Reviewed by Beatriz Copello
Source: Compulsive Reader www.compulsivereader.com/2022/03/12/a-review-of-local-by-anna-couani
Jon Anderson in Understanding Cultural Geography: Places and Traces, Routledge, 2015 said: “Places come by their meanings and identities as a result of the complex intersections of culture and context that occur within that specific location.” Local, a fascinating book of poetry by the well-known artist and poet Anna Couani is about place. Place in Couani’s poetry is about Sydney and the Inner City and she has the knowledge, the experiences and the connection to allow us to say that she has a ‘sense of place’. That sense of place not only stems from the poet but also from her parents and grandparents’ experiences, memories and attachments. The poem “Earliest Memories” is a clear example of subjective memories or using the cliché ‘walking in her ancestors’ shoes:
my earliest memories of Glebe my parents’ memories of first meeting at Sydney Uni studying medicine my father recruiting Mum for the Labor Club bastion of progressive politics a heady mix of ideology and romance Mum lived with her sister in as rooming’ house in Arundel Street run by Miss Sherack, the hoarder of Depression era handkerchiefs, men’s underwear and walks common Glebe pastime walk to the city, walk to Paddington walks through the Uni especially my own feet trading the same footpaths 30 years later down all the way to the water
Anna Couani’s artwork illustrates local. Her life as an artist is also married to her poetry, evident in many of her poems. The joy of mixing with other inner-city writers and artists is also apparent in the poetry as is the fact that artists and poets are never too far from politics. The past of the inner city, how it was and how it is, is brought to light … nostalgia? … loss? … anger? is all made clear in the following excerpt from the poem titled “ibis sanctuary”:
the ibis sanctuary was there before the new excavation started and before that there were ugly two-storey flats and before that there were workers’ cottages before that it was an ibis sanctuary
Couani, in her entertaining narrative poetry, sees, reflects, describes, ponders and imagines. Vivid images, poignant lines, and a sense of balance moves the reader from place to place. The poet gives a voice to images. It impressed me how she is able to bring the personal into the poetry without sentimentality. The following poem titled “the flats in Leichhardt Street” illustrates this but also the strength and determination of the writer:
escaped from family trauma dropped out of Uni, age 20 out of 4th year Architecture a soft landing with my gentle partner in hard places finally found the flat with the dark blue lounge room just near the old mansion down in Leichhardt Street that wound down to the water turning off Glebe Point Road exactly where the taxis do a U-turn as I had done three years before driving taxis out of the Red Deluxe depot in Kings Cross
The last poems in the book are titled “ideas for novels” and go from 1 to 10. In these poems the reader enters moments, fragments of time, the land, life and culture. In local Couani gives a voice to images and place, she is an observer, a witness, the reader will be absorbed in her poetry. local is a ‘must read’!
About the reviewer Dr Beatriz Copello is a former member of NSW Writers Centre Management Committee, writes poetry, reviews, fiction and plays. The authors poetry books are: Women Souls and Shadows, Meditations At the Edge of a Dream, Under the Gums Long Shade, and Lo Irrevocable del Halcon (In Spanish), fiction books are A Call to the Star and Forbidden Steps Under the Wisteria. Copello’s poetry has been published in literary journals such as Southerly and Australian Women’s Book Review and in many feminist publications. She has read her poetry at events organised by the Sydney Writers Festival, the NSW Writers Centre, the Multicultural Arts Alliance, Refugee Week Committee, Humboldt University (USA), Ubud (Bali) Writers Festival.