How can you truly review a piece of art that comes from a close, spiritual place? Specifically, how do you critique a work of art that was created as a medium to critique itself? It has been challenging to put words to how I feel, but only because this long poem truly is something great.
A large part of this is Symons’ understanding of the use of space, and the positioning of the poems on the page. This is helped further through the illustration of Lital Weizman. The impact this juxtaposition has on the pieces at large quite staggering. The stanzas flow from line to line, breathing, and pace back and forth, fall down and crumble, and then are brought up again. This – combined with the images of scriptures, young students, teenagers pairing off at camp, create a wonderful piece of art in itself.
The piece hints at the ekphrastic; a dramatic description of a work of art, the medium in this case being poetry. I say ‘hints’ as the poems aren’t exactly describing the works of art that accompany them. They feel more like a collaboration of ideas and images, worked out via words and ink.
The whole poem itself stands out alongside the art; I loved its natural flow, its even tempo, and satisfying feel to read:
can make me
It centres itself on the questioning of a shared faith. Throughout the poem, the poet eventually turns away from an old, conservative religion, to a more open and free spiritual society. The whale is a powerful symbol, and has obviously been used in many famous pieces of fiction, and this is because the whale is an awe-inspiring creature. The whale in this instance is an existential metaphor, one that is gesturing towards something we as a people can have:
out there in the ocean
the whale evolved
who sings subtle songs
that are so much sweeter
than even the sublimest
The personal nature of the poem is another aspect to this poem that is quite striking. There are images and scenes of existing in a religious society which forbids physical contact with women, and scenes of yearning for physical contact, not for lust, but for love. The want to touch a hand, to hug, to hang out and do dumb teenager stuff. Reading this piece did what a good poem is meant to do. It made me look inwards, to look back, and to think.
This piece is an interesting work to let roll around your head for a while. It is one you can pick up, read, think, and notice a new direction or purpose. Pass it amongst your friends and ask them questions about the work. Everyone will have a different idea, or perspective, of the work. I think that is what good art is supposed to do.
You can purchase The Whale on the Melbourne Spoken Word Online Shop.