from the editor's desk

Review of ‘Increments of the Everyday’ by Rose Lucas

Lucas, Rose. Increments of the Everyday. Newcastle: Puncher & Wattmann, 2022. RRP: $25.00, 103pp, ISBN: 9781922571496.

Dave Clark

We usually notice the big changes. Many of us, when we were kids, were probably on the receiving end of a relative grabbing our cheek and saying, ‘My, look at how much you’ve grown!’ Or maybe we’ve had the sensation in our adult years of returning to a place we have not been to in a long time and feeling its differences sharply—the development of new buildings, the variations in how people interact with us, the contrast in the connection we now sense with that place. We take note of, and are often jolted by, the significant alterations in the external and internal aspects of our environment.

It takes the fine skill of a poet, though, to slow themselves to the pace of a gentle heartbeat, to observe subtlety in the ordinary moments: faint deviations in feeling, in landscape, in relationships, in our bodies and in times of pain. Increments of the Everyday by Rose Lucas is a collection of slowed-down works; it pays keen attention to the understated movements that happen in and around us. Lucas’ stillness and observations encourage us to absorb what is often there but rarely seen or honoured.

This fourth poetry collection from Lucas is made up of five sections, stepping through the heightened and habitual times of a pandemic, grieving the death of a dear friend in their twenties, participating in life through the lens of womanhood, responding to others’ creative expressions and recovering from a significant physical injury. This diversity of themes is delicately threaded by witnessing the increments in each experience, a deep noticing through the senses.

Lucas begins the book with the pervasive and isolating mood that pandemic lockdown took on: ‘[…] the heavy curtain / of descending quiet’ (20). Questions of longing and fear gently make way for hope, self-compassion and an appreciation of nature’s aesthetics and resilience.

The next section places the reader into a time of grief, holding the paradox of loveliness and pain alongside each other. One stanza from the poem ‘Without You’ captures this eloquently:

The world remains beautiful               winter sunlight still
filters through eucalypt leaves and
we move          numb              amongst it (36)

Grief is a heavy and slippery thing to live with and these pieces handle it with care, honesty and reverence. The poems ‘Precious Ghost’ (39) and ‘Your place at the table’ (41) deftly capture the ongoing impact that grief has: the longing to be with people we cherish once again.

The collection shifts tone in the midsections as it becomes more externalised: Lucas considers the experience and celebration of being a woman, the way that birds and trees interact, the thrill of artistic expression and her responses to other works and stories. These are quiet observations from the writer, so as to not interrupt the moment but to sit mindfully and soak it in through the senses.

Throughout the book, what stands out is Lucas’ crafting of words and form. Differing from how the writer has shaped many of their poems in the past, there is a deliberate use of pauses and gaps within most stanzas in this collection. There is also the skilful use of enjambment, which layers the meaning and affect within each poem:

carrying the future beneath the bones
of her chest                 fingers reaching            up
through          thrumming      wingbeats of air (87)

The pauses in the lines across the collection have the impact of slowing down the reading; the flow of the book itself becomes incremental, true to its title and apparent aim. This allows Lucas to attend to minute changes. Through this, it feels as though she wants the reader to join her in a similar state, to experience the works through more of the senses. This approach works best in the early and finishing sections, helping to settle the overall arc of the collection.

The work is at its strongest when the use of imagery and metaphor sheds light on the poet’s inner world. In one of the most powerful poems, ‘Accident’, the poem’s speaker suggests she is:

barely aware                  I know they tend me
I am a pebble in a creek                      washed
in the attention and the doing
of these strangers’ hands (93–94)

The same is true when writing about tulips in a jar at a hospital, in the poem ‘Healing’: ‘their arms curve and waver— / unfolding curtsies of shade’ (100). There is slow-burning elegance amid these poems on pain. The language of touch evokes a sensation of heavy experiences held in tender hands. Because this collection slows the reader down, there is more joy to be found in the beauty of its writing, even when it is covering emotionally heavy experiences.

In its final section, Increments of the Everyday brings together the themes of kindness, gratefulness for the small things in life and compassion for the difficulties people face every day. Lucas writes, in ‘increments of the everyday’, that ‘I am learning to walk / in a way I have not walked before’ (97). This collection’s strength is its honesty regarding how, with each change of life, we find ways to make sense of things and then adapt to what comes next. The hope of resilience and small healings is what Lucas leaves us with.

Dave Clark is a writer-poet with chronic fatigue syndrome, living in Mparntwe (Alice Springs). He works as a counsellor, creating space for stories of significance. He won the 2022 NT Literary Award (Poetry) and has works published in Red Room Poetry, Bramble, Grieve, Mantissa and Swim Meet Lit.

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