Adrienne Eberhard's poetry collection 'Jane, Lady Franklin'
It requires a certain maturity for a poet to move outside themselves and write from another's perspective and it is even more difficult to shift back almost two centuries (as Eberhard has here) with its sometimes radically different points of view and beliefs. Karen Knight has recently done it very successfully with Under the One Granite Roof, her poems about and through the eyes of Walt Whitman and Jordie Albiston had earlier achieved it with both Botany Bay Document and The Hanging of Jean Lee. By chance, I lived within metres of the house in which Lee and her accomplices tortured and murdered the old bookmaker; I would read a few pages and go out and look at the house; being able to do this was both valuable and eerie. I mention this only because something similar is possible for readers of Eberhard's book, if they live in Tasmania, perhaps specifically Hobart, however such proximity cannot of course be necessary and the poet must manufacture the world in question in such detail that we are transported, both to the place and time. In the case of Eberhard, I think this is achieved to a remarkable degree; dividing the collection into "Hobarton", "Port Arthur" and "The Female Factory" helps. If there was one criticism I had of Lee it was that times and places were mixed up; that might be OK for the video clip generation but I prefer Eberhard's approach. Eberhard's language at times is a delight; sometimes she brings to mind past poets of great stature. I can hear Plath in this for example:
"their eyes tight with malice." ("Snakes" p3)
but the image is her own, along with dozens of others. I will give just a couple of examples of her command of the arresting metaphor and image:
"a palmful of freedom." ("Patchwork" p59)
"We are encamped; detained like petty thieves." (Due to constant, heavy rain. "The Overland Trek" p80)
"The beaches are white as piano keys." ("The Overland Trek" p85)
Eberhard does a great job of making a "telling" summation too, when she wants to, when the STORY calls for it.
"..another chance/at life; this dishonest, tragic dance." ("George Augustus Robinson" p53)
and my favourite, Jane's thoughts on Tasmania/Australia near the end of the collection, upon her recall/return to England:
"This country offers no sanctuary:/anything unusual is forced to run; ..." ("Recall/Return" p99)
I believe that, almost overwhelmingly, Eberhard has convincingly taken up the appropriate, believable views and beliefs of the characters (it is a story, and a wonderful reminder of the power of poetry to tell stories; the novel being a comparatively recent invention), the only stage at which I doubted this was in "The River" where Jane says, "... how long until/there are only bones, bleaching?" (p11) where the views of the 21st Century seemed to be intruding. Another criticism, which can probably be made against even the Odyssey (if not the Iliad) is that some sections are not as strong as others ("The Magic of Stones" seemed to lack power, and, well, magic) but overall it is an excellent book and the publishers (BLACK PEPPER) are to be congratulated, including on the production; the cover drawing by Emily Stewart Bowring, "Derwent River & Government House" circa 1858 is above its usual, sometimes muddy offerings. (And how apt that the drawing is by a woman!) I believe that, with this collection, Eberhard has shown herself to be prepared to take risks, an essential quality in a poet who is, as Geoff Page says on the back cover, "... (an emerging) truly substantial poetic talent." She also has the ability to write as if she (and we) are THERE and she does this with her considerable compassion (as in the achingly sad "White Rocks [Suicide Rocks])" onto which boys jumped to their deaths) and by eschewing the use of the all-too-common Teflon images and language of much of today's Australian poetry.