Foxstruck and Other Collisions, Shari Kocher, Puncher & Wattman, 2020
The cover of Foxstruck and Other Collisions reminded me of an astral vista (my partner said a Rothko painting not knowing there’s a Rothko poem inside!), but the image is in fact Kate van der Drift’s artwork, a camera-less photograph. She buried large format sheet film in the Piako river between the ebb and flow of low and high tides. What looks like a stellar view is the alchemy of pollution and nutrient by-products of intensive farming. Enter a poetry book and already nothing can be taken for granted. The title Foxstruck and other Collisions is equally fascinating. Enigmatic but rich in possibility.
Shari Kocher’s collection is a sumptuous read. It is structured in seven sections moving from the weight of lead, through the practicality of tin and iron, and the preciousness of gold, copper and silver, to the liquid toxicity of mercury. I am no alchemist but each element feels prismatic with poetic connections, shifting perceptions, uses, misuses. What bridges will form between one element and the other? Would I gain more from reading, if I were an elemental whizz? How will the elements interact with the properties of a poem? The properties of an element with a poem’s movement? All this musing and I am on full alert.
Here I am entering an alchemy maze and all I can think about is fabric as I read. I am always suspicious of academic criticism that stretches a poem to fit a premise or theory, but I am (no way an academic critic) falling upon words, phrases, ideas, details, motifs that give my approach zing. Let me be clear: a poetry book will always offer myriad pathways, frames, devices that refract, reflect, dissolve, connect. I guess I always want to put my finger upon a poem and discover its pulse.
Why fabric? Shari’s poems resemble brocade (full of sheen and intricacy), the rustling texture of silk, hard-wearing everyday denim and the coolness of cotton against skin. Glorious! There are weaves and tucks and fasteners and stitching. I am thinking of the loom behind the line, the handwork and the handiwork, and never forgetting the heartwork. I am thinking of threads and buttons and agile sewing needles. Because this poetry is rich in craft and artistry. The visual matters as much as the aural. Motifs glint. Story is intricate thread.
The collection has been slow in the making, composed over five years, and walked into being as much as written. In her endnote, Shari shares the question that might well have been there from the start: ‘In light of this task set before me, which I take as the task to love, how am I to live?’ Each poem came to life on foot, a rule set by the poet, with the walking rhythms nurturing first seeds through the many drafts.
Take any poem and the rewards are numerous. I particularly love ‘Fritter the Fat Then Fry It’. The fabric of the poem is intricate with sound and image. The poem brings to mind a feminist folktale that will bite your ankles as you walk. Corpse, Narrator and Belovèd speak, with overlapping voices, sharp stitching. Here is the opening of the poem, the Narrator speaks:
Once upon a time a house
all the modcons, etcetera but she flits
vagrant as a dandelion’s flimsy puff
blowing about in a yard
empty of air and light a hole
shucked to the floor like a skin
all that space shut-up
the chimney sealed
smoke and one
chewing her finger
nail outside the door slipped
sideways into maternity
ward of the state where she once laboured
abandoned to her fate under the weight
of sixteen generations of women
who lived to be fed to the dogs
day after day without complaint.
The soundtrack of the collection is sublime: words loop and repeat, with rhyme, with connecting vowels and consonants heightening the music. Such rich delight in the ear. This from ‘Girl in the Mirror’, a poem dedicated to poet Joan Fleming:
sound of her gentling
mind on me each plate
washed as if to placate
the place I’d become (from)
the shower wiped free
just sketch she said just
sketch what you see
the grain of the wood
on the windy deck the scab
on the knob of your knee
Expect restraint and exuberance. Expect rawness and polish. Expect lutes and ladders, saltspray and violins. Expect rose oil and valleys, kitchens and throats. Cosmic glitter. Questions. Breath. An alphabet unskinned. A grounding in land. The natural world with all its challenges and beauty. As Joan Flemming says on the back of the book, ‘This is dazzling poetry.’
I am just hoping my little piece will connect with readers who want to track the book down and read it for themselves, because yes this book dazzles in its love of language, its love of life, its joy in discovery.
Shari Kocher is a poet, creative writer, thinker and therapist. Foxstruck and Other Collisions (Puncher & Wattmann, 2021) is her second poetry collection, following The Non-Sequitur of Snow (Puncher & Wattmann 2015), which was shortlisted for the Anne Elder Award. Recent accolades include The Peter Steele Poetry Prize (2020), The Venie Holmgren Environmental Poetry Award (2018), and The University of Canberra Health Poetry Prize (2016). Shari holds MA and Doctorate degrees from Melbourne University, and works in a supervisory and remedial capacity.
Puncher & Wattman page
Shari Kocher’s website