Chinna, Nandi. The Future Keepers. Fremantle: Fremantle Press, 2019. RRP $24.99 . 112pp. ISBN: 9781925591842
A penetrating awareness of the natural world is at the forefront of the concerns explored in Nandi Chinna’s poetry collection The Future Keepers, published by Fremantle Press. The poems revolve around an intensely personal exploration of identity and environment, one fusing with the other to reveal an individual who cares deeply about the destruction of the natural world and does something about it. The poems, nearly all written in the first person, allow a discerning exploration of the importance of preserving what is left of our landscape for future communities and individuals. This exploration is enabled by the immediate presence of the author/persona and their clear voice in every poem. In some instances, it feels as if Chinna has totally immersed herself in the environment, ‘becoming tuart, balga, marri’ (40). These native trees define her.
The title, The Future Keepers, implies that we have a duty to care for our environment, and through doing so, maintain the possibility of a future for new generations. Chinna puts herself on the line, defending the Beeliar Wetlands from destruction with her physical presence opposing the bulldozers, ‘The riot squad yelling MOVE, MOVE / but my feet have become stones cemented into the tarmac.’ (34) Her poems are also on the line, shaming the pages of government reports with the actualities of the impact and damage they inflict. Juxtaposed with tables that ‘bow under piles of reports’ are ‘swamp harriers’ that ‘hover and plunge into reed beds’ and with all ‘the assessments, appendices’ justifying the action of the government, ‘the ngoolyark arrives to alight on nothing’ (30). Such simple comparisons highlight the fact that with the destruction of habitat, no matter how well justified by data, the native animals and birds lose everything.
These poems are lyrical in form, largely composed of quatrains and couplets yet somehow not bound by tight rhyme schemes or rigid structure. Combined with plenty of enjambment, the rhythms of the poems are fluid, organic, resembling one’s thoughts.
Spreading from ember to hands
heat enters through the mouth, raining
sparks that ignite the eyes (58)
Later in the text, this lyric mode allows for the often painful contemplation of the self through reflection about what elements contribute to identity. In a section titled ‘The Climacteric’, Chinna moves into the personal, which embraces this style.
Hunched into the shoulder of a
ache pulled to the bone, I lie awake
replaying each abandoned moment. (65)
The latter half of the collection is focused on identity and private experience. ‘The Climacteric’, ‘In Search of My Ancestors’ and ‘Quiet’ contain poems that all seem to be searching for understanding of the self, how it was formed, where it came from and where it belongs. Reference to family loss, memories, special places and special people inhabit the poems and despite Chinna’s controlled and restrained use of language, deep emotion wells up filtering through the sometimes mundane details. In ‘Ladies’, she crosses a street, her mother’s hand holding on tight.
only I am her youngest daughter
gripping her arm as we navigate
our way through time reversing. (88)
Guiding her mother is a role reversal and made poignant through the final line. In something as simple as sighting a banksia cone discovered across the world in Cambridge, ‘a hot wind stirs in the cage of her chest igniting flames, / divining swamp water’ (99). Within these seed pods are carried sharp, painful connections to home.
The final lines of many of the poems carry weight. They throw into perspective the preceding thoughts. Some of these are bleak, ‘I feel a great disappointment in the world’, others full of yearning,
I’m awake to a place,
before horses, to a language I can’t speak,
signs I can’t read, the Miriwong
country I cannot know (104)
while some are simply beautiful, ‘all across the island stones begin to sing’ (100). Chinna includes imagery that is potent and powerful, ‘showering stones into my dreams’ (107) and ‘The memory palace becomes a sponge / the world seeps into’ (84). Such images force the reader to contemplate the world around them with more depth and concern as they become aware of how important the future is for all of us. We should do something about it.
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.