- Chasing Marie Antoinette All Over Paris, by Adrienne Eberhard. Black Pepper, $24.
Adrienne Eberhard's fifth collection, Chasing Marie Antoinette All Over Paris, is a convenient reminder of what a strong tradition of female poetry Tasmania has had over the years.
It began with Gwen Harwood (1920-1995) and went on to include Margaret Scott (1934-2005), Kathryn Lomer, Louise Oxley, Jane Williams, Sarah Day, Esther Ottaway and Eberhard herself (among others).
Eberhard's new book is divided into four sections which reveal, in turn, various aspects of her personal interests and poetic resources.
The second shows the poet's detailed knowledge of Tasmanian landscapes and flora and will have a special attraction for readers familiar with them.
The poems are closely attentive and highly metaphoric.
The book's title, however, comes from a sequence in its third section.
It's in three parts and shows a good deal more sympathy for the "Viennese" queen than was demonstrated by the crowd which witnessed her execution.
Part I is based on a pair of the queen's satin shoes: "tiny shoes with pearl buttons / and a heel / that tapped / authoritatively / on the marble floor // When I looked again / there were lilies / spilling like footsteps / silken / each one / a stab of paint / a fall / and you / nowhere to be seen".
Part III is also remarkable for that relative rarity, a high-quality, explicitly-religious contemporary poem, In "Christmas Eve" the poet appears to be watching her husband, at a Parisian Christmas mass, accept: "the wafer containing / the compression of centuries, / and in the lifting voices spilling / with the organ's swelling magnitude, / he is caught, pinned like a butterfly, / his blue eyes catching mine / as he swallows."
For this reader, the emotional core of the book is in the opening sequence of its final section which, from a series of photographs, evokes the life and marriage of her Dutch grandfather and his Dutch-Indies wife.
They married in 1929 and lived in Java in the 1930s and 40s before emigrating to Australia after World War II.
The poems here, nine in all, are not without a gloss of imperial nostalgia but their portrait of an initially rhapsodic marriage and its progressive decline, capped by the husband's internment under the Japanese, is more than moving.
The last sentence of its second poem is indicative of Eberhard at her best: "Her pliancy ironed / out in him, into the sharp angles of shirt, / collar, pocket, the only concession / the buttonhole spray with its tiny / white pods that could be / embroidery on a lace veil."