Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Literary Leanings

I recently did a workshop on 'Authors with Authority' with the Queensland Writers' Centre.

For this, we had to write a critique on a chapter of Joanne Carroll's An Italian Romance and write something creative of our own to throw to the lions. It was quite intimidating laying yourself open before Martin Buzacott.

My critique didn't get scrutinised and my poem wasn't demolished entirely, so I thought, given I don't often write either, rather than hiding them away, I'd post them here for the world to get its talons into.

Rip away, sayeth I.

Faltering at the first step

The world loves a love story, so we’re told, and on the face of it, readers of Joanne Carroll’s new novel, The Italian Romance, may expect to encounter just that, rolled into an idealized European setting for good measure.

The novel opens with the presentation of a number of questions – gaps to be filled by the ensuing chapters. Why the estrangement between mother and daughter? Who is the man from the bush? Where does Margaret fit in? And of course the necessary, what will happen?

No doubt what will happen is that these things will become clear and the relationship between Lillian and Francesca will be borne out to either a satisfactory conclusion or one that frustrates. It’s all rather formulaic.

The University of Queensland Press, however, doesn’t have a reputation for publishing the prosaic and so the reader is tempted to hold faith in this and read on. It is unfortunate that the domination of mediocre novels for middle-aged women in the popular market in many ways works against those with more substance.

Marketing would have us believe that The Italian Romance belongs to the latter group, but the use of so many clichés in the orientation works directly against this. The descriptions of setting are romanticized, replete with cool, damp lawns, golden light and references to heaven. Lillian is excessively self-aware and conveniently placed as a novelist, ready with a vocabulary to describe every sense. It’s all rather neat.

The fact that the opening chapter had to be read twice to make sense of some of the direct speech, in particular, would lead one to believe that Carroll has perhaps been a little too obtuse for those who have not done some initial background reading. On the second visit, some details became much clearer.

What is very clear is that the men of this novel are defined by the way in which their women treat them. Margaret disregards her husband; Lillian caresses her memories of Antonio and leaves nameless the man who assists her. Francesca is the only woman, on face value who confounds with her description of herself as ‘Bernard Malone’s daughter’ and her initial seeming refusal to reveal her own relationship status.

The Italian Romance will no doubt satisfy the requirements of a certain readership but leaves one wondering if all the stories have been told and this will be just another Looking For Allibrandi (Marchetta) clad in different garb.

What Lies Below

Beneath her shawl
In arrogant self-assurance
Bright eyes peer
Challenging the unfamiliar crowd
To breach the façade
And expose the uncertainty of her intellect

The siren calls
Certain of an answer
Eager to devour
Only to taste bitter truth
And burn with the rising of bile

Beneath her shawl
She draws in the unwitting innocent
Alternating slaps and praise
For those who would discover
The prize of convention

Beneath her shawl
Of a constructed reality
Oblivious to her needs
She rejects the purging
That floods in

Beneath the crepe
She aches in the face of the slurs
And expectations of a seeming selfless society
Arms filled with the sometimes love of
Others’ offspring
She gurgles with fleeting pleasure

Beneath her shawl
Those who come to her
For sustenance
Against the aching
She encircles with light
Those with the stomach for the fray

Beneath her shawl
From lessons learnt about honesty
Images of domesticity flee
And a cacophony
Cascades with messages

The phoenix burns anew

Beneath the layers
At the expectation
Of a relentless world
The façade slips
In an unending echo

Shards penetrate
The unguarded
Nests of the unwary

Beneath her shawl
She’s unsure of where to start
For the pieces are fluid
The field slanted
The future a mirage

Beneath her shawl
From ash dry choices

Oblivion tempts

Just as the delicate thrust of a blushing bud
Masks the inevitable thorn
And flow of blood


Blogger Draic said...

Nothing critical to say... I like both. The varying between 'Beneath her shawl' verses and the other fragments is a little odd, breaking up the structure, but it matches the content of the poem.

5:15 pm  

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