Book Review: Rabbit Rabbit, by Kerrin P. Sharpe

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_rabbit_rabbitThe title poem of this enigmatic collection by Kerrin P. Sharpe is also the leading poem, setting the tone for the book. It is apt that the spirit animal of the collection is a rabbit, considering how Kerrin takes the reader on a journey down a rabbit hole of magical imagery and trickery. This title character turns out to be a newly acquired partner of her mother, who, obviously a whiskered fellow, appeases her by shaving. (He doesn’t do a good job, as he leaves blood on her towel). But by the end of the poem, the mother shows him who is boss by eating ‘…hunter’s oatmeal’. In other words, she has her prey and she will see to it that he is domesticated. It is an insightful and brutally honest opener. The literal rabbit caught in the headlights expression on the cover rabbit, while holding his dripping razor is clever and discomforting. The fact that it also a playing card also reinforces the idea that this character is a pawn, an acquisition ready to be used at will.

This other character of the narrator’s mother is someone who invades the poems in the first half, with her clothes being a central focus point, from her coats (The Astrakhan coat comes to life), to her hats. The menacing image of the cut throat barber/razor appears several times too, such as in the Russian spy narrative poem, Cleaning the Stables:

…and snow covers my spy life
like a corpse though once
when I passed a barber’s shop

I thought a man
was having is throat cut.

The book covers a lot of geographical ground, and reading it does feel like you are hopping from place to place, seemingly at random. One minute you are in Warsaw, the next Cape Reinga. Apart from the psychological mother exploration, this seems to be one of the organising principles. Other than that, the poems are not rooted in any particular place, or even century. Bill Manhire notes from the back cover that the poems “…make him think of migratory birds.” Which is a fair assessment and works well, considering the themes the poet is interested in exploring.

Overwhelmingly, the feeling we get is that we are looking at events through the eyes of a child with a great capacity for imagination. Adults become rabbits, coats come alive and pills become polka dots. This dreamlike imagery is often punctuated by the harsh and often brutal realities of migration and cultural micro-aggressions. Losing the language of your culture is touched on in several poems. Remnants from the author’s religious past are incorporated too, with references to cathedrals, sanctuaries, angels, prayers and Jesus on the cross along with a slightly nostalgic reminder of a particular denomination: “…and the jacket, from my army days, I call salvation.”

As a reader, it’s the personal threads that are the most touching. The references to her son’s asthma and bike riding bring this fantastical journey back to the ground, only to fly off again to some unfamiliar destination.

Reviewed by  Anna Forsyth

Rabbit Rabbit
by Kerrin P Sharpe
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776560653

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