TEXT review

Those flourishing boundaries

review by Rose Lucas


The Flaw in the Pattern
Rachael Mead
The Flaw in the Pattern
UWAP, Crawley,WA 2018
ISBN: 9781742589602
Pb 96pp AUD22.99


Rachael Mead’s new poetry collection The Flaw in the Pattern continues her important work of watching and speaking through the focal point of the self in the world – in particular, the natural world of place and light and senses and the tracking of our human movement through it. This is the work of a highly skilled and perceptive poet taking charge of her craft: separately these poems offer a range of engaging and challenging windows onto human experience; together they provide a fast-flowing meditation not only on a life in process but the reflective and shaping business of poetry itself. Highly ommended in the Dorothy Hewitt Award for an unpublished manuscript, this collection is now part of UWAP’s ever-expanding poetry series.

The poems are focalised around different journeys, as well as physical and emotional spaces. The first series of seven poems traces the hiking days on the Overland Trek in Tasmania. ‘We tread the silvered vertebrae of the track / one foot after the other, learning the bleakness / of repetition’ (12), she writes, bringing together a fierce attention to the slippery beauty of the world around her and the ‘endurance’ (60) of our human movement, the force that impels us to engage, to keep going. The going is not always easy, and the physical journey mirrors the broader journeys of life: ‘The beauty of this land burns down my house, leaving me/with necessity on my back … the past and future just luggage waiting at the end of the track’ (14).
On the one hand, this poetic of attenuation brings us into the clarity of the moment – what can be carefully observed, the ways in which the slide of the metaphor might help us better understand ourselves in relation to the specificity of time and place. On another level, this micro moment – the only one which the self can inhabit – is also an aberration in the much longer game of planet and universe. As Mead notes in the ‘list’ poem ‘The flaw in the pattern: 13 thoughts on wilderness- Day 4’:

13. This is the home of a new genus of silence, a place where travel is tectonic grid, weather is never trivial and the present is the flaw in the pattern. (15)

This sense of a vastness, in which the individual is barely legible, is echoed in each of the clusters of poems around travel and place: the cold which ‘is trying to kill you’ (82) in Antarctica; the Southern Ocean in which the speaker is ‘nothing more than weed-wrapped bone the sea/has finished with’ (76); and the ‘rising dark’ in Rarotonga which comes to ‘drown’ (53) the fragile life built up in the daylight. In the ‘Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre Cycle’, the poet and her husband drive north out of the known terrain of the city, ‘heading for [an] emptiness’ (30) which is nevertheless full of significance if one knows where to look. The art of poetry is to take us to that element which is perceivable, explicable within the limited frame of our human perspective – the edge, the ripple in vastness which differentiates and allows us to see into the seams and sub-strata of what is beyond us:

But our eyes love edges, all else
too vast to hold our attention.
We seek those flourishing boundaries
where everything breaks cover,
relishing the fleeting spotlight. (30)

Of course, while travelling elsewhere can certainly serve to open up such a perceptual edge and highlight self in relation to the larger, elemental aspects of time and place, these insights can also occur within the fabric of the known and the domestic. In ‘Homebody’, the poet accretes linkages between self and world, from ‘My hair, the untameable statement of eucalypt claiming sky,’ to ‘My heart, a brown kelpie, gently breathing, asleep’ (21). Or ‘Homemade thanksgiving,’ in which a trip to the kettle sees her break into the movement of dance: ‘No eyes on me but the tiny blue wrens’ / …where I’m just another creature/flinging itself through this day, / glowing like autumn on the vine’ (27).

The domestic world can also be a place of anxiety and paralysis for the poet. In ‘The dog, the blackbird and the anxious mind,’ the speaker blurs with the blackbird, on the brink of being overwhelmed by the world ‘brimming with its own life’: ‘I can’t leave it alone, going over and over this world, / looking out through eyes ringed with gold’ (54). One way out of this depressive stasis, the poet discovers, is to ‘put myself in the path of wildness’ (59) – to find a structure that allows movement to somewhere uncharted. The sequence of poems, ‘Parthenogenesis,’ which describes an experience of not knowing her biological father, her mother’s experience of having a child out of wedlock and precipitously choosing a new marriage, perhaps gives some insight into a darkness which ‘lies beneath the skin’ – a heaviness to be endured and recurringly negotiated.

There are a number of very strong poems in the collection. The sequence ‘Smoke signalled death threats’ (87) sees the everydayness of human life struggling to endure the frightening elemental power of bushfire. ‘Powerless’ (57), which won the NALAG Grieve award in 2017, pits couplets gently against each other to draw out the relationship between a literal loss of electricity with a neighbour’s death – an ‘erasure’ which forces us to recognise that the ‘world is not what we want.’ In lines reminiscent of Gwen Harwood’s elegiac ‘Mother who gave me life’ (Harwood 2003), Mead acknowledges a complex galaxy of loss, grief, powerlessness as well as acceptance:

…My heart folds
and folds itself down into a tiny yet infinitely

dense thing: a grain of sand, a mote of dust,
a faraway star we know full well is dead. (57)

Mead’s poetry is the antithesis of decorative or sentimental; it perceives darkness and how vulnerable we are within our human skins. However, it also offers the motif of an acceptance to be found through the careful skills of observation, and so often within the context of the ‘wild’ – be that the natural world or the world of new ideas. Such ‘grace’ is both an anchor and a guide in the white water of human experience:

I don’t know many things more full of grace
than the tumbled stones of this creek bed,
a mosaic of weather and time, pressure
and release, all washed with light. (68)


Works cited




Rose Lucas is Senior Lecturer in the Graduate Research Centre, Victoria University. Her most recent collection Unexpected Clearing was published by UWA Publishing in 2016.


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Vol 22 No 2 October 2018
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Julienne van Loon & Ross Watkins
Reviews editors: Pablo Muslera & Amelia Walker