Review: 2012 & Other Poems by Amanda Anastasi (Book)

Review by Armand Étienne Petit

When it all comes to an end this December, it will be Stephen Hawkins’ magic talk box and the collected works of Amanda Anastasi that survive. Maybe the roaches, but they’re not literate enough for any due recognition in this analogy. Millennia from now, visitors will come to our forgotten planet and stumble across these remnants and combine them to construct history’s most powerful speak ‘n spell. They will bow to its lessons, or just freak out and smash the thing entirely. Either way, both reactions would be grossly misappropriated.

This collection requires independent analysis and patience and the will to not presume any sense of a formula emerging, like some poetry books might have us do. There will be many “ah ha” moments followed by a significant amount of self-doubt and then an automatic desire to reread. You will undergo an exceedingly high level of transportation. But the beauty lies wherein Amanda doesn’t allow the reader to specifically “arrive” anywhere, nor really view the scenery with the exact same angle more than once. Mais, ç’est la vie. Non? So don’t expect to agree with anyone on your findings after reading ‘2012 and other poems’. It should be acknowledged like religious discussion – best shared without intent to convince. Seems a tad hypocritical for one to be writing a review on it. However, I do treat this with personal opinion – there really is no other way. This book is just too intrinsic and immersive to allow for some generalised concoction of pros and cons.

Every taste and experience divulged between its covers is easily accessible, but sure enough, must be delicately acquired. And I don’t mean like seeking a comfortable planking position or nearly evading that feeling of self-loathing from watching a street performer for more than 5 minutes and sliiiiiding away without paying. I say this sincerely. You just can’t pin down the specifics of the emotions that are so beautifully encapsulated within this offering. They hang in a harmony of desperation, the urgency of a world at a possible end, yet are cradled in the lullaby pushed from an all too knowing mother’s lips. At moments, I could swear that Amanda had delivered something of a contemporary adaptation of Lao Tzu’s ‘Tao Te Ching’ but with a universal attentiveness that seemed more direct and less dependent on esoteric philosophy. Suitable, because if you know Amanda well enough, you’d recognize she’s not exactly a poster child for vagueness, mediocrity or political and social apathy.

It is immediately evident that Amanda is a very generous poet. A raw, untethered honesty flows throughout her work that is unashamed and relentless in its determination for catharsis. Her laments ‘The Final Farewell’ and ‘The Second Circle of Grief’, are incredibly giving and clearly stand out since they recall family and are obviously close to home. Yet Amanda seamlessly taps into a full-blown, panoramic registry of the suffering and ambitions of others by discussing a wide array of greater community concerns. This is not self-indulgent poetry and by no means all gloom and doom. And there is a surprising amount of humour for a book that contains some relatively heavy topics. Amanda, outside her book, often states that maybe her work is too serious – but it truly runs the gamut of sensations. As Michael Reynolds said himself “There is something in this collection of poetry for everyone.” And not a single line is vague or diluted for the masses.

‘2012’, the feature piece itself, clearly depicts a masterfully honed observation of environments and history, that sinks into a vast number of layers, some seemingly impenetrable. The varying sophistication of the subject matter and Amanda’s adaptation to it cements her role as an every(hu)man poet. It is digestible and you feel intelligent reading it. It’s that satisfaction of completing a cryptic crossword and also knowing the answer was right in front of you the whole time. I found it impossible to not be deeply touched by this poem. It called to every state of my being through my existence and also glimpsed what’s to come.

I am tempted to continue on with a play by play on the material contained within this collection but it’s just too difficult and may prove entirely redundant. It would be like if I were to go to an art gallery in the Harry Potter world with all those paintings where the subjects moved. Then I went into great detail about all the amazing scenes that I had witnessed and you decided to visit the following day. Only to find… Well, need I say more?

Photo by Michael Reynolds
‘2012 and other poems’ is a bittersweet montage of stills that never quite syncs up with the original memory. It’s the constant churning of a mind screaming for freedom in a land built on marketing and over zealous image consciousness. Our larger than life, self imposed importance that eventually begs for a retreat to nature but has become ignorant of our most basic manner of conduct, and in turn, ashamed. It is the constant war between spiritual and monetary values that can seem to be placed on a life. It covers family, love and loss, of course writing, refugees, hurricanes, government, corporate influence and there’s an index on the first page so just get the damn book already. But do know. It’s not a balls to the wall, bullhorn fuelled yelling match, or a lecture, or an obnoxious SLAM drill. Just a highly aware social and personal commentary that can stir the sternest of emotions with the softest of voices. A wonderful balance of ferocity and sensitivity.

These poems manage to navigate that tight rope between topical and timeless without once plummeting. Keenly conscious of the invisible architecture that binds us all. Reading these poems asks for surrender of the preconceptions we have upon; ourselves and others, life, death, the world and yes, communication too. But also a surrendering to the knowledge that once an Anastasi poem is read, that same reaction will never return. It’s a peculiar ask and somewhat zen like. To embrace by letting go and to let go by embracing. That is the kind of maturity Amanda’s work provides, requests and instils. Be prepared to know yourself as nothing more than a work in progress, then hang on to that idea as you read ‘2012 and other poems’. It might just complete you.

2012 & Other Poems is available from Brunwick Bound bookshop, Brunswick, The Sun Bookshop, Yarraville, or can be purchased online.

Armand Étienne Petit: Crawled out of the ocean, grew a pair of legs, spent some time up a tree, smashed some rocks and made reddy orangey hot stuff for cooking. He later went on to invent magic, the marker and thusly, the magic marker. With this remarkable literary item he circled a few job opportunities in the classifieds. But due to a lack of call backs, he is now a non-award winning, unpublished, appearing (only on occasion) self employed musician/writer/actor/audio engineer with a penchant for Houdini, hugging old school video game arcade machines and pecan pie. Here’s god with the weather…

Annie Solah