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Wings of the Same Bird

Lorraine McGuigan


Wings of the Same Bird is an impressive collection grown from the mythological idea linking birds and the human world with divine realms just beyond ordinary experience.

The collection was the Winner of the IP Picks 09 Best Poetry Award.

The poems connect birds with the journey of the human soul after death, representing them as primeval, cosmic, legendary, as messengers of the deities, symbols of war, death and misfortune, but also as profound harbingers of strength, love and wisdom.
The poetry collection also handles grief from an objective, elevated and (excuse the pun) ‘bird’s eye’ perspective.

ISBN 9781921479359 (PB)

Poetry, 80pp, 2009

AUS$25

USD $18
NZD $28 GBP £12

EUR €14

9781921869778 (eBk)

AUD $8

USD $8
NZD $10 GBP £6

EUR €7

Reviews

This collection by Lorraine McGuigan was the winner of IP Picks 2009 Best Poetry Award.  The collection is divided into two sections: Part 1: ‘Wings’ and Part 2: ‘Of the Same Bird.’

You are in a safe pair of hands with Lorraine McGuigan.   She provides civilized, thoughtful, well-formed poems without perplexities – poems that do not take risks, yet deliver a balanced criticism of life.  Many of the poems have been previously published and they confirm her ability as a sound poet who will never let you down, although they may astonish with moments of recognition.  Her poems have the virtues of good prose – clarity and imagery that support a clear line of argument.  She puts into accessible words what many people feel.

Consider the first poem, “Golden Lily,” which is based on “To The Edge Of The Sky,” a memoir by Anhua Gao.  The poem is about looking at a showcase full of “wide-sleeved robes heavy / with gold and silver thread” but what catches the poet’s eye is a small satin shoe.  The poet recalls what she knows about the ceremony of foot-binding which took place in China.  The imagery begins with the robes but then talks about the child with “perfumed feet,” “folded toes,” “the crack of fine bones,” “foul seepage” and “pleated flesh.”  While these are searing images, you could say, poetic, the language never soars.  Yet the message is clear and exceptional and will resonate with many people.

In an admirable poem about a visit to Beijing, “Taste of Beijing: Sweet and Sour,” the theme is linked with memories and reflections about street people, food and the contrast between poverty and the beautiful dancer at an evening concert.  She concludes,

     Fluid
 in every limb she’s quickly upside

 down, doing the splits, her body
 a perfect T.  Unbidden,

 a skateboard comes to mind,
 its eternal passenger, limbs fixed.

In “A Taste of Sudan,” she tells of a man called David and his escape from a place of captivity through a sewer pipe, where he was “Baptized in the waste / of fellow prisoners.”  In another poem, “Bird-Bath,” about her mother collecting bird feathers, she evokes the budgies kept in the sunroom.  The images are conventional though pleasing, “Seventy years on, this feather: a Pardolote perhaps, / hovering in frigid air, leaving just / a little of itself, for me.”  This is bravely honest in that it touches on the way someone else’s love of birds can sharpen one’s own senses.

McGuigan is at her best when she approaches experience obliquely, for example, projecting herself into the experience of the beekeeper in “Summer’s End,” or into her Uncle Mac’s experience of losing his leg during the war in the poem “Uncle Mac’s Leg:

 Cursing the tangle of leather straps, the shoulder
 harness keeping the brute in place, he throws
 the leg down one Anzac Day.  Beats it till his stick
 snaps.  And weeps.

A fine poem about a man cradling a child killed in an air strike, “Struck,” avoids the tendency to tell rather than show in a tightly composed poem with its control of a sensitive subject:

 Screams hang on desert air, float
 in through windows of sleep

 Nothing can quiet the air.
 Land sinks under the weight.

This final reference to children screaming leaves the reader startled and pondering the futile loss of innocent life during times of war.

The second section opens with the poem “Rainbow (2003),” perhaps suggesting the poet’s love of birds.  Here nature is raw: it’s below zero, the grass is frosted, there’s ice on the bird bath.  The first stanza is about taking the ice from the bird bath so that birds can drink and bathe, and the second is about a “passing lorikeet” dipping its plumes in the water.  The camera is found, but it’s too tale for the bird has flown.  The poet’s attempt to capture the wild is frustrated.  “Coffee for one on the terrace” focuses on a loved one who has spent weeks in intensive care and she wishes to help him,

  Your eyes closed
 against the struggle of it all.

 I’d furnish you with fabulous
 wings, fly you away, and flesh

 warmed by a benevolent sun
 we’d take coffee on the terrace.

Though her work is consistently well-crafted and true to experience, the final lines quoted here show how it can also be illuminated by flashes of inspiration that get to the heart of the situation and character she is describing.  Throughout this section one is presented with family, friends and acquaintances, all of whom are portrayed by the poet with an eye for telling detail.  Consider the small granddaughter who “wants to know yet again about dying.”  (“Signs”).  In another poem she sees herself comforted by her husband where “Our daughters lift / your arms curving them / gently around me” (Coupling”).  The poet is prompted to say in “The Tasting” “Receiving the ashes, I am unprepared.  How could they be so heavy.”  The persona McGuigan projects is that of someone who has led a wonderful and interesting life, surrounded by love and affection.

However, McGuigan can also deal convincingly with difficult issues.  In “Turning back the clock” she writes about someone who has lost a loved one:

    Always

 the punctual one, he kept time
 as though life depended on it.
 Clocks never slow or fast.

 On a whim their bedroom clock
 remains untouched: a challenge
 for him, wherever he now is.

Many of the poems in this section deal with memories and other domestic themes.  In “Remembering,” for instance,

 A business card arriving in our box:
 white, black-edged, blank.  And now
 you are (whisper the word) dead I
 wonder was it Death’s calling card?

And in “Time,” the persona discovers that

 On his bedside table he has left
 The Dictionary of Time, final chapter
 unread.  It waits for the bookmark
 
 to be slipped aside, then a smoothing
 of the page as was his practice.

McGuigan ensures that by and large the reader’s interest is held, as in the final poem “Traveller” where she talks about the “smooth travelling / as you row the spaces between us.”  An unpretentious and honest writer, McGuigan’s overriding concern is to write about what she has felt and understands.  At her best, she achieves an impressive universality.

– Patricia Prime, Another Lost Shark

 

 

Born in Melbourne, 1932, Lorraine McGuigan grew up in Sydney. Due to her mother’s illness she left school aged thirteen to care for her baby sisters. In 1954 she hitchhiked around Europe; in London later that year she met her future husband, Kevin; they settled in Melbourne.

When the youngest of their six children started school, Kevin persuaded her to do an arts degree at Deakin University. After graduating with majors in literature and philosophy, Lorraine joined the Wednesday Writers; in time her short stories were published and received awards. She held the Margaret Hazzard Short Story Trophy in 2000 and 2002.

In 1995 Lorraine attended the Monash University workshop and when Dr Lyn Hatherly moved to Queensland she asked her to take over as leader of the group and to also edit the journal, Poetry Monash. Lorraine has continued in both roles ever since. In 1998, a Sue Nicholson scholarship provided a memorable nine-day stay at the Wollongong University poetry workshop.

Lorraine has read her poetry at Melbourne venues like Molly Bloom’s, Melbourne Poets Union, The Dancing Dog and The Society of Women Writers (Vic); also in Ballarat, Castlemaine and Guildford. She has been a Featured Reader in several Writers Festivals. Her first poetry collection What the Body Remembers shared 2nd place in the Anne Elder Award 2004. Extracts were read in three ABC PoeticA programs.

Two years after her husband’s death, Lorraine joined the Ballarat Branch of Solace and recently undertook training as a Support Worker. It is most rewarding to help those who are widowed, the way she herself has been helped.

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eNews 43: Winner of IP Picks 09, Best Poetry.

 
 

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