Bateman, Bron. Of Memory and Furniture. Fremantle: Fremantle Press, 2020. RRP $29.99, 96pp, ISBN: 9781925815047.
Bron Bateman’s 2020 poetry collection begins with the persona longing for a lover, and as the collection progresses, so does this longing. As if desire itself constitutes a character, it shifts and changes with each divulged moment. Of Memory and Furniture consists of a crafted journey, featuring four sections of courage that coax the reader on a journey through steamy supermarkets and confessional bedrooms.
Although the press release describes this collection as ‘bold, explicit and unapologetic’ the cover is notably calm and gentle. I can imagine someone in a bookstore picking this up, expecting to encounter poems about nature or birdwatching, and receiving a shock. Even before opening the first page, I enjoyed how this Fremantle Press publication was subverting dominant assumptions about sexuality, BDSM and feminism. Due to the subtlety of the blue cover art, reading this book’s erotic pieces in public places felt like indulging in a private moment.
My highlights of the collection were Bateman’s reinvention of repetitive feminist rhetoric, with her ability to discuss topics such as women’s health and consent from a refreshingly original angle. After reading my favourite poem in the collection, titled ‘Language’, I immediately wanted to share it with all my friends, particularly those who endure vaginal examinations.
At twenty-three, the family doctor will press too hard
on my cramping belly,
while his other hand is deep inside my cunt.
He’ll chat about his adult son and pulls out his forearm.
wrist, hand – red and shiny as plastic.
Either my blood, or my baby’s (28)
This poem is a confronting example of how Bateman combines the themes of this collection with synchronicity. Within only three pages this poem addresses motherhood, medical mistreatment, kink and feminism. I was deeply impressed that a poem could render me teary about my relationship to my womb and then conclude with the statement, ‘tie me up all you like. I’m still a feminist’ (29) while still being entirely genuine.
Occasionally this collection was awkward, both stylistically and thematically. However, there is a level of humanity and relatability in this awkwardness, which adds depth to the subject matter rather than presenting a pristine version of sexuality. The author’s ongoing repetition of images that involve hands, fingers and mouths verges on cliché, which may be the risk with writing any kind of erotica. Although Bateman makes significant strides in navigating this challenging genre from an individual perspective, the work’s potential impact is diminished by moments which rely on an overused vocabulary of smut. For example, a description which likens the lover to a peach with “tender fuzz against my lips, and its / juice running down my chin” (63) left the reader wanting more, but not necessarily in a provocative way.
Of Memory And Furniture is offered in four sections. The first three examine the persona’s relationship to sexuality and bodies (both theirs and others). The fourth section takes a swift turn, articulating an experience of sexual assault from a father figure. Although these poems were poignant and powerful, I questioned the wider consequence of this conclusion. Often, wider conversations about women who engage in kink, or people who are LGBTQIA+, reduce their identities to a stereotype defined by trauma. Within this literary trope, the identitities of kinky or queer characters are often assumed to result from mental illness and/or sexual trauma. For a publication that was inventive and unconventional in many ways, I was disappointed that it reinforced problematic and reductive representations of women who engage in queer relationships or alternative sexual practices. Despite authorial sincerity, revealing the trauma as a concluding detail positions it like a piece of evidence which is expected to contextualise or explain the previous content.
Beyond this narrative arc, there are moments in this collection which absolutely soar. One of my favourite poems in the collection, titled ‘Intimacy’ states;
I read out a poem about fisting
And there is silence.
Yet how many people,
In the tenderless intimacy of medicine,
Have had their arms inside my cunt? (24)
This blunt and unapologetic reframing of fisting exemplifies the strength of Of Memory And Furniture. I adore the author’s clear illumination of the social binary between public and private bodies, juxtaposed with the strange speechlessness that too often occurs when vaginas are discussed outside of the (heteronormative) male gaze.
Of Memory And Furniture pushes boundaries and tackles taboos, and I am grateful that Fremantle Press is publishing works like this, which the literary sector undoubtedly needs more of. Bateman has created an unbashful collection which teaches every reader the validity of their desires. At first it might make us blush, but once we shed our internalised shame, this is a collection that encourages us to reconsider our relationships with pain and pleasure.
Maddie Godfrey is a Perth-bred writer, educator, editor and the 2020 Kat Muscat Fellow. At 24, they have performed poetry at The Sydney Opera House, The Royal Albert Hall, TedXWomen, St Paul’s Cathedral and Glastonbury Festival. Maddie’s debut collection How To Be Held (Burning Eye Books, 2018) is a manifesto to tenderness. Currently Maddie is completing a PhD on girlhood, teaching creative writing, editing Voiceworks Magazine and trying to stay hydrated. www.maddiegodfrey.com