Angela Meyer reviews “Fragile Context” by Kristin Hannaford

Fragile Context
By Kristin Hannaford
Post Pressed
ISBN 9781921214189.
324/50 Macquarie St,
Teneriffe, Qld, 4005
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Reviewed by ANGELA MEYER
Poetry can exist between boundaries of communication. It can have an awareness of itself in the uniqueness of its form, unlike a blanket of prose which acts to unfold a narrative. Kristin Hannaford’s poems also thematically blur or dissolve lines, those related ones that exist between culture and nature. She invokes the binary to acknowledge one’s reliance on the other, to promote the reader’s recognition of one because of the other, and just subtly, the danger of one overwhelming the other. In such a way, the form of the poem and its awareness of itself creates a beautiful irony, that the poem is a product of culture, of humankind, but would not exist without nature’s influence. In a way then, much of the poems in ‘Fragile Context’ border on romanticism, although with the modern interruption of ‘progress’ and moments of post-modern inevitability or acceptance.
The poem ‘Mountain’ is a dedication to the poet’s father: a joyful poem of slowly reduced stanzas. There is an empathetic association with the father’s experience, taking a long trip to work and back each day. The narrator imagines him on the train with a utopian home-vision, a life-affirming comfort that awaits him. ‘The distance between the lookout and the car is short./Your chest is tight with breathlessness//and this view.’ The last part of this stanza is both italicised and indented to the end of the passage. It enables the reader to hold their breath on the mountain, which is metonymic for the spirituous joy in nature’s whole, as are the eucalypt leaves he inhales. Overall, the poem explores a quiet acceptance of the balance of work and home life, a gratefulness for the coexistence of environments.
The poet’s children and lover are an extension of the self, nature’s existence in bodily form. ‘Birthday’ presents a contemplation of aging, uncomfortably related to rough wood and the smoothing over of oil, coating as opposed to fixing. But the poet’s child’s smile brings her back to the concentration of a moment and negative reflection is transformed into ‘possibilities’. In ‘Losing the Boy’ the child is breaking his link with the mother and becoming one with new formations. Hannaford innovatively describes a skate-park and its occupants. Appropriate terminology is made poetic as the reader sees, hears and senses the environment, anxious with her to find her son. He is crossing between her and this new culture ‘Almost unrecognizable,/ my son, the man -/ if it weren’t for the blue laughter of his eyes.’ Here, the poet reclaims the son, as forever inseparable from his biology, as nature’s persistence, even when the body is immersed in cultural activity. The lover is invoked in ‘Dismembered (two voices)’. A degree of mystery is maintained in the intimacy of the poem. It literally dismembers its actors, body parts explained, explored and satisfied, or are they? The line ‘this is enough’ brings comfort. The lover also exists in ‘The Night Storms’, a poem about consistency. Where change is inevitable, a memory can reinvigorate what has gone. Around these human endings and reimaginings, nature pervades. The majestic is tied by Hannaford to the everyday – ‘Lightning appears at first as a distant flicker -/ the way a television screen lights up a hallway.’
The poetic observer also experiences moments alone. ‘In the Spirit of Impermanence’ is a manic poem, a rebellion. It is an ode to joyful poetry refusing to be constricted by fashions or movements. It seems inspired by frustration and a ‘throwing off’ of burdensome expectation. She encourages one to ‘abandon pronouns & spirited rehearsals’. In ‘She Leaves From an Australian Forest’ there is a less celebratory aloneness. There is a sense of loss pervading the sparse syntax. One of the few poems with no punctuation or capitals, it flows from one end to the other, space and words interpolated as the woman is with the forest she is departing from. It connotes the coexistence of woman with nature. She recalls someone who is addressed, thinking of returning to them after day-to-day frustrations, contemplating amongst ‘leaves which refuse to homogenise’. Her mood is far-reaching, it is not just the ‘you’ addressed in such statements as ‘stands of trees humanise our frailty’ but a collective. The natural elements and formations remind her of bodily features, again making human and nature synonymous. The last line is potent as we imagine her leaving this memory, this spirit to join the sun ‘ascending’, spirituality and transience are invoked, and the last line resonates with its evocative ‘sounds of sclerophyll breaking’.
Body/nature/art are combined again in ‘Graphica Botanica’, and in ‘Music for Insects’ with focus on the eye and vision. The poet in this one is segregated by a window, but the eye explores nature with a disembodied power. Humans are as fragile as birds in ‘Whistling’ and ‘Displacement’.
Narrative transition is implemented in ‘Pumpkin Island Notes’, a series of four poems. They act as a snapshot of a holiday – known and unknown, nature intertwined with history and characters melded to place – ‘a memory of place, sharp as first incision’. It is extraordinarily vivid, and thickly encapsulating. There are pieces metonymic and metaphoric – coral, bones, for an ocean, a human, a whole. They are then fleshed out with mini-narratives of characters in place – past and present. Another destination is traversed in ‘Tracing Air – South Island’. It begins almost with the rhythm of a nursery rhyme. There is a passionate embrace of nature, a moment in time. It is a poem to smile at. The voice is overwhelmed at the beginning, all is ‘too magnificent’, but then the woman and land become one, she recognises herself in it – ‘a green wild dress// riding thighs and abdomens’. The play of lines with steps and pauses, the assonance and slight-rhymes create an anticipatory envelopment. The development of tone by the end is celebratory and of a woman recognised.
The poet’s delight at language, the discovery of words, their usage, their bodily motion (the tongue deciphering them) is evident in much of the work. In ‘Fishing (a meditation)’ the poet applies words for the value of their sound. Scientific names ‘Saccostrea glomerata’, textural like the fingers on the fishing line. Words italicised for consideration, tied in with sensory recollection, conscious associations – ‘Estuary, the word coats tongue/ and memory, sediment. Silt/ mixtures of detritus and the fecund.’ The construction of the fisherman is not as important as the quiet, the beauty of solitude and the engagement in an enjoyed activity, much the same as reading a poem.
In all, there is much to discover within the pages of ‘Fragile Context’. The curiosity of language carries on to a creative curiosity of narrative. The final poem ‘Jesus in the Swimming Pool’ playfully questions a character’s existence. It is a philosophical finish to the chapbook, inviting the reader to question the environment around them, and further, themselves within the environment. In essence, it is their ‘context’ that is brought forward. Are we to float also? What does this Jesus-figure see that the other swimmers with their heads down do not? Outside the pool are the forests and mountains and many-layered humanities where each reader carves a tract. The poetic voice is not only an observer of these trajectories, but a questioner of the divisions that exist between them. Hannaford traverses nature and culture and ultimately displays awareness, preciousness, and most certainly the encouragement of joy in such fragility.