REVIEW: Opus by Genevieve McClean

Review by Katherine Wilkinson

Opus by Genevieve McClean (Fat Blossom Ltd) $10 available from Westmere Station

The striking lino-cut self-portrait which graces the cover of Opus is a powerful visual symbol for the poem’s concerns – the difficulty of siting identity, the capricious frailties that make up a life, and how we try to make sense of our selves in an uncertain and changeable world.

McClean is known as a jack of many trades (as well as a poet, she works as a filmmaker and actor) and here she explores the idea of defining your self and your world through creativity. Jumping between times and places, nature becomes a hyperreal backdrop to the story of a transitory, fragmented life which the fallibility of memory and the filter of the lens still into inaction and indecision. Through a series of sharply drawn vignettes and with a discursive style full of incomplete, lingering lines McClean shows us how memory fails (“No wait, an early landscape the Mountains are huger and more craggy than is real”), asking time and again whether reality is as important to us as our interpretation of it. All the while the natural world looms in the background, immortal and impassive (“The birds above the plantation. Wheel”).

There are evocative, tumbling lines which pull you into McClean’s world, (“the sun glints on pond yonder mountain pass”), potent details (“showing dark and supple wrists as they spoke”) and bubbles of humour (“I’m in the very top of the tallest Tree I could find there and I only managed that because I lowered myself gingerly from another one”). On occasion I found the phrasing clumsy, but this is a poem for performance and what works aloud will not always translate well to the page. Ultimately, where the poem works best for me though is in the declamatory statements (“I know that’s not enough”) that cut through the dreamscape to express a truth, all the more affecting for their simplicity.

At the heart of the poem is the struggle of artistic creation, the creation of the art and of one’s self as the artist. Anyone who has ever put pen to paper will feel a flash of an old, old fear when McClean exclaims, “it’s not my house and I’ll be found”. The final line offers the reader fleeting resolution, but McClean leaves us in no doubt that, although in retreat, this is an enemy which will never truly be defeated.

Katherine Wilkinson

Genevieve McClean

Fat Blossom Ltd


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