Anne Kellas: 'The White Room Poems' (June 2015)

If all words, all images vanish, what do we have left? Not poetry, perhaps, but we still have humanity with all its potential interactions; we still have emotion; we still have knowledge. The most difficult task for a poet is to avoid the mere transmission of thoughts, ideas, knowledge, emotion, even wisdom. Such essential components of our common humanity, universally pervasive as they might be, are not art. The art of poetry is not made up of them. Too often, the attempt to incorporate into poetry great themes, whether of intense personal relevance or of more global concern, fails because the “content” (to bow briefly to the simplistic binary terms of “content” and “form”) is too heavy to be supported. That is why the vast majority of love songs are rubbish, why in memoriam newspaper columns and greeting cards are so cringeworthy, why most national anthems are laughable in terms of their lyrics.

Anne Kellas has overcome this problem. The White Room Poems have as their starting point, as I indicated, the most intense grief, they also respond to a number of other triggers; close observation of the natural world is one. Of course, Dante Gabriel Rossetti famously demonstrated how grief leads to such observation in his song “The Woodspurge”. Another is a keen desire to explore how one’s own mind processes a multitude of inputs. This is all extremely weighty material. And yet, far from collapsing under the weight, far, even, from giving the impression of weight, these poems rise with a remarkable sense of lightness while simultaneously conveying the density and intensity of the emotion at their core.

And this is where we get back to the words. They do vanish as far as the reader is concerned, because in reading the poetry we are not conscious of them intruding. This is because they are so aptly chosen and arranged, so finely crafted. It would be using a glib and inadequate metaphor to say that the structure which is supporting the heavy emotional load is delicately and intricately engineered the better to function in that way, but that is part of the case. The relationship is in reality more subtle, more complex because the language elements are part of the whole meaning. Poetry is not of the same linguistic nature as, say, a shopping list. So, as the words vanish, they remain.

There is a lot more I could say about this amazing, powerful book. I shall conclude by noting that on page 13 Anne quotes Robert Adamson, “We slide into the new / century through glass” and adds, “If only I’d said that.” That was my response to each line of The White Room Poems. I congratulate Walleah Press for publishing it, Merridy Pugh for the wonderful design (incorporating the Giles Hugo photograph on the cover) the Australia Council for the Arts for supporting its development, but most of all Anne for having the courage, the perception, the wisdom and the immense skills to write it. I am honoured to be launching it and I fervently commend it to you all.

Tim Thorne, launching ‘The White Room Poems’; Launceston, 12th February 2016.