TEXT review

A beautiful debut

review by Monica Carroll


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Shari Kocher
The Non-Sequitur of Snow
Puncher & Wattmann, Sydney NSW 2015
ISBN 9781922186829
Pb 62pp AUD25.00


For Shari Kocher, the year 2015 will probably be remembered – to borrow a phrase from her poem ‘Bellbird Gully’ – with ‘a spume of wonder’ (29). She published The Non-Sequitur of Snow, her first collection of poetry, and was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy from The University of Melbourne for her PhD thesis on the verse novels of Dorothy Porter and Anne Carson. The twenty-six poems that make The Non-Sequitur of Snow reveal Kocher’s interesting background of having lived and written in many places over the last two decades. A diverse richness of experience is clearly evident in this debut collection which spans dreams, observations, memory and moment; moments such as those in ‘Notes from the Abyss’ where ‘a candle holds its lit canoe / afloat in a bowl of wax’ (17).

Kocher’s poems follow the dictate in ‘Bellbird Gully’; her work is always ‘approaching the very whatness of things’ (29). Appealing to the clarity of haiku, Kocher’s work sustains precision but also embodies a quiet yet deep sensuality. We see this in the poems, ‘Cut’ where‘soft faces cotton the touch’ (37), ‘My Singing Empty Hands’ in which ‘my sister’s tears / taste like lamingtons’ (40);and ‘My Beautiful Fig Tree’with ‘its furry umbrella / bulging / with purple fruit’ (47). They are simultaneously sparse and lush – evidence of Kocher’s patient experience and sharp eye.

Many of the poems weave delicately into domestic imaginings: ‘Dreaming in Auslan: a Study in Yellow and Grey’ with ‘those curtains she hung like mustard’ (35); ‘Spoons’ with ‘their metal mouths / pursed and shrinking’ (27); and the gently-rhyming ‘Breakfast at Full Tide’ with ‘This billowing / tide enclosed, awash with dishes and dirty sun- / light, flooding the walls with mashed banana’ (28). Children, family, and nature are a loving texture throughout the book.

In contrast, many poems contain suffering and darkness, such as ‘Cannibals at Dinner in Formal Attire’ featuring ‘the clown with the crooked teeth’ (33) and ‘bellies of pus’ (33), and ‘A Letter to Dorothy Hewett’ where the body is ‘gutted of all light’ (44). ‘The Canvas’, too, does not pass shyly through the narrative and mood of the poem:

one dark morning (or was it an endless night?)
neat thumbs pressing the air out
of his daughter’s throat
now sitting in the bottom of a boat
reading a book less than the size of his hand. (52)

Darkness is balanced by an undeniable groundedness and jocularity in poems like ‘The Scent, the Scent’. In this, and a few other poems, Kocher talks of frogs and toads and toilets:

jasmine round the table the smell of tree frogs
mould at the window       the red
horsehair sofa the downstairs
toilet on its rattling chain         all the adult voices rising
in a hubbub of beer and smoke and out you go now
the sharp poo smell emanating from the cistern. (55)

‘The Scent, the Scent’, ‘Switch on Day’ and ‘The Bridge’ are unmistakably Australian in context. Other poems are drawn from different geographies, such as the abandoned Ireland of ‘CanalSong’, yetthere is a deeper sense of power in some of the poems set in a geographicalnowhere, such as in the opening prayer poem of ‘Snowmelt’:

Let rain in a cup be. Let the hour.
Let the grace of a face immersed in hush
be the grace of a face immersed in hush. (11)

Kocher’s work is not all free verse. Some structured poems such as ‘Flow, Repetition, Decay’ and ‘Swim’ are offered. They are structured in different ways to each other, but again show the firm mastery of Kocher’s pen.

There is no definitive form or structure that can be named from this collection. It is both approachable and experimental. Yet, in all the works it is evident that both word and line in Kocher’s work are exact yet generous, such as in ‘Notes from the Abyss’:

How to hold this pause of silence in a piece of music?
How to feel light exploding in your hand
when you’re deaf and Vivaldi’s Gloria rushes
through your fingers back up the waterfall. (17)

Silence, as Billy Collins noted, is central to poetry. The poem, as a form, makes sense because it is an interruption of silence, a break in the space around it. These spaces, or silences, can be not only an absence but also a silence of those things we cannot think or grasp. Kocher’s poems are just that, a break in silence. We may not be able to explain why a given tragedy or suffering occurs, such as the 2009 murder of Darcey Iris Freeman, the background to Kocher’s poem ‘The Bridge’. Yet, through this poem we can understand:

without her a wrinkle a mirror, see how she likes it, reaching
     across, undoing the belt
No Daddy No limp as a doll always pretending see how she likes
it, a few short steps
and Bingo she’s over – All-Over-Rover like she’s over him –. (56)

Understanding, however, as a break in silence, is achieved not just through each poem, but also through the ordering of Kocher’s collection. The sequencing of ‘Clay’, followed by ‘Spoons’ and then ‘Breakfast at Full Tide’, for example, is pleasing. Similarly, the confrontation of ‘The Bridge’ is healed through the clarity of the next (and final poem in the collection), ‘Blue Irises’.

Although it is possible to dip into random poems, the structure of The Non-Sequitur of Snow is important: to read the collection from front to back cover brings an unexpected journey. The structure is not just an arrangement of words but also a treat for the eye.

Based on my reading of The Non-Sequitur of Snow, I look forward to reading further narrative experiments by Kocher, namely a published version of her ‘verse novel of archaeological embodiment’, submitted as part of her PhD. Until then, The Non-Sequitur of Snow is a nurturing small feast.


Monica Carroll is a poet, teacher and researcher at The University of Canberra.


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Vol 20 No 1 April 2016
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Kevin Brophy & Enza Gandolfo
Reviews Editor: Linda Weste