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How Decent Folk Behave (Maxine Beneba Clarke, Hachette)

How Decent Folk Behave is an exploration of the systemic failures that have led to lockdowns, massacres, violence against women and worsening natural disasters over the past decade. This collection of poetry is, in a word, relentless. Dealing with the local and global effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the bushfires that ravaged Australia, the murders of Jill Maher and Eurydice Dixon, the Christchurch Massacre and more, Maxine Beneba Clarke asks: what led to this? In this collection Clarke acts as a steady guiding hand that enables the reader to look directly at recent history and acknowledge the increasing difficulty of processing tragedies that seem beyond our control. There are precious few moments of hope scattered throughout the book, but Clarke delivers each poem with characteristic empathy. Each one pulls the reader in, establishes familiarity and ultimately unsettles with the author’s typical punchy style. Fans of Clarke’s previous collection Carrying the World will instantly recognise her live-poetry sense of rhythm and pace. How Decent Folk Behave is not gentle, but it does not leave the reader feeling helpless. Instead, readers are left with the sense that they have been seen, heard and understood. An important contribution to the political poetry emerging from Australia’s current state of affairs, it will sit comfortably next to titles such as Gregg Dreise’s Common Wealth and Jazz Money’s how to make a basket.

Chris Alphonso is a writer and freelance editor from Melbourne.


Category: Reviews