Review: The Silences by Robbie Coburn & Amanda Anastasi

We live in a loud world, full of endless distractions and social media feeds clamouring for our attention. In their joint poetry collection, The Silences (Eaglemont Press), Robbie Coburn and Amanda Anastasi explore the idea of silence in all its forms. It is a meditation. Reading through the poems is an exercise in quiet reflection; a chance to journey into an interior world, by way of Robbie’s haunting (and haunted) rural landscapes and Amanda’s domestic surrealism.

The publisher Ian McBryde (himself a poet of merit) has allowed white space around each poem, that forces the reader to sit for a moment with the after image of each work; a perfect embodiment of the theme. Robbie’s cover design of a lone figure leaning into a dense fog is moody and abstract. It is reflective of his poem, Autumn Proverb:

I recalled your ghost, transparent in the open paddock,
a thin veil of fog beginning to leak into the frame.

The Owl and Cat was close to the best choice of venue for a book from Shelton Lea’s publisher, Eaglemont Press (now fronted by Ian McBryde). It has a bohemian, dive-bar feeling. The only other obvious choice would have been a pub. Perhaps Shelton would have heckled from his grave if it was in one. There were few antics. The smoking and rabble rousing was outside. But inside Amanda and Robbie had people queuing to sign their books.

The crowd was far from silent. More seating had to be brought in and the crowd had a contingent of westies, still in a celebratory mood after the Bulldogs win.

Hopefully there will come a time when the binary idea of two separate factions fades away. Both Robbie Coburn and Amanda Anastasi are regular readers on stages. They certainly don’t represent the idea of authors locked away in towers and emerging, shading their eyes from that dreaded sunlight. But neither are they the type of poets to flail their arms about and blow their own trumpet in order to win a contest of words.

Amanda and Robbie’s poems leak into each other, interlaced with similar imagery in different contexts. Where Robbie’s silences are often depicted as wide open spaces and endless stretches, Amanda’s tend toward the antithesis, a stifling domestic interior (‘…the frightening known…’ or a lamp-lit street at night (Night Arrows). Robbie’s narrator also walks at 4AM, around darkened, empty streets (Night Walk).

Together, these depictions combine to present striking impressions of negative space, almost leaning toward the tropes of movie thrillers and suspense. Many readers will identify with the crawl space of the mind so well crafted by Amanda, shown in these images from her poem, The First Moments of His Absence:

A curtain opened to a suddenly blank scenery…
The thick silence after a confession…
The unsaid thing: a moaning ghost.

The message we are left with from this beautiful and haunting collection is that the silences are never truly void. Like John Cage’s piece, 4’33”, we begin to truly listen, to tune into the music in between the clamour; the shape-shifting music of the silences.

The Silences can be purchased from selected bookshops like Collected Works or the Melbourne Spoken Word online store.

[Photo by Brendan Bonsack]

Anna Forsyth
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