Comfort Food (Ellen van Neerven, UQP)
Comfort Food is the eagerly anticipated poetry collection from Ellen van Neerven, whose debut 2014 fiction collection Heat and Light marked her as one of our most promising new writers. The opening poems are simple and accessible, and the first poem ‘Whole Lot’ sets the course: ‘Family, Earth / Dingo, Eagle / Fire, Food / Whole Lot. It’s all of those things.’ Her experiences, including being separated from family and familiar food, are related with authenticity and heart. The poems then drift overseas, lessening in impact and personal resonance, before returning to the writer’s own country, to the tastes, grief and joys of the everyday. Some of these later poems soar in imagination and song, including ‘Brother’, ‘Flight Feathers’, ‘Lullaby for a Shark’ and ‘Iris Brides’. Many of the poems embody the comfort of shared food and acknowledgement of those who prepare it, and are imbued with the author’s deep affinity with family and country. A sense of separation and loss underlies many of the images, with poems such as ‘We’re Still Here’ and ‘Please Pause Today’ harnessing van Neerven’s anger. The poems in this collection are a true taste of the author’s comfort food, and it is a privilege to glimpse into van Neerven’s experience as a Mununjali woman through their lens.
Joy Lawn blogs for Boomerang Books