All interested responses welcome.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

The Tipping Point – my new chapbook

(Melbourne, Blank Rune Press, 2016.)      

Reviewed by Rosemary Nissen-Wade

This slim volume is a feast! Linda Stevenson is a thoughtful poet whose work ranges from intellectual word play to direct and simple appeals to the emotions. One of her own paintings forms the beautiful cover illustration. Her words paint pictures too – scenes and images that continue to haunt the reader after the words have been read.  And her language is full of music.

It's exciting for me in various ways to be reviewing Linda’s first poetry chapbook. During my long acquaintance with her poetry, I have always believed it deserved publication and a wide readership.

Yes, we have a history. Once upon a time we were two young women living in Melbourne, who happened to sit next to each other at Library School. We got talking and found much in common, such as the fact that we both wrote poetry. We're still doing a lot of talking five decades later, though nowadays we live in different parts of the country so it's usually by email. And we are still deeply engaged with poetry.

I am also well acquainted with Linda’s encouragement and support of other poets, myself included. In a way, the wheel has come full circle. Thirty-one years ago, in her capacity as Melbourne City Librarian, Linda Stevenson launched my first book of poetry at Margareta Weber's bookshop in Melbourne. 

In that capacity she also gave the Melbourne Branch of the Poets Union a meeting place for a number of years, at North Melbourne Library. In those days she didn't seek to promote her own poetry – busy enough, no doubt, with professional and family life; and, more than that, focused on bigger pictures and community issues rather than personal ego.

She says now, on her recently begun poetry blog, 'Written there on skin' :

My poetry is a part of my life, that creative part so vital to our human individuality. It has been a lifelong habit, scribbling words down, from childhood on through adolescence, adulthood and now into mature older age.

I love the process that takes the poet from the raw first phrases on through the building of themes and expressed ideas and finally to the crafting of a satisfying work. The sharing of that creation with others is the icing on the cake.

We both left librarianship eventually, I to give more attention to writing and she to concentrate on art. As well as becoming a painter, still her primary focus, for some years she ran a successful business involving an innovative technique of print-making. All the while the poetry continued.

It took our old colleague, Valli Poole, now proprietor of Blank Rune Press, to persuade Linda at last to compile a chapbook. I hope it's the first of many.

I remember her telling me, long ago, how much she loved understatement. In this book, with its environmental theme, she uses it to excellent effect – by no means shirking the confrontation of unpalatable truths, but without unnecessary dramatics (the facts being sufficiently dramatic in themselves).

A personal favourite, which I featured recently in an online column for the poetic community Poets United, is Adani Coal Mine Approved, which works by painting a contrasting picture to the facts. It deserves quoting in full.

It pares down

to the palest of skies
to a native fledgling

thirsty, untended

to whether a black stinking
mess of outmoded greed
is claimed as our chosen soil

when we might have lifted
up into the quiet transparency

taking the winds

carrying the young bird

with us
as our token.

Her environmental concerns inform the whole book. She is fully cognisant of the issues she addresses. She worked as a full time volunteer in the environmental movement in the early seventies and has retained interest and involvement since. (See footnote*)

The title, The Tipping Point, comes from a piece called Solar Winds, which is as despairing as we all often feel about the planet's and humanity's situation. It begins:

So weary
at this juncture
here, where the turning on a life’s edge
is pivotal…

Yet this is a book full of beauty. It ends, though still sadly, on a softer note with this small untitled poem:

Searching for haiku and other poems
I find instead a quiet place in the garden;
in its still shadow I stand
upright as bamboo
soft and weeping, like orchids.

The book is to be launched in Frankston on April 23rd by well-known Melbourne poet Ken Smeaton. It will be available later from Collected Works Bookshop (Level One of the Nicholas Building in Swanston Street, just a few minutes from Flinders Street Station).

Orders and pre-orders
From Blank Rune Press, via Linda’s poetry blog ‘Written There on Skin’
By email
Valli will take a firm order, supply payment details, and forward the book after the money is received in the account.
Order price: RRP $15 AUD including P&H.

*Asked for details, Linda said:
In early 1971, I became intensely involved with the then environmental movement, as a researcher/liaison officer for the 4th International Congress on Human Relations: "Environment: social/industrial responsibilities". I researched global environmental problems, potential solutions, and helped to plan and organise this major Conference at the Dallas Brooks Hall Melbourne in July 1972. Speakers included high profile environmentalists from overseas such as Barry Commoner and Rene Dubos and local speakers and delegates from universities, trade unions, political parties, business and industry, along with significant individual voices such as Judith Wright and Robin Boyd. During this period I also became a full member of the Round the Bend Conservation Cooperative, a shareholder of its land at Kangaroo Ground, and served on its Committees of Management for several years. Since then, I have maintained a strong interest in all aspects of conservation/preservation of the natural environment and related concerns.

Note: This review is reposted with permission from Rosemary's SnakyPoet blog.