Review Blog

Jun 10 2020

The lactic acid in the calves of your despair by Ali Whitelock

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Wakefield Press, 2020. ISBN: 9781743057049.
(Age: Adult) Highly recommended. With a dedication to 'all our mistakes, regrets and broken hearts and the words we can't quite find' Ali Whitelock's latest book of poems explores themes around ageing, death, grief and reflection on the past. I eagerly grabbed this book, remembering her blunt and confrontational poems in And my heart crumples like a coke can (2018). There is less of the sharp humour of that previous book, more of the regretful contemplation of the past, an empathy with the exhausted woman in 'do not speak to me of pain'; but the words are as powerful as ever, the language and imagery is rich and complex and such an enjoyment to read, with phrases such as 'the lactic acid in the calves of your despair', 'the dandruff in the dry scalp of your longing', 'an arsenal of lidless tupperware in the parched prairie of your existence'. Whitelock gives expression to the thoughts and experiences of someone looking back on their life, particularly those times of grief on losing the much loved dog or the not so loved parent.
I especially enjoyed (it's not the right word) Whitelock's comments on modern life in 'Who shot jr?' - the couple not wanting to guess incorrectly or insultingly the country of origin of the waiter, and the barista's words of hesitant welcome to the poet from Scotland, resident in Australia for 24 years; people no longer knowing the right words to say, amidst the barrage of issues of cruelty and devastation. For readers who would like an easy introduction to this poet, Ali Whitelock's site has some video readings of her poems, most especially her reading of 'This is coal don't be afraid' which she describes as a found poem, like the treatment of found objects in art, a poem that strikingly brings together statements from Scott Morrison, the Rural Fire Service and others in the midst of the bushfire crisis of 2019-2020. It is a poem that went viral on YouTube.
Pick up a copy of this book, and I am sure that you will find something that you recognise, and it will draw you in.
Themes: Grief, Loss, Love, Writing, Life.
Helen Eddy

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