How We Talk to Each Other by Victoria Broome
Lyttleton: Cold Hub Press (2019)
$19.95. Pb, 31pp
Reviewed by Patricia Prime
How We Talk to Each Other is Victoria Broome’s first collection of poems. The poems are set out with one poem per page. They are mostly influenced by the experiences of growing up. The book begins with the poem ‘Fontanelle’. This allows for the start of new life: ‘Eyes that will find you / a throat that will let you sing.’ (p. 7)
In ‘At The Latimer’ (p. 8), the poet reminisces about the time when her Aunt Sally and her mother used to go dancing. It was in The Latimer that her Dad first asked her Mum to dance:
They would start laughing and someone
would ask them to dance, at The Latimer
one night it was Dad asking Mum.
The poems are predominantly recollections of past times. They are poems of travel and movement, of transition and individual memories about family events. In ‘The Only Fish’ (p. 11), the poet remembers when her dad taught her to fish. Her ‘first rod was a knitting needle / with a length of wool tied on it’. There are memories too of her grandparents. In ‘Sunnyside”’ (p. 12), she writes that her ‘Grandad went to the Mental Hospital’. The child recalls her mum’s rage, her nana screaming after the old man kills himself. It’s a heart-rending poem, vividly recalled. The following poem ‘Nana in the Upstairs Bedroom’ (p. 13), is about her grandmother. Her ‘Nana is a / good cook but she doesn’t hug’. In ‘Porcelain’ (p. 15), she remembers the time when her ‘Dad falls and breaks his femur’ and in the lengthier poem ‘The Orphan’ (p.16), she recalls:
Dad is watching Animal Planet, Rupert,
the orphaned Rhinoceros, he is the baby
of the family. They found him when he was
six weeks old. The Zambesi was being flooded
for a dam and his mother had been tranquilised
In the title poem, ‘How We Talk to Each Other’ (p. 18), Broome writes about her father’s gardens and of the variety of vegetables he grew and how her ‘Mum would spend the end of summer / in the kitchen, preserving red tomatoes, / claret beetroot, gifted fruits, setting wax into jars / of chutneys, jams and sauces’. Both physically and symbolically, the poem is a gift to the memory of her father and mother. It is also a poem of fecundity, vibrant and alive. Also engaged in these poems of family life, is the poet’s mother. She is recalled in ‘And we have all been each other’s mothers over countless lifetimes’ (p. 22). Here she is pictured in her dressing gown:
You go whirling by in your pink nylon dressing gown
back in time, forward in time,
until you are tucked up again and uterine.
‘The Deer’ (p.25) travels wider. As the poet is ‘Riding the train home / along the east coast’, she recalls what she has seen from the train window through the rain: sheep, a hawk, a magpie, scattered deer:
I feel their hearts pound
as they stare us down.
Then they are gone
and we are gone.
The rain goes on.
Many of the poems are anecdotal, recalling family, people, places – the everyday which forms the memories of us all. More of her reminiscences, real or imagined, are contained in the poems. In ‘Endings’ (p. 30), she writes about life and its inevitable endings of things, people, family; the absence and silence that ensues:
When they happen they surprise us.
Sometimes we didn’t know the end had come,
sometimes we just wanted hurt to stop,
but it follows us, so we give it a home, make it safe and warm,
even then it won’t stop crying, or jumping up,
craving our attention. Sometimes, we find,
we no longer leave the house, the mess
it makes defeats us.
The collection’s content is very personal. It doesn’t range widely, but it does contain a variety of emotions, observations and situations – most of them personal, some universal, but all memorable. The poems are presented in such a way that we can imagine the poet speaking to us. Broome’s unvarnished emotions are there for all her readers to read, explore and to empathise with her emotions and intentions.
Patricia Prime, besides being a regular contributor to takahē, is co-editor of Kokako and assistant editor of Haibun Today. Patricia’s primary interest is Japanese short form poetry: haiku, tanka, haibun and tanka prose. She has published a book of collaborative tanka sequences called Shizuka (2015).