Udon by The Remarkables is an enigmatic and curious title that drew me into this little book of poetry. Harvey Molloy himself is a man of many different worlds: as a teenager, he moved from England to New Zealand and has lived in the United States as well as Singapore. In this way, Molloy chooses not to anchor himself to one experience and instead expands his writing near and far.
The poem that shares the title of the collection is one that places contrasting objects within one piece. There are the ‘black crags of The Remarkables’, mountains that carve out the landscape. And there is a bowl of udon that is just ‘a little oily with a tang of pepper’, which the poet eats alongside the scenery. The amalgamation of these worlds becomes representative of a new world where all these various aspects find a place together to create the present.
The poem A Migraine in Valhalla feels like a stream of consciousness and describes the haziness of such pain. As the poem progresses, it becomes more airy and soft to the point that the centre lines on the road “floated untethered” amongst the light rain, creating a picture of the blurry haziness that comes with a migraine. This imagery typical of magical realism ultimately ends in Valhalla, a majestic and heaven-like place of Norse mythology.
Molloy also offers his own translations of Anglo-Saxan texts, with his aim being to create contemporary poems ‘as they were contemporary for their audiences’. Molloy does, indeed, succeed in this aim. Our song is a beautiful poem laced with the references that ground it within an Anglo-Saxan world—Eadwacer, the Wolf—yet it is crafted with the subtlety and precision that is found in many brilliant modern poems. The tone of longing in the poem Our Song is a human emotion that is still, and will always be, relevant to any reader.
Poem A charm against fever dreams, translated from the Anglo-Saxan, is short and sweet. It is tightly bound in a culture of folklore and, similar to A Migraine in Valhalla, it feels magical and light. Just like a spell, the final verse chants, ‘this charm will never hurt the sick… nor the ones who find it’. For me, these poems gave a new insight into a language that I have always associated with being archaic even in translation and therefore difficult to read; Molloy portrayed these poems in a much more accessible and softer contemporary light.
And with different worlds, come different farewells. Poem The goodbye rejects the romanticism that comes with departure; the idea of reunion and the idealised image of ‘cruising azure highways together’ is out of the question. Nevertheless, Molloy still attempts to comfort those who are left behind, understanding that it can still be a world of beauty where ‘late summer waves’ flow upon the wet sand.
The scope of Molloy’s Udon by The Remarkables is an impressive one that attempts to make sense of all that Molloy discovers. It is a lovely collection that reaches into different worlds and all the way back to Anglo-Saxan texts. Finally, it roots these experiences within the modern world to create an outlook on reality that is just a little bit different and a little bit more magical.
Reviewed by Emma Shi
Udon by The Remarkables
by Harvey Molloy
Published by Makaro Press (Hoopla series)