Picaro Press, 2006 - $6.00 (£3.00 inc. postage)
John West is a man who watches women. Nothing unusual about that, you might think—but it’s what he sees that makes these poems special. Here are strong women, brave women, women coping with poverty and illness, women raising children alone. A nurse lies down beside a horribly suppurating patient to chat about boyfriends; the girl in the chemist’s shop smiles at customers despite her dysfunctional family and abusive boyfriend; a woman nearing 100 plays her first game of pool:
she isn’t interested in the usual
the usual would not wait
ninety-eight years to pick up a cue
the usual would not take up the cue at all.
West’s women are very far from being sex objects, but neither are they romantic heroines; they are real, everyday women who get tired and shout at the kids. The Australian poet is a nurse, and this collection is rooted in his daily experience of real life and death, and in his close observation of the women who mop up what each leaves behind. The resulting poems are simple and unsentimental, with a sort of earthy realism that is sometimes intensely moving.
There is one exception to this relentless realism, however: in ‘Wings’, a tiny aborted foetus—female of course—lies abandoned in the operating theatre:
it will die very soon,’
about the baby lying
on the stainless steel table
I tried but I couldn’t
As the poet watches, she struggles to free her embryonic wings and prepares to fly away. Even she manages this all alone.
Sometimes these poems can become a little prosaic, but West has a way of snapping the reader smartly back to attention with a below-the-belt dig in the emotions. If you’ve forgotten what’s special about being a woman, this collection will remind you.