The following review of First… Then…, the book of this blog, appeared in The Canberra Times, Saturday August 25, 2012. It was written by Peter Pierce, editor of the Cambridge History of Australian Literature.
‘Another planet, other places’
The title and opening poem of Melinda Smith’s First…Then…, a collection of “poems from planet autism” is choppy, unnerved, but essential to what follows. It recounts her deepening realisation of the changes that will be wrought in her life now that she is the parent of an autistic son. The foreword has already revealed that ‘all the poems in this book are about life with autism’; has also dealt with how Smith has presumed to write not only of her only experiences as a mother, but ‘in the voice of a person with autism when I am not myself autistic.’ In ‘Brain Weather’, she writes of how she has to try to understand a brain whose frontal lobe was cauterised, leaving you ‘endless atomised local storms’. The child is given a voice in the striking poem ‘I prefer’, which lists some of those disquieting preferences : “serious illness to surprises/computers to my brother/reading number plates to Christmas morning”. In the brief compass of this book there is much else that is imaginatively and formally challenging. Consider some of her titles: ‘Love song of autistic husband’ (one of the most plaintive of these poems), ‘A prehistory of autism’, the brilliant and almost persuasive ‘All magpies are autistic’, and ‘Not the Botany Bay song’, which is tellingly subtitled ‘A sea shanty for ASD parents and carers’. There is no lyrical impulse at work in these poems. They are terse, concentrated, questing without false hope.”
I am actually pretty happy with that. Why not browse this blog – or buy the book – and make up your own mind