TEXT review

A well-made house

review by Amelia Walker


Kristin Lang
The Weight of Light
Five Islands Press, Parkville VIC 3052
ISBN 9780734053749
Pb 88pp AUD25.95


Ecopoetry needs to be intense and unpredictable,
needs to establish relationships with all manner of things,
as well as acknowledge disconnections
and sites of convergence. (Stuart 2017: 3)

A good ecopoem, Christopher Arigo explains, is ‘a house … founded on the tension between the cutting edge of innovation and ecological thinking’ (Arigo 2007: 3). Such poems abound in Kristin Lang’s The Weight of Light – a sensually metaphysical collection that subtly yet profoundly ekes out interrelations between humans and animals, language and nature, technology and the immaterial. In line with Gander and Kinsella’s suggestion that ecological poetry ‘might be developed rhizomatically, it might be described as a nest, a collectivity’ (Gander & Kinsella 2012: 13), Lang emphasises the thrumming yet too often overlooked interrelatedness of things via her deft weaving of motifs including moons and mountains, muscle and shadow, silence and breath. This is a collection that demands multiple readings – and rewards them – opening and offering new insights, new articulations with each fresh encounter, each return.

Lang has a gift for writing about animals, including human animals, and for reminding us how close, how interrelated and interdependent we are with other creatures and the spaces of this earth we share. That is to say, The Weight of Light aptly carries the ecopoetic project of presenting ‘the human experience as being part of the more-than-human world’ (Stuart 2017: 3). Take, for instance, Lang’s striking portrait of a squirrel, whose tail is:

an auburn
curve on the nerve-strung
bone she catches
in the corner of her eye (67)

and whose heart is:

a kind of fulcrum
and all the world
on this side
or the other (67)

Similarly, when Lang writes of ‘The wombat’, she shows us:

The muscle – here. The fur. What I touch, as if the skull
peers back, is a sense not of bones
but of layers gone – myself as new-born, the just-bathed child… (55)

In these and other animal-focused poems, Lang deftly evokes the intelligence, the mysterious emotions of these creatures with whom we cannot speak, and yet have so much to communicate, if and when we can find ways. Likewise, studies of human figures – particularly ‘Portrait of a man dying’ – remind us, with raw energy, just how animal we humans after all are:

‘So this is dying’, he says. The boulders
turn feather-light. The sky widens. His lips
part in the clean, blue air. And the day
rises around him – sudden curves and ripples. (84)

Equally striking are Lang’s depictions of landscapes and spaces. In ‘A sea of green’ she writes:

The sky is ash coloured and so close to us, so heavy,
our voices fall back inside themselves. (70)

However, ecopoetics is not all – or even necessarily at all – nature poetry. Indeed, as Arigo notes, the traditional nature poetry trope of the human subject observing nature as object is, from the contemporary ecopoetic perspective, deeply problematic, and of greater importance is that the poetry ‘take place more in the realm of the innovative’ (2007: 3). Ecopoetic innovation is by Arigo’s terms paradoxically and appropriately about both interconnectedness and tension – about holding these things in a fine balance that challenges conventional notions about human subjects and subjectivity as individual and bounded. Stuart similarly identifies good ecopoems as ‘able to initiate a dispersal of ego-centred agency’ through which ‘permanence and unity can be eschewed in favour of encounter’ and ‘patterning is given attention and objectivity needs to be reoriented toward intersubjectivity’ (2017: 3). Such encounters resonate sonorously through The Weight of Light, thematically and formally. For instance, in ‘A monstrance of diamonds’ a never-named ‘she’ discovers bodily resonances in landscapes, and vice versa: arms contain air; the Earth has a hide; mouths become stones and water skin; the moon tremors and a rippling lake bears a pulse:

Across the ground, the mouths of stones
spill the years of their silence – a black lake
cupping time and timeless. The dark water a mirror,
her second sky. She watches. Lost in the long,
long threads of airy light. And if the lake is real
or her desire she cannot tell, the faint ripple
of its pulse rising round her toes. Wrapping
round her ankles. Water becoming skin, skin
becoming this, she is between stars. (11)

‘Electrocardiogram’, forges similar connections between biology and poetics:

listen, I say – there’s a little
free verse between
the iambs

the machine ends –
I tell them my heart
and I would like back
their strip of me

this picture
of my pulse pulsing
in my fingers. (19)

Such lines hint at Lang’s passion for language and linguistic structure. Throughout the collection she engages masterfully in understated yet poignant formal play. Particularly notable is her clever engagement of and with enjambment. ‘The hum’ (10) is just one example: through five stanzas that progress, in turn, from three lines, to two, three, four, then back to three, the poem strikes a delicate balance of imbalance, a harmony dependent on its discords, its conflict; moreover, it achieves an offbeat regularity utterly appropriate to the poem’s subject matter – the heart.

Overall, this collection must be commended. Quiet on the surface, each poem screams volumes. It is a perfect enactment of the well-made ‘house’ Arigo associates with strong ecopoetics – a poetic house in which ‘the poem itself is an ecology: a microcosm economy in which itself dwells’ (2007: 4). The Weight of Light matters to our world and in it. Without ever preaching to its readers, it reminds us of all we could be doing to live more gently, more sustainably. It is a book that needs to be read and re-read. I recommend it most especially for courses in creative writing and/or literary criticism, where it could serve as an illustrative example of how contemporary poets address crucial issues of our fragile, precious world.


Works cited



Amelia Walker has been writing and performing poetry for twenty years. Having previously worked as a registered nurse, a group fitness instructor and a school workshop poet, she now teaches children’s literature and creative writing at the University of South Australia.


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Vol 22 No 1 April 2018
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Julienne van Loon & Ross Watkins
Reviews Editors: Pablo Muslera & Amelia Walker