Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Review: The Saving I Need, Poetry Chapel Vol. 1 – Abigail Bucks

A month ago I wrote a general book review about this book. While this was complimentary I felt encouraged to have another stab at reviewing it because of the efforts of its creators to find an audience. I wanted to continue the conversation.

These deceptively simple poems – ‘Fragments’, ‘Jars’ and ‘Growth’ – invite a dialogue with the reader and this is partly because of the domestic settings. So you’re sitting at home and you’re confronted every morning by a pot plant that thrives or otherwise (perhaps it needs fertiliser, perhaps it’s not in the right location in your house – does it need to be put outside?). You might have a cupboard with jars in it for leftovers. 

And everyone is intimately acquainted with the idea of personal growth. My father wrote a memoir titled ‘Growing’ that snaps shut at the time of the family’s move to Sydney at about the time I was born. Dad grew up in Melbourne (as did my mother) but once he’d graduated from university he progressed to a job based in the more northerly state of New South Wales. He of course brought the family with him, adding his mother, who signed over to her spouse the hamburger bar she worked in, got in the car, and didn’t look back. 

Abigail Bucks’ poem dips in the same font of ideas as dad resorted to – though it wasn’t evident to me that he’d grown at all (though I’m biased) – asking her readers to enquire as to how they’ve grown over time. It seems that the idea of progress is universal nowadays, and has been since the 19th century, a time when the broad classifications used to segmentalize history (the Renaissance, the Middle Ages) were first formulated and popularised. It was also the time when advances in learning sparked by a democratisation of reading and writing characterising the former period began to bear fruit in the form of technological innovation. By the end of the century reinforced concrete, electricity, the internal combustion engine – a range of decisive novelties’d altered our understanding of who we were.

What we’re individually capable of, however, as Bucks seems to be aware, ultimately rests upon less tangible foundations. Perhaps faith can help. In ‘Fragments’ it appears in the person of God, something Bucks names in order to make sense of life. We all feel stress sometimes, and even on occasion breakage though “All the broken pieces, / of everything / all around you, / are not meant to be / collected / & carried …” so perhaps it’s necessary to remove the urge to fix everything. Bucks seems to suggest that, even if we could, the objects that resulted would turn out to be imperfect. 

She reprises the metaphor of the container – that in ‘Fragments’ are cracked and turned into shards – in her first poem. ‘Jars’ offers a musical interlude with more referents redolent with meaning (the nod to the unfortunate Sylvia Plath cannot be avoided) but ultimately it suggests the poet’s resilient. What makes her so strong? I wonder if it has something to do with how, by writing poetry, she is able to form outlines that permit colouration, the bringing together of ideas others share to make an offering for all.

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