For any reader, the familiar offers easy comforts. Finding fresh material can be daunting in the strange avalanche of the new, and perhaps this is also true for poetry. Poets often struggle to be heard, to entrance wary readers and overwhelmed publishers. Caboodle offers a selection of not just two or three poets, but six. Six different worlds in an admirably compact package.
Caboodle opens with Karina Vidler, who writes with a sense of adult secrecy, a mother’s sacred diary in which she reflects on ageing, womanhood and parenthood in a way a teenage girl might describe her high-school woes. Vidler opens up the world of adult uncertainty, where even mothers are not always infallible:
I’m trying very hard to do the decent thing
and like men my own age, ignore their folds of skin.
We are then taken into a quite different world with Gill McEvoy and Russell Jones. McEvoy embeds her poetry in nature and wildlife, exploring the many experiences of life from life-threatening illness to the light heartedness of two hearts in the throes of young love. Despite the slings and arrows which we may have to endure, McEvoy reminds us that we have the privilege to experience all that life has to offer. Rich, painterly, and perhaps deceptively simple, oriental-inflected imagery is a feature of her verses – two lovers in a relationship caught in the line “Larks and owls love different weather”. Jones offers a similar tone, showing us a very human side of the night, with the activities of pub-goers, rioters, a worried parent and of siblings fascinated by their mother’s books.
I sit watching the lives of others, fan
whirring, reeling in the sweaty cling of life.
Voyeuristic in manner, Jones allows us to step into the lives of the faces in the crowd.
As the collection progresses, it acquires a significantly darker quality with Kate Garrett’s work. Garrett’s poems never shy away from the complexities of womanhood, from forbidden love to ritual killing, and approaches the issue of how women live today:
This image isn’t
me. This woman is just a suggestion.
Angela Croft brings a much more personal experience to the table, each poem diving into a different time, a different scene. Croft opens up in a way that seems almost autobiographical, showing a complex vulnerability and personal hardships. One minute has Croft describing “the golden dust that sweetens the Nilgiri Air” and the next “how he beat you black and blue”. These paradoxes illustrate a beautiful surface albeit with a very dark underbelly.
The collection concludes with the work of Rafael Miguel Montes, whose poems stand in stark contrast to the others featured. Montes is brutally honest in his writing, approaching subjects that many would shun. He tackles them with clarity and intent. Without any kindly preamble, the poet describes his struggles with obesity, and is remorseless in his analysis of how his addiction to food affects his life:
Sugar and starch and chocolate and grease
won’t stop the loss of my dad’s kidney.
The struggles, the disintegration of family and the realities of conflict between loved ones also play a major role :
Now we are only together at wakes.
We dress drab and pretend to like each other.
Monte’s works are powerful, often core-shakingly so, as he delves into real and sometimes ugly human weaknesses.
Powerful from start to finish, Caboodle’s sprinkling of light-heartedness with harsh realities will offer any reader fresh avenues of thoughts and sounds. Brett Evans at Prole has done much to promote the work of exciting, early career poets, and he is to be commended again for his editorship of this brilliant anthology.