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KEVIN GILLAM

Launch speech, 'The Roof Milkers' by Anna Maria Weldon

SunLine Press 2008 - Gallows Gallery Perth; 21st June, 2008


I first met Anna Maria when she was a participant in my Writing Marathon classes on Saturday afternoons at Tom Collins' House. A Writing Marathon, as the name suggests, is a long, in this case 4 hours, session in which I throw a selection of ideas - words, music, feathers, etc. - at the gathering and they respond to each with word. For most people, the energy over an afternoon, the inspirational juices, tend to dry up as we progress. But not for Anna Maria. No. Every piece of writing she would produce showed care, use of exquisite detail, an ability to see a place or mood very differently, coupled with the imagination to 'sell' that place to us through her poetic craft.

I think it is these three elements that form a tidal pull, a skin of logic that I find in The Roof Milkers.

When I read a collection of poems, an anthology such as this 'born today', I need to feel as though, upon completion, I know the writer a little better, that I've shared something, that she/he has given something of self, laid themselves open to me, gifted some kind of kinship, some thread. But it's not just content here - yes, Anna Maria may have been born and raised in Malta, she seemshave had significant and very deep relationships with places and people, she appears to have a propensity for walking in plazas and market places and experiencing their exotic headiness - all of these, yes, are important, the 'stuff' of the book. But for me it's the lacing of emotional content with patterns and rhythms of diction that bring them close, conjure them real and now, so that yes, I feel the connection between mind/hand/word/eye/mind. The poems then act as a catalyst between author and reader.

This afternoon I'd like to read and examine a few of the poems in The Roof Milkers, starting with 'Ultrasound'.

"Ultrasound"

Rim dwellers, diviners of the abyss,
you scan spaces between sighs,
ventricular vowels and

Foetal heart whisperers who whet
bladed shadows, pronouncing your
magician promises, seers of sharp edges
submarine, warnings word-soft as
water lapped beaches forbidding us
to swim offshore where ocean breathes.

This is a poem that uses the gel of extended metaphor to unify. And the choice of language - "spaces between sighs", "foetal heart whisperers who whet bladed shadows" - these help create the grainy transience of the ultra-sound image. This is a superb example of Anna Maria's considered, brush-stroke like approach to word choice.

"Curled"

Curled in land's belly, beyond the wind, living like
hermits at Inlet's edge, that South Western water-
body's boulders, clouds, reed-fringed wetlands
mirror-gazed our reflections in breathless
shallows, wild Nullaki peninsula
folded like a hinge between
twin skies, our minds
empty as cloisters.

It's a test of any writer when they choose to write about a familiar landscape. Does the imagery evoke, reconfigure, live beyond, succeed in giving us what we know? Yes, this first stanza from 'Curled' works beautifully - I love the "peninsula folded like a hinge" - Anna, can I pinch that line?! We're there, right there, with sun and wind, lifted from the page.

"Dolceamaro"

In Umbria the shutters, he explained,
open only to the inside, are
made always of oak

A five hundred year old disputed
papal tax is why the bread
is still unsalted

Pasta is traditionally flavoured
with precious forest truffles
and roasted wild boar…

This is a poem that demonstrates the alertness of the 'immigrant' or 'traveller' mind. It's this 'awareness of the everythings' - the shutters opening "only to the inside", "unsalted bread". When studying creative writing with Elizabeth Jolley, a student in one of her classes described a room as being full of bric-a-brac. "Never use bric-a-brac" was Elizabeth Jolley's response, "always give detail - tea chest, broken photo frames, for example". It's this attention to detail, the precision of memory and word that Anna Maria uses so well in bringing both image and mood to life.

"Afternoons"

Tired eyes closed to swish of London tyres in sleet
I conjure Nanna's country where shrill cicada scream,
their sudden silence tipping afternoon
empty as clay pot.
Till, in distant field, lone farmer's rhythmic
stroke hits hard earth, arcs metal sky to ground, ground
to sky, dreams dug to sleep to pound of mattock metronome.

This is a wonderful poem, a listener's poem, with the "swish", "shrill scream", "rhythmic drive". The aural world of the poem is with us, speaking beyond the page.

"Even in Memory"

Lunch dishes draining, shutters latched
wooden against glare, low the blue thread
dimly glows kerosene down there between
enameled door, scrubbed flagstone floor

This is a poem that, for me, displays the real depth and conviction in Anna Maria's writing. Here the 'small moment' is examined, "lunch dishes draining", that opening with the seemingly inconsequential, how the reader is drawn in then, "blue thread dimly glows". The poem shifts, embracing "slow fermentations", "steady drips", and "scalded moment". This is the essence of poetry, the tapestry of mind and mood and word and now.

The Roof Milkers, with its broad landscape sweeps, earthy delights, subtle changes of mood from introspection to exultation, has the elements to make a collection. It is a real, honest, well-crafted, beautiful collection. And to quote from the book itself, it is "a companionship that revives me". I wish it well and commend it to all readers here and beyond.