from the editor's desk

Review of ‘Infinite Ends’ by Amy Lin

Lin, Amy. Infinite Ends. WA Poets Inc, 2023. RRP: $30.00, 102pp, ISBN: 9780645517866.

Siobhan Hodge

There is something both promising and ominous in the title alone. Amy Lin’s Infinite Ends opens with one of the most famous portraits of a woman; in ‘Mona Lisa’, we see a flicker of the tensions to follow: ‘Like all screen specimens / she’s numbed by our stare. / Like those who are / mounted and flightless, / she mocks us / when we look away.’ (3) There is power in slippage and ambivalence. This is a collection that dwells on the multiplicity of lenses through which women are perceived and perceive. It is also an intensely personal affair, as Lin traces family past, but always present. Wedding dress shopping and rehearsals, job interviews and the establishment and disassembly of homes all feature across the work. Lin examines major milestones with forensic sharpness, but while the poems are achingly elegiac, there are lighter pieces too, including a memorable litany of ‘Things I Learned from my Mum’.  

While attending the launch of Lin’s collection, I was struck by her poems’ stately pace and resolve. Lin read with a tender clarity that continues to resonate through the page. Some of the weightiest poems in the collection are universal in their probing of grief, but firmly locked in the personal and direct. In ‘The Architecture of Grief’, dedicated to Lin’s beloved mother, the speaker’s voice echoes through the house as she unpacks a life no longer occupied:

The kitchen is crowded,
plates and cutlery leaning
in the claustrophobia of grief.
They never surmount
your goneness
The attic is a repository
of undone things.
I open boxes to the see the dinners
undined, the countries untravelled
I sit and wait,
in a house that is filling
with flowers
but emptying of you.(44–45)

The speaker forges terms that echo the wrongness of their loss—‘goneness’, ‘undined’, ‘untravelled’. This is a new present that needs to be understood. In this way, Lin’s speaker journeys through grief in all its unexpected administrative needs, all the sudden flashes of new wrongness. It is a painful and delicate process. The funeral ceremonies of ‘Ashes at Lake Monger’ are poignantly centred in the heart of the collection, rather than at the end. Grief, in itself, is not the means to an end nor the end of a journey—life continues and is celebrated in all its wonderful intricacy. The almost numb opening of the poem grows with love, power and remembrance as it progresses:

[…] We pepper your ashes
between water reeds
and dry tree stumps—
where you played
make believe as a child,
imagined dead bodies
in the rushes.
Your ghoulish fantasies
are shards of shattered limits (63)

Lin splits those limits, so that we are not imprisoned by grief: ‘Powdered smoke unfurls around us  /  and you fall    you float   you fly.’ (63) The final poem returns to that Lake Monger shore in ‘Purple Petals, Lake Monger’ in a much less pared, grief-stricken way, as Lin’s speaker instead dwells on the life that flourishes all around: ducks, swans and their cygnets, corellas, algae and banksia. The offering of rose petals to the water is split by memory: ‘This is your colour, / the colour you wore to my wedding’ (95). Memory is less possessive, more nourishing though, as the petals ‘fall from our palms / like little tongues […] knowing all the secrets / you took with you.’ (95) The traumatic distance that stung the earlier poems in the collection has not been resolved, as no loss can ever truly be, but the speaker has grown outside the painful margins of their grief, and takes action as the corellas take flight in an angelic mirroring of the first scattering of ashes.

Lin’s Infinite Ends is a preservation of beloved moments and memories, but also a self-conscious nod to the potential for slippage in these acts. Three ekphrastic pieces focus on representations of women: Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa; Banksy’s Girl with Balloon; and Picasso’s The Weeping Woman. In ‘Girl with Balloon’, Lin depicts the surprise live-action shredding of the artwork during an auction:

[…]The urge to release is also a preserving urge
and on Sotheby’s stage, a sold print passes
through the shredder
To destroy is to replicate, and above
ribbon remnants, five short fingers
reach for a purchaser’s pulse. (9)

There is a capitalist rebuke here, but there is a self-awareness as well: the act of capturing and preserving people, emotions and events is likewise caught up in the politics of what can be kept, sustained and shared. The adequacy of ‘replication’ is a question in ‘Mona Lisa’ as well. Lin returns to this idea in the later poem ‘AI Art’, exploring what is now a prominent anxiety around the shifting roles and powers of the artist and creative software. This is a poem less focused on the nature of the imagery being produced than it is on the mechanistic flux at work, highlighted by Lin’s use of constantly shifting verbs, divorced from human interaction or intervention:

Creativity is delegated,
downloaded to the system
Hallucinates images
to graft onto other images.
This visual remixing
continues to generate
after our deaths
And, with an efficiency
we can’t replicate,
we sit back
and let the painting
pixelate. (84–85)

The end result of this dehumanised process is an unnamed work, without feature. This is the last art-focused piece in the book, and it is a telling one. Creativity is outsourced and so too are other human attributes. Lin neatly reinforces the idea that acts of creativity, preservation and dedication cannot be automated. Each experience, painful and joyous alike, must be recognised, decoded and lived in full, and that is what triumphs throughout Infinite Ends.

Siobhan Hodge has a Ph.D. in English literature. Her thesis examined the creative and critical legacy of the ancient Greek poet Sappho. She was winner of the 2017 Kalang Eco-Poetry Award, joint winner of the 2015 Patricia Hackett Prize, and was shortlisted for the 2019 Fair Australia Prize. Her work has been published in numerous places, including Overland, Westerly, Southerly, Cordite, Plumwood MountainPeril, and the Fremantle Press Anthology of WA Poetry. Her chapbook, Justice for Romeo, is available through Cordite Books.

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