TEXT review

Petra White, The Incoming Tide

review by Sean Harverson


Petra White
The Incoming Tide
John Leonard Press, Elwood, 2007
ISBN: 9780977578740?
60 pp. pb. AUC23.95

Poetry is often lost on me. So when I read Petra White's debut collection, The Incoming Tide, I found myself pleasantly surprised. With her unpretentious voice and subject matter, Petra draws the reader to her and absorbs them with tales of her multifaceted life.

There are three key themes that are central to this book: family, work, and leisure. Of these, leisure plays a key role. Her collection within a collection, entitled Highway, introduces us to the world of a hippie convoy as it meanders its way across Australia.

The Desert has no centre, is all centre.
The Road, cut straight through it, racing, fierce
as rapids, is all powerful, its god-trucks belting out ks,
animals dying of speed, mallee whirling like dervishes -
but it cannot cut the desert in half, cannot be
its sole vein, heart, pathway. ('Eyre Highway')

Kangaroos, both alive and smashed on the side of the road; the road-trains that smash them mid-bounce; the ravens who gorge themselves on their rotting entrails; the dying towns that seem to rot beside them; all are captured in this very visual guide through Australia's outback.

In contrast to these stark images, White paints the reader a portrait of the travelling hippy. Constrains and inhibitions appear to have no place.

35 descended, with colours and music.
35 of us lit up a small cove with bright-coloured dusty torn clothes,
with breasts let down like sandbags,
with penises swinging. ('Cactus Beach')

Her largest poem, 'Southbank', captures the equally farcical nature of the workplace upon her return to working life. Within it are twelve snapshots of an inner-Melbourne office that are presented to the reader with a wit that is not altogether derisive.

The thermostat
shudders its seasons
of freeze and sweat;
furry square windows
seal in the boredom (a little man,
I've begin to suspect,
Tweaks the levels each hour). ('Southbank: 1')

Similarly, her poem 'One Wall Painted Yellow for Calm' explores professional life and the comic disinterest of those who have not yet been absorbed by it.

These larger works are not, however, necessarily the highlights of the collection. Smaller poems such as 'Voyage' and 'Ricketts Point' endeavour to teach us that life is full of fleeting wonders.

She passed him as she passed the sun.
He could not tear his eyes away, and prayed
She wouldn't see him; one glimpse of his fear ('Voyage')

The Incoming Tide is a warm and enjoyable read that I strongly recommend.

Sean Harverson is a Creative Honours student at the University of Canberra.


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Vol 12 No 2 October 2008
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Jen Webb