This last week I’ve been reading Helen Heath’s new collection of poetry, Graft, from Victoria University Press. Like the cover of the book, the poems in this collection are all stitched together in beautiful and unexpected ways.
The poems shift between science, fairy tale, and the domestic, but they never end up in the places you were expecting. The fairy tales sound like fact, and the fact sounds like fairy tale, whether it’s two children following white Lego bricks by moonlight or Marie Curie with her blue vials of radium.
The world fairy-tale makes the whole thing sound a bit twee, but what I liked about this collection was that it was able to make leaps between myth and fact without being cute, or doing that other thing that people sometimes do when rewriting fairy tales and turning them into a kind of gothic soap-opera where everyone’s either wandering around in the forest in a torn negligee, or dancing themselves to death on hot coals.
These poems are full of unexpected shifts and uncertainty, and I like poems that aren’t afraid to be uncertain.
I was talking to a friend the other day about the ‘epiphany moment’ in poetry, and how hard it is to avoid (Matthew Zapruder’s great example is ‘let’s say one is writing a poem about one’s feelings about marriage, and a flock of geese might go in a honking ragged V plaintively yet somehow with mysteriously sure direction over your summer house.’) Epiphanies always seem to be sneaking in to poetry, whether you want them there or not. Usually not.But there are no flocks of geese flying in mysteriously sure directions through this collection (although there are plenty of birds – most memorably the grandmother as a bird, taking a shit on the front seat of the truck.)
The poems all manage to avoid that kind of ‘epiphany moment’ and often end up in an unexpected place. I’m not talking ‘he was actually a ghost all along’ kind of unexpected place (hey Bruce Willis, what’s up) but after reading these poems, I feel like my brain has been flipped around a couple of times, in the best possible way.
Reviewed by Hera Lindsay
by Helen Heath
Published by Victoria University Press