Criticism

Every Arrow in the Quiver


Peter Coghill Rockclimber’s Hands (Picaro Press, 2010), 58 pages, $15. 


A North Dakotan, I’m 1200 miles from the nearest salt water, Hudson’s Bay. So consider this America’s outback, which probably explains my lifelong love affair with Australian poetry. I’ve just read a terrific first book, Rockclimber’s Hands, by Peter Coghill.

Peter did not learn his wheat farming and rock climbing from books in a city library. The poetry is invariably characterised by lively rhythms and accurate images, fresh rhymes too, when the poet so chooses. He shoots every arrow in the quiver bequeathed him by the tradition with which he grapples so ably. Australians? Yanks, Brits and Canadians should read Coghill too. I’m a retired wheat farmer, and here’s a poem I particularly admire: 

                        Her Fields 

A week ago the combine harvester
guzzled the field, leaving only tracks
mashed in the stiff rank and file of stalks.
It rests now, roof sombrero low for siesta;
sheep flop in shaded spots, and from the house
a woman walks to work her sinews free.
She picks from the crop fringe a head of wheat
and rubs away the husk between her hands.
She’d done the same when a girl, crushed one
of the plump millions as a charm for father,
to sort from spiky flecks the nubs of wheat,
and diagnose that season’s worth, an augury
upon her upturned palm. This year she frowns,
light grain for leaner times, and throws it back.
Fallow framed, the stubble glows a sun‑
struck yellow. Her arms gather glare, she breathes
the smell of dry earth, chaffy taste of air,
and starts the long exhale from the year’s tense
intake. Like migrant birds, finally home,
the days and hours that mark the lazy end
of summer have alighted on her fields. 

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