleep lessens pain but not / desire.”
Ross Jackson’s second-prize winning poem, “Darling, let’s say”, puts together the sweet-sour recollections of the days shared by the lovers, thereby underlining the triumph of love’s feeling over ageing in moving images:
Let’s say you were dazzling
when like an idling taxi, smoking frost
I spotted you across Kings Park
your shoes springing diamonds from dewy grass.
You were scrambled eggs, perfect coffee.
You were cinnamon dusted let’s say that.
. . .
Grey haired Darling, may we say that?
Debi Hamilton’s short prose poem, “Geography”, has been highly commended. It’s noteworthy for the depth of emotion expressed well within economy of words:
up close your eyes are hot oh they are and tropical enough to fold my petals back and back I am the heart of a flower pressed flat against you
“Kafeneion Eros”, another highly commended poem by Rosie Barter, underscores a sense of empathy, which resuscitates the love-relationship:
He searches my eyes
like a knife to an oyster shell
and when I do not open
and brings a slice of sky
studded with pomegranate seeds
which he feeds to me
from a small silver fork
until my eyes are pearls
on his komboloi.
[Here the word “komboloi” translates from Greek as ‘worry beads’.]
The rural, regional and remote WA award-winning poem, “Who knows the names of the clouds?” by Maree Dawes, marks the eternity of true love vis-à-vis temporality of clouds and constellations: “I know we will not be unmade / until we have seen them / in the rising sun.” (p. 4) Likewise, Gail Willems’ “Stepping to me”, winner of the Peel Region Award, carries an unforgettable line: “time crosses my palm with a touch of fear” (p. 62), projecting a longing to cede to love and win over time.
Danny Gunzburg’s poem, “To Claire”, has been commended. The peeve of a heart pining for love is perceptible in this poem: “If you couldn’t look my way / my heart would surely sink . . .” (p. 66). The unreciprocated love has locked the lover-persona into a longing, which is perpetuated by hope, firmness and strength of mind: “Once again the hope in me would twirl . . .” (p. 66) In another commended poem, “After an argument”, Heather Taylor Johnson affirms that love is not “subject to time”, it makes sense even with smaller gestures having genuine feeling and concern: “I say: even nests / with holes make lovely homes.” (p. 56). Surely the true feeling binds the lovers in an eternal bond.
Love has the power to narrow the world as well as to expand the horizons of being and becoming. Resounding Donne’s metaphysical conceit, Gunzburg’s “Making love to Alex” beautifully states the elated feeling of the lovers when they are together. They find the entire world in their embrace. The ecstatic experience of carnal union is expressed through images drawn from across different continents:
I was making love to Alex
. . .
She kissed me and I went to Canada,
and Rome, and Egypt, and Sudan.
I went on fire to Korea, and Japan, and Holland.
Her lips took me to Paris, and Malaysia,
Amy Crutchfield’s “Reunion sonnet” is a free sonnet in fourteen lines having rhyme. It celebrates the feeling of the heart prevailing over the all-devastating might of time. The lovers reunited in their old age after a phase of separation find the light of love, shining as before in their eyes without a flicker: “We raise our glasses and I glimpse the truth / Your eyes still harbour my long exiled youth.” (p. 70). The past they had shared with each other is their “mutual treasure” they have cherished for long. The reunion of the two lovers reignites the fire that had been smouldering in their hearts for each other. During their separation they undergo a tough fire-test of love, as the poet puts it:
So time and fire have refined our young hearts,
Where there was difference we now find none.
Love has the power to transcend all divisions and boundaries of socio-cultural background, race, creed, age, gender, caste, community and region. It emboldens the lovers to accept and meet every challenge that comes in their way. It is never ready to accept defeat in any situation. Glen Phillips records this characteristic in his poem, “Tuo Straniero”, how with the sway of love two strangers converge on a point and embrace each other for a lifetime, irrespective of the difference of “culture, age, gender or temperament”:
. . . So we are all strangers, even
who are closest in a life embrace.
And shouldn’t it be so? Love is
a reaching out so there must be always
a gulf or chasm to joyfully leap across.
And so says Jan Rebgetz in “The summer you missed me”: “something happened / to both of us while I was away / and now . . . / your smile is mine.” (p. 28).
Rashida Murphy’s poem, “Maybe”, through concrete and compacted images, agreeably recounts the lovers’ felt-experience of pleasure and pain of meeting and departing, waiting and trysting, reminiscing and hoping, and promising and keeping the word:
I held my breath when we met…
You listened to me
You looked at the shards of my life…
I dreamed of cool forests where I could lie down beside you
among the honeysuckle
Eat cherries. Wear scarlet. Wait for the ease you promised…
Wait for the future.
Wait for our lives.
Wait for tingling, nerve endings, senses, faith, poetry, love.
Murphy’s persona very eloquently shows that love is sustained by perseverance and mutual trust of the lovers.
Love occurs instinctively, unpredictably and without warning. When love happens between two souls, there is no room for pretensions, and no material object is needed to substantiate it; nor is even a special day required to express one’s hearty feeling, as Mark Tredinnick states in “Poem written too late for Valentine’s Day; or, why I didn’t send flowers”:
What rose will I give you, my love, when every rose you love
Grows in your garden bed already? How will I even begin,
When love has us all surrounded . . .
Liana Joy Christensen’s remark: “Writing love poetry is as instinctual as birdsong” is acceptable, but it’s not the plain chirrup, poems that appeal to heart are well-wrought and purposely refined with the use of poetic devices such as metaphor, simile, irony and paradox among several others, besides concrete imagery, illustration and structure. The present collection is remarkable for both content and craft, besides presenting a wonderful variety of experience. The unique texture of each of these poems stirs an understanding heart. This collection is outstanding for its blend of poetry and love that complement each other, as Louise Carter asserts in the concluding five-line poem of this anthology, “Ouroboros”:
Poetry requires madness
like anything worthwhile. And poetry
is love when times are tough,
while poetry in times of love
The allusion to a mythological creature ‘Ouroboros’ in the title of the closing poem symbolises perpetuity of love. In Greek and Egyptian myths, it carries the image of a snake swallowing its own tail, which brings together the symbolism of the circle and the serpent, representing totality as well as immortality and the round of existence. The editor deserves kudos to have placed this poem quite thoughtfully at the close of the present anthology, thereby setting tone for more and more of such interesting collections in the years to come, as the experience of love is interminable and the voice of the poets is ceaseless.
Poetry d’Amour 2014 is, without doubt, a readworthy collection, especially for the genuineness of love-experience vis-à-vis contemporary tug-of-war like situations between the sexes amid sexist biases or feminist debates, sexual politicking, misogynist or misandrist tendencies and other gender issues in a man-woman relationship. These poems emblematize the power of love overcoming all sorts of impediments and ruling out all differences, subsiding all oppositions and crises, combating all incursions of time and prevailing over narrowness of mind and exerting its infinite positive and benefic influence on the negative and destructive forces of the world. Adversity or dictates of time cannot obliterate true love a bit, as E. M. Forster puts it in A Room with a View: “You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal.” The poems of this anthology absolutely affirm it.
―Dr. Kanwar Dinesh Singh
Associate Professor of English
Editor: Hyphen (ISSN 0975 2897)
# 3, Cecil Quarters, Chaura Maidan
SHIMLA: 171 004 HP INDIA
Dr. Kanwar Dinesh Singh, winner of HP Sahitya Akademi Award, is a poet, short story writer and critic, having several publications to his credit. Recently, he edited Explorations in Australian Poetry. Currently, he is Associate Professor of English at Government College, Arki, District Solan, Himachal Pradesh and Editor of Hyphen, a literary journal. Email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org