Poetry Shelf review: michaela keeble’s Surrender

Surrender: Poems, michaela keeble, Karaheke | Bush Lawyer, 2022

there are so many
rivers inside me
i may as well be
a continent

the rivers
when i run
are running

when i tilt
this way, that way
the rivers slow down
and change direction

 

from ‘mother, crab’

I have about thirty poetry books in a stack on my desk, a stack of children’s books and a stack of novels. I pick a book and start reading, and I am delighted at how many books I fall in love with. Deeply. Last week it was a picture book, The Lighthouse Princess by Susan Wardell and Rose Northey (Penguin), along with Entanglement by Bryan Walpert (Mākaro Press). Is it a matter of contagious charisma? Are the books touching a human chord with language that electrifies me?

I picked up michaela keeble’s poetry collection Surrender and it stuck to my white skin like honey, like biddy bids, like a lattice of ideas and confessions that resonate. Michaela is a white Australian, living in Aotearoa with her partner and children, who has worked as an editor, writes fiction and poetry, and works in multiple ways towards anticolonial social justice, including climate justice. Her book is published by Taraheke | Bush Lawyer, ‘a new publishing collective of indigenous women and their allies from Aotearoa and so-called Australia’.

you give my poem a gift
you give my poem a ledge
a place to be seen
to rest

i greet your poem, a place
the way i greet each voice
within and around me
i pick up a pen

 

from ‘revision is a kind of faith’

michaela’s book is cradled in a nest of other books. You can follow the thread to other writers, to books she has read, to your own reading connections. The short lines, self exposure, the lower case ‘i’, the vital political currents lead me to Janet Charman. I read the word ‘intertidal’, and I am back in the pages of Kiri Piahana-Wong.

The white space around each poem establishes essential breathing room, new starts. It is writing out of white and not forgetting, searching for the ‘white tongue’, the ‘shame tongue’, seeking and discovering syllables, medicine, stories, communication lines, dialogue, metaphors. What does the ‘half tide’ stand for? Or the conference poem or the guilt poem? Or the throat or the river? The country? Or the person writing and reading next to you? What does the metaphor stand for, instead of, against?

The poems face the earth, the sick earth, the beloved earth, the damaged state of affairs where hierarchies continue to gulf and elevate the privileged. They rattle complacency, my steady feet on the ground. Where I am? Who am I am? How I am?

white poem
goes on holiday
white poem escapes heat
nice white holiday
package
nice white plastic
travel shop
nice big white plane
nice carbon
got the budget

 

from ‘white poem goes on’

And while the collection navigates an imperative of wider human stories, especially of belonging, it also brings an intimate core to the surface. A writing self. A mother father daughter. And there is pain. Heartache. Grief. The mother becomes ill. The mother is no longer here. The daughter becomes ill. Heart and wound and writing move close to the bone. So yes, wherever the poems lead me, there is heart, there is searing heart, and I feel this book turns interior ignition keys.

i’m still here
but now
i’m made of fire

if this wind ever turns
i’ll return
a message

send
my searing selves
to the sky

honour
the hard seams of m
of my mother’s cloths

 

from ‘hard seams’

Pronouns form the book’s structure: you, me / other, self / we, us / her, she, they. Check what Emma Barnes said recently in my second Paragraph Room. We cannot take pronouns for granted. Making the ‘i’ lower case links back to feminist calls to dismantle authority. Decades later, each pronoun embraces community, communities, connection, connections, personal narratives. And that is important here. In the poem ‘even Alice’, the ‘you’ is personal, an intimate and known ‘you’, but I am drawn into its shape. The occasion is a gathering of writers on the marae to hear Joy Harjo read.

This need for community, this need to write and to speak, to be private and to share. That is exactly what Surrender does, in writing so sweetly crafted the hairs lift on my skin. The lines economical, yet satisfyingly rich. Pip Adams wrote on the cover: ‘One of the most welcome and important collections I’ve read.’ I agree. This book is both humble and extraordinary, and I love it to the moon and back.

i remember who else read:
Briar and Api and that other poet Rob
from Paekākāriki

even Alice Te Punga Somerville
was there
i remember washing dishes
i remember thinking

read poetry
for community

to be a poet with community

 

from ‘even Alice’

Michaela Keeble is a white Australian writer living in Aotearoa with her partner and children. Her chapbook intertidal about change underway in our oceans was published in early 2020 and she has a children’s book, co-authored with her son Kerehi Grace and illustrated by Tokerau Brown, forthcoming from Gecko Press in 2022. Watch out for Paku Manu Ariki Whakatakapōkai!

Michaela’s anticolonial poetry has been published and anthologised widely, including in Intimate Relations: Communicating in the Anthropocene (Lexington Press, 2021), No Other Place to Stand (AUP, 2022); and Not Very Quiet (Recent Work Press, 2021). Her poetry & fiction have appeared in Pantograph Punch, Capital, The Spinoff, Newsroom, Cordite, Plumwood, Westerly & elsewhere. 

Michaela is a guest poet at the 2022 Brisbane Writers Festival. Find out more at her writer’s website.

Taraheke | Bush Layer page

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