“Suburban Fantasy” Michele Seminara (University of Western Australia Press) – book review

Michele Seminara Suburban Fantasy

Michele Seminara probes family relationships, focusing on the darker side, the rotten wood, tempered by hope and a refusal to conform. Or how a rotten start can be overcome and happier relationships result. “Family Tree” observes,

“The arborist’s eye could see
it had been wounded long ago;
then disease entered the hole at its heart
then necrosis,”

It ends,

“They amputate the limbs
to make it easier to fell;
I know that feeling.

Now all through the house, the stench
of diesel and that terrible,
enraged squealing.”

The daughter who cut herself off, saw the tree as diseased when those branches, who benefited from or manipulated the diseased heart for their own benefit, clung on and now protest because the necrosis has been exposed. Harm has to be acknowledged and repaired. The loosened branch starts a family of her own, breaking the cycle of rottenness. This family is founded on love. In “Wax/Wane”, a mother puts her daughter to bed,

“I whisper — two more minutes —
and she — three! — and then —
(sotto voce) or maybe never…

That would be nice, I agree.
Never; never leaving.

But as we wane
the full moon mocks
us all the way
till morning.”

The child asks her mother to stay and her mother does so willingly. However, there’s judgment from the moon. Perhaps the mother is too indulgent? Perhaps the child is spoilt? Does the moon represent an actual judge or the mother’s internal voice echoing what her parents might say if they were to witness her child-centred parenting? Whichever it is, it is chased away by morning in the reassurance of the sun’s warmth.

There are ekphrastic poems too, some that interweave lyric and poems. “Morte Nature” was inspired by Russell Drydale’s Portrait of a woman. Drysdale was best known for red, desolate Australian landscapes with isolated figures. The subject in this poem is given a voice,

“I sit
…….stolid and glowing in the gloaming.
Eyes hooked to the past.
…………Painter’s brush probing
my wide white collar —
……(I’ll always embody more than he could imagine.)

Twelve bodies grown in mine,
………..nine slipped through. Years spent
…………………….dragging this soft anchor in the mud.

Our still lives undiminished, swelling mythic in tableau —
……I wear the proud shroud of my best blue dress.”

It’s a woman in middle age, taking the opportunity to look back and imagine the artist assessing her. Her worth as a mother particularly, her efforts to raise her children and provide for them. Yet she still wants to show her best side. The collar is white and clean. She wears her best dress. Her life will end but the painting will live on, showing her as she’s portrayed at this particular moment.

There’s a note of rebellion too. In “Second Coming”, the speaker’s mother has waited for her husband to come home and dole out punishment for an unspecified wrong doing,

“Father speaking on Mother’s behalf
that nitrogen cold gaze.

I bathe in it; it burns —
it always burned.
But now my skin is bound
in bitter scales.

How forlorn, to be the black one;
I don’t show it.”

The child doesn’t capitulate but develops a tough skin, an outer shell to protect her inner feelings. She turns the rejection and hurt into love when she becomes a parent herself, breaking the cycle and exemplified in “Involuntary”, when the speaker, a mother, is watching her son read,

“No, I am ardently watching him:
with his ripening cheeks and fecund brain
and glistening eyes of impermanence
that look to me — to me! — for solace

and tonight, as he reads, I am seeing inside
to the myriad processes functioning to hold us

implausibly within this quivering world —
and it makes my dark involuntary heart muscle shudder.”

It’s a tender tone, an image of a mother’s unconditional love. A love she missed out on but it determined to give. But doubts plague her causing her to marvel at her son’s love.

“Suburban Fantasy” is a lyrical examination of familial relationships, particularly from a daughter-now-mother’s viewpoint. Michele Seminara has a lyrical, engaging approach that exposes cankered hearts and relishes in the tenderness in unconditional love.

“Suburban Fantasy” is available from University of Western Australia

Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.


One Response to ““Suburban Fantasy” Michele Seminara (University of Western Australia Press) – book review”

  1. Suburban Noir | Michele Seminara Says:

    […] I’m grateful to Emma Lee for writing this insightful review. […]

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