review by Pablo Muslera
Lord, we know what we are, but know
Identity is central to Rallying, a collection of poetry from a trans writer so candid about his journey from mother of two to identifying as a male. The introductory ‘How to disappear in your name’ is a fourteen-page stream of consciousness prose poem introducing nine of Eades’ former personas. PK is the little girl losing her first tooth at breakfast:
Free verse stanzas like this serve as the refrain between the more open-ended stream of consciousness sections, where we’re introduced to Bella:
Francis is associated with sexual awakening:
Stevie is an assertion of public identity, railing against traditional portrayals of femininity:
There are other personas associated with addiction, and the acts undertaken to feed it:
Within this is a glimmer of the poet struggling to emerge from the junkie: ‘try to make a story / from abject fluid’ (16). Eades’ unflinching self-examination continues, rationalising her daily realities into alternate identities:
The narrative continues its visceral trajectory to one of motherhood, where ‘Mama’ is ‘made in the blunt vice of birth / through muscle and blood and milk and bone’ (19). Mama becomes Quinn, who:
This new name also signifies a change of gender ‘…It is this calling, this naming, that changes she to he…’ (23), but also one encapsulating maternity, shown in a tender exchange between mother and child:
The deceptive ease of holding these two worlds, of motherhood and male identity, in the phrase ‘boy Mama’ is part of Eades’ skill as a writer. He presents the unfathomably complex shift of gender and identity as plainly as a child’s neologism. Eades’ self-scrutiny focuses on the breakdown of a long-term relationship resulting from his transition: ‘The sixteen-year relationship doesn’t survive because the changing of / the name is a shell that holds the changing of a pronoun, the changing / of a body, the shining bright terror of stepping somewhere new…’ (23).
The rest of the book is loosely divided into five sections, dealing primarily with identity, mortality, and motherhood. After the searing opening salvo of ‘How to disappear in your name’, the remainder is more contemplative, steeped in the quiet reflection of these daily moments. ‘Shine on me’, the first poem in the section ‘Under them’, is an exception to this rule. It continues the forensic narration of Eades’ life: ‘I left home when I was 16 … I lost my virginity with the girl upstairs in my single bed. She bled on me and the sheets’ (26).
But the mood softens when Eades becomes a mother, and ‘they came. those boys who said “look at me I’m a poppy” and “mama” and “I love you”’ (28). Life vacillates between the daily domesticity of children’s demands of ‘toast with no crumbs’ (36) and the revelation that her boys are also ‘love’s splintering heart’ (37). The playfulness of ‘the table … resents elbows’ (40) contrasts against ‘Arguments wait for months, next to the cupboard that holds our towels’ (44). The identity tension between mother and writer is summarised in ‘This unbearable split / My waterlogged skin. / No. This. Want. / Mother. / Poet. / We.’ (49).
The next section, ‘Away with them’, details family holidays, and the previous stream of consciousness prose sections are discarded for briefer lines of free verse, heavy with enjambment: ‘He puts his shorts back on and / stows fried rice under the seat / watermelon in an ice-filled esky’ (69). Travel observations mingle with writing anxiety: ‘This resort kills poems. / It pretends at being Thailand. / but the grass is too short, / the geckos are tamed, / the chili [sic] is mild, / the fish are fed twice a day, / and the birds are on a timer’ (64).
‘Without them’ is a more introspective section, where Eades travels alone, and ironically seems to justify the previous fear of writer’s block, lacking some of the energy and edginess of the previous chapters. Repetitive refrains of ‘In the Alfama’ where ‘everybody smokes’ and ‘all the streets are cobbled’ (78) might be taken from any number of generic travel poems, until Eades admits, ‘This city is water and brick. It won’t be known’ (90).
‘Around them’ returns Eades home, and there is vigour and insight into her childhood in the title poem ‘Rallying’:
There is dry humour in the contemplation of mortality in this section, with the complications of nipple rings and chest x-rays: ‘in hospitals, steel and desire do not mix’ (107). There is eloquence and candour in the trauma of a hysterectomy, ‘…They talk / about us in the third person not knowing / we are fourth person poetic split by pain / … you are gone … you are hazard, removed, and the absence of pain. / Ovary. Egg layer. Possibility thrower. / Gone.’ (109-110).
What comes next starts with a sensuous observation of daily pleasures: ‘You swallow sugar cubes whole / syrup murmurs glaze my tongue’. The intimacy and second person perspective continues in the next poem: ‘you smother me with featherlight kiss, your creamy skin … your smile dusky / cochineal lips lift my skin away / …I am ready’ (131-132). The promise of sensual reawakening is fulfilled in ‘Swim’: ‘…we are octopus arms slippery legs strong bellies… You fit. You just fucking fit, / you say in your tear strung voice on the phone, in bed … You’re for me, I say, throwing / fear, knowing rightness / … what comes next?’ (138).
What comes next, indeed, for a poet who has already held up a light to some of the most painful experiences and challenges to self that an individual might have? Rallying confronts our notion of ‘normality’ through a searingly honest blend of stream-of-consciousness prose and free verse enjambment, where shifting poetical forms also reflect a transition in identity and gender. Throughout, Eades engages us by navigating these spaces in full view, simply stating: ‘I’m here’, and daring us to judge what that means.
Dr Pablo Muslera is a lecturer in Creative Writing, Shakespeare Studies, and Honours at the School of Communication, International Studies and Languages at the University of South Australia. He has previously dabbled in performance poetry, most notably at the Cargo Club in Hindley Street, Adelaide, in the late 90s.
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Vol 21 No 2 October 2017
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Kevin Brophy, Enza Gandolfo & Julienne van Loon
Reviews editor: Linda Weste