Vivienne Glance’s Speech at the Launch of ‘Straight Lines’ by Sanna Peden
The Moon, 18th August 2018
The title of Sanna Peden’s debut collection, Straight Lines, is intriguing, because although poems consist of words laid out in straight lines, these poems are anything but straight. They are often circular, sometimes multi-dimensional, but always tightly written with precise language and imagery.
Several poems have a low-sky atmosphere, a brooding contemplation of rain, weather, clouds, sun, wind—perhaps as resonances of the poet’s Finnish heritage—and these are effective metaphors of the outdoors, experienced through travel to Britain and elsewhere, as well locations that are clearly Australian. One of these, you could call them site-specific poems—‘The Fremantle Line’—uses a train journey to reflect on our continuing anxieties with the world, and the colonisation of this land. It also is feeling, searching for a sense of place, of belonging, whilst at the same time recognising dispossession.
By often moving from a specific description to a wider contemplation and to end on a question, a kind of “what if?”, Peden draw us into her poems. This technique leaves the reader with space to live with the poem after the final line. She demands more of us than to visit for a brief moment. For example, in ‘development’, a poem that interrogates if one could belong in a certain a place, the specific works very well in the lines:
Will you live here?
Let the years bake you in
Until you’re the only one who understands the P & C filing system. (18)
That simple act of partaking in the world, striving to find a place, expands out into a contemplation of a separation, and a wished for, but it seems not achieved future. Written in the second person, this poem could be the poet talking to herself, or to an unknown other, or perhaps even to the reader. We are left to decide for ourselves.
Politics is present, but with a small ‘p’, that which is personal. The politics of gender is forcefully explored in ‘onion women’, which has a female perspective on life, the female gaze, perhaps. This poem lists women in all their diversity and complexity. It builds a kaleidoscope of images that defies the often-limited views our culture allows of women:
women on playlists and ballot papers
Obituaries and bylines
Women who don’t reduce to inspiration
Nor live up to expectation (34)
There is an intensity to the poems in Straight Lines—an urgency, a need to explore, infiltrate, uncoil, get under the skin of life lived in our times.
In ‘four-letter words’ there is a striving to understand (an important pursuit of poetry), not only an inner life, that personal perspective that helps define identity, but also a wider knowing of what it means to engage with the world, with a loved one, and, in my reading of this poem, to lose that love.
The poem on the very next page, ‘Not a Word’, gets to the point and under the skin, and does so exquisitely in just 14 words. The contrast between these two poems situated one after the other is striking.
Each reader will form their own impressions of the poems in Straight Lines, and their own meanings. To me that is the task of poetry – and this small collection does this beautifully. It leaves holes for us to slip into, spaces in-between, and we will all find our own way.
Vivienne Glance’s poetry collections are The Softness of Water (Sunline Press), and A Simple Rain (Lethologica Press). Other poems are featured in journals and anthologies, including Westerly, Mascara Review, Blue Dog, Text and others.
As a playwright, her plays have been produced in Australia and around the world and many are published with Australian Plays: https://australianplays.org/playwright/ASC-3545
She gained her PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Western Australia where she is currently an Honorary Research Fellow.