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ESTHER OTTAWAY

Review: Kristen Lang's 'let me show you a ripple'

published 2007


Pick up Kristen Lang’s book and your hands will report that you are holding something special. Your fingertips will be drawn to play over the textures of the satin cover stock, embossed lettering, and smooth gloss varnish on a cover image of intriguing colour and texture (is it tree bark? is it water?) Next you will flip it open, and see dotted amongst the poems a collection of photographs from the natural world, in fact mainly from Lang’s immediate world of north-west Tasmania, with titles such as dear affection and cloud-bodied woman. She thus announces that her first collection of poetry is, not merely text on a page, but a complex and inviting sensory experience.

This is an elegant, participatory book. The production values have tremendous appeal; the photographs, particularly of natural details, are enjoyable in their own right. The book resists simple illustration of its poems, choosing instead a flowing placement of words and images which allow for imaginative opening-up of meanings and relationships.

Many of the photos have the poignancy of good poetry, often playing in the tension between abundance and loss. There is frost and sunlight on the leaves, that sense of the day’s coming and going. There are moments of experience which will never be repeated: that cloud pattern, that ripple on the river.

Jill Jones has said of her work "she writes the textures of landscapes and relationships… there is a sense of deep connection between the body and the land."

That awareness of the dreamy, the transitory, shows in the subjects and style of Lang’s writing. In let me show you a ripple you will find poems of love, of loss, of language play, of portraiture and self portraiture, of subtle humour – as in the poem Postcards:

*             Atoms in the in-breath swap electrons with particles from the
body’s cells; Cass exhales and bits of her begin the journeys
she’s always dreamed about.

And from Five Ways to Respond to Your Therapist:

I tell her I have an image of a red BMW.
And I own a wheelbarrow… Where can that take me?
                         Cancelling the next session, I
        paint it blue.

There is much language and typographical play in Lang’s work, often to excellent effect. Here I reproduce in full the two-voiced love poem, duet:

swapping instruments, each of us swapping instruments each
becomes the other of us becomes and the relief what emerges is the
possibility as one more of forming reason reasons to not stay together to
carry on, all very exciting. I play play like she he plays, and we grow
we fall apart, in love, thinking each thinking each of us has changed
knows the other; there’s no we’d never more swapping; swap back; we
both feel we both feel… it’s a mark of sorrow in the deep need for
love love.

There are poems unafraid to turn chilling or unsettling, as in the 7 part poem Insomnia (yet even here humour triumphs).

The book’s title is taken from the poem Narcissus:

…When asked how he was, he would reply,
"Let me show you a ripple"

and he would explain how
sometimes he saw trees

speaking words into starlight; once
he felt a rock shiver against his side…

And poems unafraid of death or matters of the body; from anniversary:

        he doesn’t choose to come inside.
   we are walled in with the living.
we remember him through the dust

    stirred from the window panes
of her rice-paper eyes

As a whole, let me show you a ripple is an experience of the tremulous, the emergent; the telling detail; the microcosm which reflects the tensions of the world.

It’s a cause for celebration to see poetry presented so well, especially when the dollar is a major factor in small press or self-published production. Lang’s goal was always to make a book that would be attractive to a non-poetry audience as well as poetry readers.

It’s worth noting that Lang stuck to her original vision of production values for this book, winning and eventually rejecting a grant deal with a major publisher because it would have meant compromising on production.

Kristen Lang is a fine Tasmanian poet and artist, with the guts to take a financial risk in order to present her poetry well to us, the readers. let me show you a ripple is well deserving of buyer support.