To be a poet one needs the six P’s – the pencil, the paper, the perception, the passion, the persistence and the unshakable persuasion that the poem is in fact possible and attainable. - Grace Perry

Friday, July 13, 2012

Linen Tough as History - Julie Chevalier

I have to agree with Michael Sharkey, "I’d like to steal a lot of Julie Chevalier’s ideas, even words. She has an enviable take on the world that makes me wish I’d said half the clever things she says about it" (2012).  

Linen Tough as History hits you with Chevalier's wit right from the first poem. She has an amazing ability to use language and imagery as commentary on contemporary life in Australia. 'ms marbig No. 26 16' jokingly critiques the sexism and misogyny sometimes found in the office. The sound of this poem captures this scene, with the 'click-clacks his documents'. The short lines resonate with the fast pace of office work. The shortness of the poem symbolises not only the female office worker's demise, as her boss is no longer satisfied with her look, which has become old and tired, but I like to think is also a metaphor for the short skirt that the boss desires. She has become:
...past your use-by-date, he
exposes her in public
whips her back into an angry V.
her rust assistants jam
printers, shredders, fax machines
The sexuality of this poem, captured in that 'angry V', exaggerates and emphasises the misogyny of the boss. What a pig!

The second part of this book is a series of ekphrastic poems. 'Untitled (Old woman in bed) 2000' is a poem written in response to Ron Mueck's sculpture. The poem is written in a block shape, a subtle suggestion that Chevalier is not an admirer of this sculpture. There is nothing gentle and fluid about the shape of the poem and there is nothing gentle about the content of her poem as she concludes:
Whose family does she belong to anyway? Why are
they  letting  her  die in an art gallery? Whoever they
are,  they are not taking care of her properly. I hope
she  is  buried  in  art  storage  before  my  next visit.

Chevalier makes some interesting commentary on the social media and online language of the 21st century, for example in her poem 'droughts and close shaves at the cross':
that's not my real name that's my user name
said pirate waiting for his zane to get a trim.
for when you use people?
for when I use.
bald (bad)ie picked up a com(b)ic
put on his eye patch...
 Here we have a play on the concept of user names, in this case 'pirate' a sly, untrustworthy character. I looked up the word 'zane' which the urban dictionary defines as:
1. Zane

A badass rugged mother fucker who gets ALL them bitches.
Dude, Zane's a badass, he boinked like 5 chicks in the same night
3. zane

Highly intellectual male with enormous hair and little or no social skills. Has relationships bordering on homo erotic with his red headed friends. Admired by the ladies due to his rugged and hairy good looks supposedly enormous genitalia. All round nice guy.
(Friend) Hey is Zane coming to the pub tonight? He is so cool.
(Girl): Oh my God you mean THE Zane. He is such a stud.

I quite like this third definition and like to think that that is what Chevalier intended for the word. As for 'combic' I believe that this is an acronym for Combined Obscuration Model for Battlefield Induced Contamination. Again, I am only guessing that this is what Chevalier intended. If it I am right though, the poem starts with an awkward guy, lost in the world of gaming, or is he merely a sexually driven young man interested in comics? The poem then moves on to describe a small town - 'barbequed bats like sneakers / on power lines', the heat, the small barber desperate for the rain - 'hair grows faster when its raining. The heat and dryness of the town is made real in Chevalier's imagery.
There are so many more poems that I could write about, but I think I will leave it at that for today. Please for anyone who has read this book comment what you thought of it and perhaps your reading of one or more of her poems. There is so much going on in her poetry from the political, as Puncher & Wattman point out, to the ekphrastic poems and her "fresh and feisty" commentary on "...contemporary tensions between the cosmopolitan and parochial, stretching from Sydney down the escarpment to Wollongong" (Keri Glastonbury - comment on back cover of Chevalier's book).

You can check at Chevalier's web page at You can purchase the book at

1 comment:

  1. Lovely post, Rhiannon. It's fascinating – and instructive – how very differently you and I responded to this book.