Millner, Carol. Poems About The House. Kalgoorlie: Mulla Mulla Press, 2019. RRP: $15.00, 40pp, ISBN: 9780648542421.
What is familiar, domestic, part of everyday experience, is the source of material explored in the poems of Carol Millner in her chapbook entitled Poems About the House. Millner takes notions of home and the personal, using them as a base and running with it in a delicate exploration of the quietly intimate and private. She uses these quotidian observations as a springboard into deeper thought and reflections about life and all its varied complexities.
Millner has adopted free-verse form for these poems, using that freedom of form to allow for the diversion of thoughts and following ideas into different directions. ‘Library Days’, is divided into four sections marked off by time and the changing focus of an individual with regard to place. From the heat of February, when the family ‘go to the library for the air-conditioning’ (12), to realising the library is a space with which she has ‘fallen in love’ (12) and where thinking, reading and writing become powerful anchors of self, jolted by the contrasting reality of ‘my son gets his finger stuck in the plastic ‘O’ of the magnetic alphabet’ (13), allows Millner to move from deep personal responses to place, to the comedy of childish interruption. Nothing is more real.
Many of these poems demonstrate a clarity found through the spare use of language. There is no excess here, and yet underneath what seems obvious, Millner allows room for the reader to reflect and make their own connections to objects and observations.
‘Talking to a Jade Heirloom’ explores the importance of heirlooms, their resonance, their link to people and places. From a jewellery box full of Scottish gemstones: amethysts, amber and agate, is drawn ‘her jade, my pounamu’ (18). The piece of jade has strong links with the persona’s mother and home, home being New Zealand. Nearly everyone has some such object that makes familial connections, or links with another time and place (I have my mother’s diamond ring). The poem evokes a strong feeling of homesickness, asking the question: ‘What are we doing here?’ (19). The longing and conflicting emotion aroused by the question or by things which connect us to the past is in the heart of nearly every immigrant to Australia.
Being partial to Jacaranda trees myself, I particularly enjoyed the final poem of the chapbook, ‘Under the Jacaranda’. Again, Millner employs a rhetorical question to set up a train of thought in the reader:
But what is this—
this fine singing hue, this
Through the question, the amazing colour of the Jacaranda has to be reconsidered. The rest of the poem contrasts the brash voice of ‘new technologies’ with the garden, where there is time to sit and contemplate the falling of strange flowers that ‘kiss my bare arm’ (31). Millner connects the shape of the flower to the ‘O’ of an ‘ancient language, one we never really knew?’ (32). Here, Millner hints at what we have missed as we pursue the modern and live our lives in a frenzy. Perhaps we need to take time to pause, to ponder the natural beauties around us and try to understand their being. By doing so, as with reading Millner’s poetry, we might enrich our lives.
Veronica Lake is a Churchill Fellow (2010) and a teacher long associated with Literature. She collates and edits Primo Lux, an annual student anthology of poetry. She is a member of the Voicebox Collective, OOTA Writer’s Group and Poetry WA. Her poetry has been published in journals in Australia and New Zealand.