Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Review of Julie Beveridge's HOME IS WHERE THE HEARTACHE IS

Home is where the Heartache is, Julie Beveridge. Small Change Press, QLD, Australia, 2007. ISBN 978-0-9803418-1-2. Price: $AU15.00.

Reviewed by Patricia Prime

Julie Beveridge is the current programming coordinator for Queensland Writers Centre and Stage Manager of the Queensland Poetry Festival: spoken in one strange word. Home is where the Heartache is promises that her transition to haibun poet will be equally rewarding for her audiences. A first collection of haibun, Home is where the Heartache is reflects a mind well able to give verbal representation to subject matters that are not easily dealt with, namely: abuse, both mental and physical, and domestic situations that get beyond control.

This volume contains 17 poems. Their themes and insights carry the same intensely personal hallmark, a voice that holds the contraries of hope and despair, loss and self-location in precarious balance; pages that come alive with a sense of the shadows of life. These are the preoccupations of poems with titles like “The Voyeur”, “Stolen Kisses” and Fresh Sheets”.

Told from a persona’s point of view and set in various places such as a house, a car park, an apartment, a barbecue, these gruelling experiences are situations many women like to pretend do not exist, mainly for the reason that they will fare even worse if neighbours or family learn about them.

This is an extraordinary sequence of haibun, in which the simple, straightforward haiku which Beveridge intersperses within, or at the end, of the prose, forms a complex contrast. The poems observe and muse with a rare honesty, totally free of condemnation or pity. They are sceptical, astringent and lively. Beveridge has no time for hypocrisy or meaningless conventions. In particular, the poems dealing with self-abuse are profoundly moving as are those observing the effects of partner abuse and world-weary fatigue. Here’s naked, even raw, poetry. Honest, meaningful and resonant.

Beveridge weaves a moving and profoundly recognisable picture of women at their lowest ebb, in situations often beyond their control and from which they can see no escape. The author ably scrutinises the contemporary situation of women and the necessary strengths they require to withstand harsh circumstances (see “Solitude: the end and the beginning”). These experiences are examined in a fluent style.

In the first haibun, “Someone Else’s Party”, the persona is at a party where “joints and glasses of wine” are freely available and, “cheeky with the prospect of the night”, she observes “the birthday girl / passed out beside us”. These are dangerous times and Beveridge’s poetry confirms this realisation.

“New Girl” shows us “history” caught in the pained music of a girl’s exploration of “someone else’s memories” contained in a photo album. The poetry revealing not only an able writer, but also an individual who is able to phrase plaints against a world none of us wants to visit, a modern world often of our own making.

“Twin Pink Lines” focuses on a young woman checking a pregnancy kit “One pink line and a shadow forming”. In “Ash”, a girl runs away from her burning house “Her hands search in the night for her mother”. In “Last Cigarette”, the persona is with a loved one who is dying. She confesses, “I want to wear him like a ring”. These poems amaze us as we recognise certain situations fresh from the world of chaos and despair – unwanted pregnancy, a partner’s other lover, a child’s despair. People in the poems are angry, frightened, anxious and full of hopelessness.

The collection is perhaps rather an unlikely project to have embarked on, given its adult themes. But love, relationships and enmity are topics of high importance, many of the scenarios all too familiar, and the excessive statements, as well as the imagery of the haiku, seem to express very well the heightened emotions.

In the poem that lends its title to the collection, “Home is where the Heartache is”, the persona’s lover physically abuses her:

She spits shattered tooth back at him. He clenches and releases his bloody fist. Kicks her in the stomach. Steel cap boot in soft young belly. Muscles contract to soften the blow. She buckles, doubled with pain, close and immediate.

The poem engages us in an idiom that is rich and layered, attentive to the reflective facets of language, memory and imagination. This menacing reminder of society’s raw, impersonal ills is a symbol of humanity’s failings and lack of concern for the violence that occurs every day in our homes. The woman’s fate underscores Beveridge’s sense of the threats that overtake many young women:

The small flat closes in around her as the front door slams. It is getting more difficult to tell whether he is locked out or she is locked in. She grapples at the fading green carpet and skulks her way to the bathroom; pushing open the door with her forehead.

The poem leaves us with this melancholy, heart-wrenching image:

a heartbeat later --
the heat of her insides
hits the floor

Another longer poem, “Cold Hands Touch My Face”, is divided into three parts. Part I prods and plays with everyday expressions, taking them apart and reassembling them, giving the reader the feeling that everything is as it should be, “The heat of the day lets me drift into sleep. I feel him driving next to me. I will wake up fresh, a whole new road ahead.” Part ii opens with the realisation that all is not well, “I poke my tongue through my lips and taste the glue that keeps the tape across my mouth”. Sceptical, probing, the poem twists and turns in search of a solution the poet already knows will only be temporary, an inadequate solution to the enigma of existence. Part iii is ominous as the captive girl begins to recognise her kidnapper – “His unkempt mustache tickles my neck. My thoughts leave my body, heavy as stone. There is something familiar about his face, something I cannot identify . . . sunlight glints off his mirrored glasses”.

A later poem, “Gun Smoke”, concerns the shooting of a woman. After his girlfriend’s murder, the murderer thinks, “She has never looked so beautiful” and the haibun ends with the haunting haiku

bent low
the taste of gun smoke
on her lips

Another poem, “Walking on Eggshells” considers an observer watching a woman being beaten in a neighbouring house, “Soon I will leave this street and the woman from number 48. The madness of her everyday will continue thump after thump.” Subject and pitch merge easily, without over-dramatisation. Whether Beveridge is writing about drunkenness, mayhem, or murder, there is a colloquialism here that is accessible, frightening and truthful.

A world of imminent, impersonal violence is the perfect setting for Beveridge’s restrained and thought-provoking scenarios. The danger that lurks on the margins of even the most mundane lives in these extreme situations are held in a finely tuned tension with her investigations into violence, rape, drugs and death. In the last poem “Solitude: the end and the beginning” we see the way in which the persona is affected by the what has happened to her loved ones: “A small portion of myself replaced with a dial tone after every lost friend has hung up”. These are poems inhabited by women who have nothing left to live for, whose very lives are threatened by those closest to them. Their stories will haunt our imaginations for a long time after the book has been closed.

Home is where the Heartache is ultimately becomes a testament to the survival of the human spirit made possible through a combination of the prose and haiku sung so softly but strongly here.

reviewed by Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand
first published in Stylus Poetry Journal, June 2007

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