Ann Shenfield is recognised as an animation filmmaker and author-illustrator. You Can Get Only So Close on Google Earth is her debut poetry collection.
Poems within the collection have been recognised, winning such prizes as the Rosemary Dobson and Max Harris Poetry Awards in 2007 as well as publication in journals such as Visible Ink and Glass (2003).
A recurring theme is death; the death of a father when the poet was 5 years old, and the relatively recent death of a sister. Indeed, both traumatic experiences. I did, however, find the imagery used in the particular poems to be a bit flowery and assume the poet has reconciled the trauma of these events.
The first and title poem was the 2007 winner of the Rosemary Dobson Prize for an unpublished poem by an Australian poet. The poem has the narrator searching for her sister via Google Earth, the sister having been buried in a Parisian cemetery. The frustration of distance is felt, both physical and spiritual, ‘as if locating her on this distant desktop, would prove / that like Snow White she sleeps a virtual sleep? I seek her out on google earth but even as she approaches me, she distorts, is abstract once again’. Google Earth does not have street view in cemeteries and so the narrator can get only so close.
The adjective ‘distant’ is repeated often throughout the early poems in the collection and in keeping with the title; ‘distant desktop’ (‘Google Earth’), ‘things clarify with distance’ (‘Not the First’), ‘like a distant light across the ocean’ (‘In the Background’). This is contrasted with the abstract effect of looking too closely, such as in the ‘Google Earth’ quote above or ‘zoom out, she’s an ant on some remote planet, / zoom in, you think it is her swaying body, / but shapes blur’ (‘Forward Motion’). The poet manages to create a sense of discomfort and alienation, not able to find a place to fit in.
Google Earth can be read casually as narratives, allowing the reader a virtual intimate relationship with the poet. Through the collection we learn of the poet’s family history, her parents who survived Nazi Poland and concentration camps to emigrate to Australia, and the losses suffered by the poet herself.
Some of the poems read like prose, such as ‘It’s Raining Again’, in which the narrator considers the present tense rainy day and recounts a similar rainy day when the house up the road was cleared out after the old man, who used to tend his garden, had been moved to a nursing home. Apart from the simple narrative this piece also features a strangely incongruous metaphor, comparing the indiscriminate way in which the items from the house were thrown into a truck ‘as though this were Poland and they were just doing their job’. I don’t know if you can compare clearing a house with the Holocaust.
Ann Shenfield has achieved success in the film industry and her poems have been recognised with prizes and publication. But in this debut collection, I got the sense the poet is in a transitional state between artistic media. I’m sure, however, that Ann Shenfield will produce more in future, going from strength to strength.
You Can Get Only So Close on Google Earth is published by Arcadia.