Soft Science
Type
Review
Category
Poetry

September in poetry

Soft Science – Franny Choi (Alice James Books, 2019)

Soft Science

To read Franny Choi’s Soft science is to view the nature of reality and unreality through cyber-streams of dislocated language – to be a witness to the lucid dreaming of a blinking computer screen as it toys with the differences between animal, body and machine; between ghost, science and technology.

Punctuated throughout by ‘Turing Test’ poems, this collection considers the humanity and expectations of AIs, of cyborgs, of women as mere ‘bone-wife / spit-dribbler’. Through visceral vulnerability, Choi speaks of the queer Asian American woman as both objectified and flesh, powerful and metal, and confronts the cruelty and motivations of men. Is to be human to be smart and kind?

remember / all humans / are cyborgs / all cyborgs / are sharp shards of sky / wrapped in meat

Or is humanity merely about body? To be mouth and bones and blood? Soft science superbly reflects on consciousness and consumption, on having a body and engaging with the flesh and bolts of it.

 

ransack – essa may ranapiri (Victoria University Press, 2019)

Ransack

To have a body is to engage with the flesh and breath of it, to reflect on the richness of being, of becoming. ransack by essa may ranapiri speaks of the body in flux – the experience of living ‘liminally and nominally’ as an ongoing formulation of birth and rebirth, question and defense. This significant collection of work explores the inadequacies of language to articulate gender outside of colonised western notions of the binary, as takatāpui.

When the or has just as much weight as
the he or she

ransack encourages the importance of listening to non-binary voices, to take note of the in-between, the page’s white space, the ‘breath in the / soft gaps / that I am trying to live in’.

Personal letters written to Virginia Woolf’s Orlando are peppered throughout the work, narrating the ease of the character’s genderflip in comparison to many transgender experiences:

one had to spend a whole year as the other gender to gain access to healthcare – wouldn’t work for me would it Orlando. I’m an othered gender

While precisely questioning the limitations of what we might deem ‘natural’:

We all get stuck on nature. Stuck by the science of it. The populist science of it.

 

Autobiochemistry – Tricia Dearborn (UWA Publishing, 2019)

Autobiochemistry

Science, chemistry and the memoirs of Virginia Woolf are compared and questioned in Autobiochemistry. Tricia Dearborn plucks chemical elements from the strictness of their periodic table and rebuilds them, energises them, with language recollecting ‘shocks, / disasters, epiphanies, synchronicities, / self-deceptions, moments of cautery.’

Quotes from Virginia Woolf’s letters and diary are reborn and revitalised through poetic memoir that explores queerness, sapphism and friendship. The third section ‘Elephant poems’ brings the unspoken, the silence, the lies of family trauma into the foreground; while ‘the change: some notes from the field’ casts sunlight on the often unspoken bodily weather of the perimenopausal person – the moon swell and sweat of the ‘hothouse orchid’. In the segment ‘Covalent bonds’ the complexity and beauty of love, sickness and memory are skillfully explored: a domestic world slowed and dissected.

 

After the Demolition – Zenobia Frost (Cordite Books, 2019)

After the Demolition

The domestic realms of dwellings are slowed and dissected like an autopsy: showing off their ‘gold teeth’ and ‘good bones’. In After the Demolition, Zenobia Frost considers the house as a body and a haunting, the building and rebuilding of homespun corporeality and nostalgia. Rental homes are pitched as horror movies, their blueprints the spells of witchcraft, their absurdity turned everyday: mildewed ‘gap-toothed’ scraps for a millennial generation. Frost’s political poetics of space and place are underpinned by ‘queer pinko talk’, by moths as a feminist metaphor for the agency of women.

Loneliness and grief also weep softly through this collection – the memories conjured in spaces where loss has occurred.

What hairs have made museums of the carpet,
and for how long will I discover them?

Through poems of ‘walled loneliness,’ Frost aptly describes the dimensions of grief as ‘stars singeing’ and ‘skin shattering’.

 

Fish Song – Caitlin Maling (Fremantle Press, 2019)

Fish Song

The bitter dimensions of loss are ‘Grande, Venti. Triple Shot.’ Caitlin Maling’s Fish Song explores endings, the ease with which things can be dismantled and, in the aftermath, what remains. Daily rhythms are adrift as wounds split and spill, and the potential for cancer is ‘like coral spawning / under a moon’.

Nature is always just a word and a touch away: the green of ocean and yellow of wheatbelt are scrutinised as land ‘to cross or preserve’, land of angled roadkill in car headlights, land of fisheries and farming and salt corrosion. Pertinently depicted is a beloved ecosystem dismantled and torn apart by colonialism.

Fish Song is a constellation of a book, deftly describing our existence as mortals who measure everything in relation to ourselves: light pollution is a halo ‘beyond the reach of stars’ and we: ‘we and all are stardust’.

 

Axis Book 2 – aj carruthers (Vagabond Press, 2019)

Axis Book 2

Black holes halo the star clusters and constellations punctuated throughout Axis Book 2 by aj curruthers. This musical, digital, patterned poetry (which follows from Axis Book 1: Areal) is a process, a lifelong journey and ‘an / experiment / in / assemblage’. While each poem is labeled and digitised, this collection has no page numbers, asking us to take note of what is written but also what is missing.

The deterioration and disruption of language in this remarkable work is imparted through blacked out words (and in contrast, white space), by poems tabled in columns and by words sucked into black holes at the start (or end) of each microbook: an inhale, perhaps, before each exhale.

We continue to search for meaning in poetry and one could search for codes and cyphers in Axis Book 2 all day and never glean closure. Reading this consuming work requires (and demands) viewing experimental unreality through slipstreams of dislocated language.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Rae White is a non-binary transgender poet, writer and zinester. Their poetry collection Milk Teeth (University of Queensland Press) won the 2017 Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for the 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Poetry. Rae’s short story The Body Remembers won second prize in the 2019 Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction. Their poem ‘what even r u?’ placed second in the 2017 Judith Wright Poetry Prize. Rae is the editor of #EnbyLife, a journal for non-binary and gender diverse creatives.

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