TEXT review

Waterfall work

review by Dominique Hecq


Amelia Walker
Campbelltown Arthouse, Campbelltown SA 2017
ISBN 9780648175100
Pb 50pp AUD20


Not many writers have the gift of turning visual works into poetry that is not static. Still fewer have the gift of turning fine poetry into a good read. Amelia Walker has both gifts. This is not surprising: an emerging writer, Walker is highly regarded as a poet and performer of her own work, and has toured in Australia, India and North America. Her scholarly work and (auto)fictions have also won a variety of prizes. Her new book, Dreamday, is an unpaginated verse novella. You will not need page numbers. Before you know it, you will have found yourself unable to stop. Before you know it, you will have fallen under the spell of the speaking persona.

Dreamday vividly tracks the contents of dreams attuned to phenomena that reside both under and beyond the surface of things. The poems retrace the events in one day of the narrator’s life, opening her private world onto the public sphere through a voice that is at once playful, witty, sensitive and assertive. At the heart of the book is the fraught question of the meaning of dreams. Underlying this question are the issues of the nature, function and purpose of dreams, including those we don’t remember.

The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) is one of Freud’s most important contributions to psychoanalysis. It is at once surprisingly clear and confusing. The key idea is that ‘the meaning of every dream is the fulfilment of a wish’ and Freud is quite categorical about this. He adds: ‘there cannot be any dreams but wishful dreams’ (Freud 2001: 134). To illustrate his thesis, Freud tells the story of little Anna who, denied strawberry cake during the day, dreamt that night of enjoying the most delicious cake. Our dreaming activity, Freud explains further, is a regressive reactivation of the hallucinatory means of ‘wish-fulfilment’. Nonetheless, on the same page, Freud hesitates and writes: ‘I feel certain in advance that I shall meet with the most categorical contradictions’ (134). One of these contradictions concerns ‘anxiety dreams’, or nightmares that indeed undermine the idea that dreams fulfil wishes. It is this contradiction that Amelia Walker explores in refreshing ways in her new book of poems, Dreamday. In ‘Prelude’, she asks:

Are dreams simply desires
too wild, too deep to seek
or even speak
by day?

Is that why we have nightmares?
Is that why they frighten us so? (np)

The book provides an array of answers to these questions set against the very idea of interpretation.

Dreamday comprises twenty-eight ekphrastic poems. It began ‘as a poetic response to Dreamscape, an exhibition of works by South Australian artists at the Campbelltown ArtHouse’ (np). Some of the poems were displayed together with the artworks. Others were written retroactively. The collection is preceded by a ‘Poet’s Note’, or exegetical foreword, where Walker writes about her encounter with the visual material, its emotional impact and influence on her writing process. Here, she states: ‘We must dream, and honour our dreams, in order to live actualised lives’ (np). In this, she is closer to Jung than Freud. Jung disputed Freud’s ‘wish fulfilment thesis’. He believed that dreams are doing the work of integrating our conscious and unconscious lives – he called this the process of individuation.

With its echoes of myth and fairy tale, Walker’s ‘Fire Heart’ begins a compelling journey. The poem does not offer us narrative content of an historical, domestic or biographical kind that can be recognised. On the contrary. It works by accretion and suggestion. Yet despite its hiatuses and allusions, its internal logic is completely convincing. It moves from a sense of fracture and cracking towards a final image of the wings of a dragon carrying the protagonist away…

The next poems work in a similar vein, questioning the stuff of dreams through gradual repeating series of rhythmical movements, accumulating dream-like allusions and developing images. Even though some poems seem unfinished, all the poems in this collection display technical skill of a very high order: the diction is as edgy or luscious as the mental tensions that inspired them. If anything, some pieces – ‘On Kaurna Land’, for example – could have been slightly clipped to lay bare the disjuncture between words and ideas. Those poems which seem, like the first, ‘unfinished’ are so only to convey the questing thrust of the narrative – its iterative and creative dreamscape.

In ‘Meeting Morpheus’, Walker briefly reconciles Jung and Freud with direct reference to the act of creation:

Ah, creation… Morpheus would muse. But you’ve mistaken me.
I’m a weaver more so than a maker. My name means ‘form’
which most often means reshaping, much like this old chair
you call a thronejagged fragments thrown together,
sourced from the wreckage of gone thoughts, polished
‘til seams between mirror and windows blur,
become new reflections, new outlooks.

This process is not work, to me. Or if it is, it’s work that sustains
rather than drains, for along the way I salvage certain parts
of my materials, marvel at the sparkle of unhemmed pieces,
and sometimes even arrangements abandoned along the way
--failure merits more credit than it gets. (np)

Just as Morpheus balances success and failure, this book balances night and day, dream and daydream, truth and desire. Above all, it resists the ‘meaning’ ascribed to dreams, including dreams within dreams and other nightmares, by psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists and other interpreters of the human psyche. Dreamday is a compelling work of the imagination. Though its central metaphor is one of flying, it runs its course like a waterfall where ‘the falling / means more / dreaming’.

This is poetry that speaks to us – indeed for us – on entirely its own terms, but in a way that has nothing to do with ‘poetry for its own sake’. Rather, it sounds as if a new way of speaking about experience has been discovered: incisive, comprehensive, fully committed to the essential aspects of that experience and therefore in no need of translation or explanation. In the context of Australian poetry as I see it at the moment, Amelia Walker is a major new talent. It would be remiss of me to end a review on such a condescending note, but after all, a review is a matter of taste.


Works cited



Dominique Hecq’s sixth poetry collection Hush: A Fugue was released last year as part of the UWAPress poetry series. Dream Work of a Novel is forthcoming.


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Vol 22 No 1 April 2018
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Julienne van Loon & Ross Watkins
Reviews Editors: Pablo Muslera & Amelia Walker