When I lived at Risdon Vale – and Risdon Vale is like Ravenswood a housing department subdivision – I used to catch the bus home.
The bridge was down and it was a longer trip than it might have been otherwise.
Somewhere along the route two dark haired girls would board the bus and they were different from the rest of us on the bus.
They were noticeable.
They were quiet and contained, and they didn’t go to Risdon Vale but got off shortly after crossing the Bailey Bridge and headed up to Old Beach.
One of these girls was Sarah Day.
Now I know everybody here tonight catches a West Launceston bus now and then in the hope that they may be sharing it with Tim Thorne but looking back I reckon that it was pretty special to share the bus with this writer, this poet.
Apart from the fact that I read Johnny I Hardly Knew You by Edna O'Brien I remember little else about those trips.
From the beginning of reading Grass Notes I thought about those times and wondered if Sarah collected material from riding on the bus across the Derwent River, whether some of the poems had their genesis then.
I suspect the answer is yes – Sarah would have been what we may call "at an impressionable age" but I also know it could only have been a small phase in the lifelong collection of material that contributes to this poet having a fine voice, an acute eye and a powerful message.
Being given a book of poems to read – to launch – is different from being asked to read a poem.
Grass Notes like lots of collections of verse has a tone and the reader swims through this tone stroke by stroke - poem by poem.
The whole collection has a feel but it is the poems, one by one, that make me say ‘ah!’ aloud after the last line.
Each poem has its own setting, its own unique quality, its own story or message or theme yet there is a commonality that requires the book to be taken as an achievement as well as it being necessary to see what each poem has achieved.
I think it is the sign of a mature, accomplished poet that the poems successfully collaborate with one another within the pages of Grass Notes for the book to be a statement, an achievement.
In this book some themes run through the text joining one poem to another, some words are common and shared between poems, so that as you work through the text, page after page, there is both an incremental and expediential satisfaction and enjoyment in consuming all of Grass Notes.
Of course in a poem you have individual lines, phrases and even single words that are all skilfully selected and placed together to enforce high level cerebral activity that is both the challenge and the union between the reader and the author, between the poet and her audience.
I can suggest lines to you –
In Observations about Rain 2
These drops thud like water bombs on the warm concrete’
Or the last line of Spring Morning
A hen allows itself the luxury of a slow blink.’
I can tell you Sarah turns the everyday into the special - the spectacular: the poem Present Time has a fruit tree pruner, the narrator thinking about
time and the repetitious effect years of pruning
happening on bright sparkling brilliant day;
so bright you blink reading the lines.
I can tell you some of the poems are wonderful stories: Biology Class is one such story – the class is inhabited by ‘Ms’, the teacher, and the poem swings partially on the wonderful word pluck – a sheep’s pluck.
My reaction was to squirm and it wasn’t an ‘ah’ poem but an ‘err’ poem.
And in finishing this recommendation, this launch, I would like to mention the poem 'Swift Parrots' which begins,
Somewhere on someone’s desk, there’ll be a map of these quiet hills
This took me back to a story Helen Gee told me that she had taken a map of ‘these quiet hills’ into John
Gay’s office and pointed out to Mr Gay that an intended road through a forest was not necessary and just further vandalism.
It remains intended and as yet unbuilt.
But: was Sarah in the room when Helen was telling me this? No.
Did Helen tell her the same story? I don’t know.
I suspect that this line, this poem, is the product of a lifetime of careful observation both by eye and by heart and the skill to sculpt words in black ink onto white paper, so that we the reader (or listener as the case may be) will revisit these words many times and share many times in the genius that is the craft of Sarah Day.
That tonight and for many nights over many years the air will absorb the little sounds of satisfaction produced by the readers of these poems.
These Grass Notes.
I encourage you to take Grass Notes on and experience the thrills for yourselves.
CLIVE TILSLEY established his first bookshop - Twelvetrees - in Sandy Bay, Hobart in 1980. He closed Twelvetrees on buying Fullers Bookshop in Hobart.