Gomeroi poet Alison Whittaker’s poetic persona is in turns nimble, cheeky and emotionally honest (sometimes all three at once). However, a political mindfulness stitches the poems of this debut collection together. Walking the line between two cultures, two places (urban/rural) and two languages, such mindfulness is critical, even penetrating the fond but often irreverent poems about her family.
In ‘O, Eureka’ Whittaker explores both the divides and bridges that language has created with her Nan: “And O, / the first time I said / a long white theory word / she yarned stiff to impress me / like, with that word / came authority, and with it, fear”. Contemporary Indigenous politics and identity can be difficult terrain. Without eschewing this complexity, Whittaker uses a combination of vernacular language, experimental syntax and post-colonial sensibility to create poems that are both startling and, dare I say it, fun at times. Alongside this work, sit poems that explore more personal issues, notably queer sexuality, that can occasionally be read as earnest rather than honest: ‘a tired warmth blooms / and from the seams, lavendered domestic hope.’ Nonetheless, I look forward to that which emerges from the seams of Whittaker’s future work.
Lemons in the Chicken Wire is Alison Whittaker’s debut book. Whittaker, the winner of the 2015 black&write! Indigenous Writing Fellowship, is also a Research Assistant in UTS’s Centre for the Advancement of Indigenous Knowledges.