Launch: Kathryn Lomer's 'Extraction of Arrows'

                                                                                    University of Queensland Press
                                                                                     4th Sept 2003: Hobart

The title of Kathryn Lomer's book Extraction of Arrows refers literally in the poem of the same title, to oregano, the herb which "...eases the pain of childbirth /or extraction of arrows." As a collective title it might allude metaphorically to the whole miscellany of pain and suffering which life deals out. Many of the poems are courageously confronting as they contemplate the darker feelings of aloneness, longing, disillusion.

But this is a book of opposites and extremes, and always, running counter to pain is celebration, humour and wry philosophical detachment. The title and mood of the poem 'No use crying', taken of course, from the proverb 'no use crying over spilt milk', embodies this position of detachment entirely. Invariably Kathryn Lomer's poems, having examined an emotion, come back to a point of clarity and separation from the self. 'I am a passing phase/ whose slow time beguiles./ I am something from nothing.' p34.

In 'Love As An Electro-Chemical Event', after the sensual and poetic evocation of a sexual encounter, the narrator concludes,

               'For truth is as
               elusive as the engram
               which commits our mind to memory'.

In another poem, 'Sundays', meditating on her mother's death while swimming laps in a pool, breathing 'in, out, in, out,/ so simple it seems until it stops', the narrator concludes with breathtaking candour 'Sorry? I was elsewhere./I said, makes you feel alive, doesn't it?'

Aliveness is what these poems are about. They meet life head on in a dextrous heightened blend of the sensual, the emotional and the philosophical. The biology of life is contemplated too; there is that image of the fertilised human egg under the microscope, as a bright ceramic Aegean plate, or the human genome 'eight hundred bibles long.'

In some of the poems, a lovely humour operates, often running counterpoise to adversity. The way in which the Irish grandfather is described in the poem 'Limerick's Sons', is a good example of this

               He was mocked and hailed, as the chosen are
               but he was a love-learned boy whose aphrodisiac
               innocence honeyed his way into scented sheets
               and delivered me a grandfather. Oh, the miss
               and hittery of it, the snatchery of love, with its tattle-tale
               offspring who grow into men. Life, my grandfather
               used to say, is a bubble in a bath. Crying's no good,
               you've gotta laugh.

This poem demonstrates two things evident in much of Kathryn Lomer's work: the sheer pleasure she derives from words - their sounds, their sensuality, their playfulness. Thematically too, the notion of chance, the 'miss and hittery' of life recurs through the book. Here, as a chance conception, other times, a chance conversation on a bus, chance meetings, chance loves, life's randomness. Sometimes she speculates and then echews the impulse to ponder what might have been, as in the poem about the boy in a coma whose chewing gum lodged in his trachea. The title of this poem, 'Ifs and Ands', also borrowed from an old proverb, might well be the title of the book.

In the poem, 'Memory Map', chance again is central. This time, as the moment in which death is faced. These are memorable lines:

               One day your grandfather hears his death
               come whistling along fencewires
               strained like him to breaking point
               and, having parceled his life into paddocks,
               dies in them, instead of a loved-one's arms.

Lomer's poems have a capacity to fuse the physical, the emotional and the lexical in what is ultimately an erotic celebration of the word. One of the things I like best about these poems is the way in which they take pleasure in words, words become charged vehicles of life, not separate from life but an extension of it. In many poems, language becomes an extension of the body too. And the body is often present as subject.

In 'Everyday Ophelia', probably my favourite poem in the book, a mother, lying in the bath, is joined by her infant. This poem is a marvellous celebration of the present moment in which the mother speaker is literally and metaphorically immersed with her child. For exuberance and release from the trappings of all but the present, the elated humour of the final lines are wonderful.

This is an author who came to poetry relatively recently - only a couple of years ago, but who produced prize-winning works as soon as she began. She now has prestigious prizes to her name such as the Josephine Ulrich and the Gwen Harwood among others. This is not to mention her successes as an author of fiction, long and short. She has also published articles of non-fiction. The ABC has bought one of her radio plays, Playworks is working on another. It might be easy to say that she is making up for lost time. But this would be misguided. So far from making up lost time, Kathryn's writing gives rich and literary expression to what went before.

(Published Famous Reporter 28, December 2003).