Book Review: Aboriginal to Nowhere, by Brentley Frazer

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_aboriginal_to_nowhere.jpgAboriginal to Nowhere is a love-letter to a world that ultimately rejects its people. It is a celebration of grunge, and a roll call of those things that are lame, cast-off, defunct and unlovable. It is about people divorced from the places they inhabit, and people who are disorientated in their own homes. Like those Talking Heads lyrics, ‘And you may tell yourself / this is not my beautiful house’, its people are bewildered. It also speaks to the profound loneliness ‘of the post-modern dispossessed’, the sort of grubby solitude that finds itself in a throng queuing for the Portaloos.

Frazer’s poems find beauty in the brokenness of things. Like Kintsugi, the Japanese practice of repairing fractured pottery with gold, Frazer conjures rich images from the ‘buckets of colonial rubbish’. While much of his poetry is sprawling and untethered, there are hushed moments:

‘The sky bruised over
slate roofs, the wind
moaning through louvres
leaves brown as coffee
rings.’

Most of his verse has a sort of musical harangue feel to it. The first poetic set, Aboriginal to Nowhere – Song Cycle of the Post Modern Dispossessed, pairs the technological and the ecological, through anxious reflections about man-made worlds and the alienation they can create. Frazer’s characters are watched by CCTVs and crows. They chart a course through a shifting Australia, one where ‘The indigenous goddess exits / stage left’ and people ‘bulldoze dream time for a freeway’. It is a rousing, rambling, and often irreverent, address to the nation. ‘Are you my mother, Australia?’ his speaker asks. The Australia that we find in the poems is more insouciant parent than maternal presence. And yet there are images, beyond the ‘broken hopes’, ‘generational displacement’ and ‘collapsed footpaths’, a sort of nostalgia for an Australia that may never have existed.

Aboriginal to Nowhere explores existential themes. Freewill and determinism wrangle in the cityscape. ‘Man, I didn’t get a choice where my consciousness / landed’. Cultural appropriation is prised open, xenophobia explored. There are questions of meaning in a world where the ‘Eternal Being’ is ‘an angry cynic’. ‘I don’t know what I am doing here’, the speaker exclaims. People depersonalise, aliens in their own skin. ‘Most days I feel like an actor ‘. And in a nod to Plato:

‘You are a piece of nothing,
shadows on the factory wall’

Frazer invites life’s dissonances to the table. Sometimes ‘the music and the lyrics / don’t match the visuals’. He entertains a ‘happy drowning feeling’. In all of this he steps lightly, capering around concepts, toying with the reader’s ability to hold two contrary ideas in mind.

Mostly, though, Aboriginal to Nowhere is about people – all sorts of folk. We meet hipsters and junkies, the mentally ill, beer guzzlers, strippers, rednecks, millennials, academics, immigrants, city slickers and farmers. Frazer’s is a world populated and full of noise, but ultimately nobody’s.

This is a thoughtful and fierce collection. Frazer is a visionary at a time when humanity risks losing touch with its core animality, and the real-world places in which it finds itself.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Morton

Aboriginal to Nowhere
by Brentley Frazer
Published by HeadworX
ISBN 9780473365677

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Chapbook Review: Broadsheet 16, featuring Stephen Oliver

cv_broadsheet_16Available in selected stores nationwide.

Volume 16 of Broadsheet, November 2015, is an instalment in honour of Australasian poet, Stephen Oliver, for his contribution to trans-tasman poetry. The volume therefore features Oliver’s work, along with poetry from his friends and contacts and a few contributions outside of the theme.

Oliver’s poems are placed in the middle of the volume, with other poets and their writing flowing out of this central feature. One of these poems was Pavel Arsenev’s Translator’s Note, a lovely piece at the start of the issue that worked through the processes of thought. Similar to the way in which a translation is undertaken, the poem explores the way we try to comprehend and understand: “I feel fear. / I am afraid of something, but I don’t know what.”

Oliver’s own poems are both sweet and quirky. This Way Out describes a lush landscape, from fossil to mountain range, and ends with the beautiful image of “Orpheus as he plays / so high and sweet on his moon bone flute”. Another one of his poems included, Lace, has the same light and airy tone as it captures the image of a woman in her home. It is an everyday scene, but Oliver alights it with touches of beauty; the curtains are made of lace and she, too, is described as bright as a dream.

The selection of Oliver’s poems in this issue are proof that he can pull off both the comical and the more poignant side of poetry. Poetry Day Blues is a more casual piece of work, with Oliver using rhyme to create a jaunty little poem about the happenings of National Poetry Day. In a Doctor Seuss-esque rhythm, he describes “Poems on pavements, poems on walls, / Poems at bus stops, poems in halls”. His poem The Departed Guest, meanwhile, returns to more serious themes and encompasses an empty mind as “an abandoned amphitheater”; it describes an intangible loss of knowledge and memory that goes beyond the physical.

Other poems of note were two pieces written by Nicholas Reid. The poem King of Comedy contemplates how time seems to forever click onwards, taking the scene from antique skyscrapers to Vespa scooters and then to the city traffic of Los Angeles. Reid’s poem Ars Amoris was one of my favourite poems in Broadsheet 16, and talks about art and love and the inevitable way they twist and turn around each other. He describes how the art of love can be sonnets, a “plumage of birds in a downriver drift”, the sound of Mozart. And in the final verse, Reid finally talks of how love is also “old you, old me, old us”, a soft and precise ending that closes off the poem nicely.

Broadsheet 16 is a wonderful instalment of various poets, with many writers I had not come across before previously. This little and affordable chapbook promises a collection of new New Zealand poetry and it does not fail to deliver.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Broadsheet 16
edited by Mark Pirie
Published by The Night Press
ISSN 11787808