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The modern world is a catastrophic uproar of voices, all speaking with the hope that someone is listening. Even the act of listening can feel like a painful way to navigate the world. There is so much to hear, to try and understand, and the breadth of variety in human life is incomprehensible. The act of saying anything at all can feel helpless amongst the noise. But in this collection of poetry, Kerrin P. Sharpe seems to say, go louder, still.
The title poem of louder starts off with an imagined scene:
elephants paint their faces
to restore themselves
adding tusks where poachers
took their ivory
The idea of imagined elephants taking back what has been taken from them is a bittersweet image. Sharpe continues:
even as guns are raised
and calves stumble
into scopes even as
trunks and heads are mutilated
their painting continues
louder than bullets
The imagined elephants are like peaceful protestors, claiming the small semblance of autonomy that they can through the art of self-creation. And although it is an inspiring image, it is a helpless image too. Painting in 2D can only bring back so much, even if it is through self-expression. The original is still lost, something has been lost, something has been taken by force. And the bullets are still ongoing.
The elephants, like the elephant on the cover, are the beginning march and voice of this collection. Sharpe portrays another powerful voice in her piece they are found in the sea. In this poem, Sharpe explores the viewpoint of a refugee at sea. She explores how strange it is to be amongst the ocean for so long and to be travelling so far away.
my world is the sea
my eyes the sky
All that is seen is sky, vision is turned into sky, eyes become sky. Sharpe continues to explore this fantastical world of sea and sky, with humans stuck in between. She explains how:
my brothers are birds
they wear beaks
But the most moving image comes at the end of the poem. The world of sea and sky may be fantastical and alluring, but there is still one greater wish for home and the comfort of land.
in the pelt of trees
The final section of Sharpe’s collection, where will the fish sleep?, was also incredibly moving. In this section, Sharpe provides answers to this title question. Maybe the fish will sleep still in the sea after a tsunami, after some great disaster. The zoo will crumble with the fish too. After all,
men climbed the great domes and towers to bring back to Earth spires bells crosses
to melt into money to build a zoo
when the flood came priests told us the zoo was never an ark
I did find the collection overwhelming, but I expected it to, as these issues can be just as overwhelming in real life. The amount of empathy required to understand every voice is a true endeavour. By cataloguing voices and views into concrete words that bring images together, Sharpe is clearing the uproar a little. Being able to identify all these issues, with great evocative images, is a way to work towards them.
Reviewed by Emma Shi
by Kerrin P. Sharpe
Published by Victoria University Press