Review Blog

Sep 19 2018

Blakwork by Alison Whittaker

cover image

Magabala Books, 2018. ISBN 9781925360851
(Age: Senior secondary - Adult) Recommended. Poetry. White linen washed by black hands, hangnails on worn hands . . . Whittaker succinctly conjures images of colonisation, oppression and segregation. She tells the story of abattoir life, the jobs the black people do on the outskirts of country towns - the killwork. It is stark and confrontative language, but also rich and poetic. She is an artist with words.
Words are arranged like patterns on a page. To keep the integrity of longer lines, sometimes the poems are arranged sideways, landscape view. Other times, lines interweave alternately. She plays with words - 'Beneviolence' with its repetitive versions of 'THIS IS GOOD FOR YOU! THIS IS FOR YOUR GOOD' is simple but very effective.
Also very effective is the device of taking the forty-nine most common three-word phrases in a text and arranging them, ranked, as a poem - as with the judgement in the Trevorrow v State of South Australia case, the inquest into the death of Ms Dhu, and the Mabo vs Queensland decision. The phrases and the words used reveal everything about the conflict of cultures; the legal terms contrasting with the devastation of stolen children, the inhumanity towards the person in custody, and the disregard for native inhabitants of land.
Whittaker is a Gomeroi woman - she includes Gamilaraay words as well as Aboriginal English in her poems; Aboriginal voices can clearly be heard in her poetry. "Blakwork", with its 'bloodwork', 'heartwork', 'badwork', 'workwork', 'newwork', and lots of other kinds of 'work' makes for a strong voice demanding to be heard.
Helen Eddy

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