Anastasi, Amanda. The Inheritors. North Fitzroy: Black Pepper Publishing, 2021. RRP: $24.00, 70pp, ISBN: 9780648038788.
‘You cannot live without what you’ve destroyed’ (47)
The Inheritors opens with the promise of new beginnings, with the poem ‘Newcomer’. Here, Amanda Anastasi describes a child who will experience ‘no freer moment than this’, a freshness of being, of perceiving ‘before / indoctrination begins its sly, steady seep’ (3). So too are described the ‘expectations’ sewn into the child’s birth. But are we talking about the weight of global warming, put off and delegated to future generations? Or are we speaking of the normalcies that form human consciousness, the mental ‘steps that will tread too carefully to invite / epiphany’ (3)?
This need for an inner change of perception or realisation is a theme in Anastasi’s work—it must happen before outer transformation can come. After being flagged in the first poem and continued throughout, it appears most perceptibly in ‘Household Chores’, where we are encouraged to ‘Vacuum up […] niggling doubts’ and to ‘Keep the cobwebs on the walls rather than in your thinking’ (18). In ‘Koala Holds Up Traffic’, a stray koala attracts attention on a road from families in four-wheel drives. After ‘photo snaps / and Facebook Live narrations’, the koala returns ‘to the retreating forest’, while ‘The people / re-enter their cars, turn on playlists and continue’ (6). The word ‘continue’ is telling here. What are the people continuing? Their fog? Or their disconnect, between a chance sighting of a cute koala on the road and the welfare of the ‘retreating forest’ and all its creatures?
In this collection, Anastasi suggests that our current stage of evolution—or devolution—requires constant vigilance against apathy, for while we may be currently ‘assuming permanence’, we must always stay wary of ‘the bell that will end play’, for every one of us is simply a ‘temporary god’ on this earth, a ‘cupped spider’ trapped between the scorching sky and our final resting place, the earth (3). Our ultimate fragility as a human species is laid bare, cutting through our denial with gentle yet precise use of language. Later, in ‘Monostich VI: Prophecies’, the point is put to us more forcefully, in the line ‘The ocean is holding the weight of our apathy’ (55). We are now at a stage where denial is no longer a viable option, as the poet observes, ‘The fence sitter has no choice but to descend the planks’ (54).
There are warning signs to fence-sitting scattered throughout The Inheritors, and these manifest as turning points that perhaps we will never recover from. For instance, in ‘Monostich I: The Turn’, Anastasi writes, ‘The bats are hanging, awake during the day’ (5). The same warning is there in the theme of alienation in the book, which connects to that fog and the one small koala on the road. In ‘Parameters’, the narrator admits they ‘navigate this place / like a temporary lodger’ as ‘this is the closest thing to home’ (7). The rupture between humans and the earth is also expressed in the final monostich of the book: ‘Nature gapes at us, the aliens’ (57).
It must be said that the monostich poems in the collection are extremely well crafted. Their tone brings together a mixture of empathy, care, a documentation of what is and may come and a stark, gentle matter-of-fact voice that never strays into the lands of preaching. These poems are also delivered with exactitude, which, given the vast subject matter of this collection, is no mean feat. Climate change, so potentially and currently devastating in its impacts, is hard to write about because of this, and because it’s so darn important too. But in doing so this book becomes part of that inner change mentioned earlier, in which we see ‘Above the mask, eyes that are rethinking’ (52).
According to Anastasi, we are not just alienated from nature; we are also estranged from other humans. In ‘Summer’:
Pedestrians pass each other,
faces pressed into a mix of doubt
and agitation at the idea
of human proximity. (43)
Similarly, in ‘Lady Returned’, a future-human refunds a robot companion, for they can’t stand ‘the daily company of remoteness’ that even ‘realistic softness technology’ cannot abate (37). This collection seems to point at something deeply wrong in our psychologies—a reason for all the madness. In ‘After the Flood’, an undertaker notes that ‘It is not the bareness of post-life, but the daily disregard / of the still breathing, that bolts him upright in his sleep’ (36).
I think the power of Anastasi’s collection is that it doesn’t fill in all the gaps, it doesn’t tell you what to think, but rather brings you a collection of facts and fictionalised futures, and says, ‘Here, what are you going to do with that?’ The book is a call to arms, but one that is more effective for being so subtle in acknowledging the complexity of its subject. Anastasi offers a deep understanding of what societal change requires on an individual level. That is what makes this collection so compelling.
You might think, with tragic scenes of ‘flying / foxes, lifeless or starved to motionlessness’ (12), or ‘machines […] making flat newly germinating plants’ (21), that all is lost. But this is not what Anastasi suggests. At different moments, hope is conjured. At one stage, Anastasi pleads for ‘Ideas instead of thoughts. Plans instead of prayers’ (15), demonstrating how a positive, practical and urgent attitude is necessary. The need to work together is highlighted, so we can keep each other honest. She writes, ‘I’ll find room for my hope to rest on yours’, to ‘envisage an alternative present / without the choke in our throats’ (38).
There is one other source of hope, if we can only become quiet enough to hear ‘something akin / to silence: a delicate / hand reaching out, / a pardon, a candid / invitation’ (30). That is, our innate connection to nature, despite our feelings of alienation. We may find this connection when our ego is asleep, ‘when we return to a part / of ourselves we thought we had left behind’ (24). There is such understated beauty in these lines. We are not only monsters, we are also fragile, ugly, vulnerable creatures made of the earth that we now destroy.
Gemma White is a poet living in Melbourne, Australia. Her first collection of poetry, Furniture is Disappearing, was published in 2014 by Interactive Publications. She shares her knowledge of poetry at www.gemmawhite.com.au, where she offers a free 5-day email poetry course. Gemma is currently working on a follow-up manuscript.