Thank You Chris Kinsey for your Review in Planet

Review by Chris Kinsey, Planet

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Caroline Smith’s poems about people seeking asylum are astonishing. They’re as clear and precise as surgical scalpels. These poems, sterilised from despair and anger, do not seek to accuse or wound. They make incisions to implant empathy and compassion for refugees’ enduring loss, uncertainty and trauma and for some of the people ‘under siege from the urgency’ of administering their fate amidst a terrible backlog of applications. Smith has a remarkable talent for distilling physical experiences into imagery which resolve into unforced epiphanies about the way things are:

just as an early morning frost brings out
a previously invisible conspiracy of
white cobwebs connecting the grasses.

The changing and unexpected properties of paper recur as a powerful motif. In ‘Home Office Files’, ‘shreds of Mr Subramanian’s life, / his ten years waiting for a decision’. (He fled Vanni in a container ship lying beside his dead wife and child.) The narrator thinks of him as she feeds ‘a fist of papers to the shredder’:

They buckle rigid and erect
calcified into a frill of coral,
a corrugated shanty town roof.

These poems have the grace of non-judgmentalism and show varieties of vulnerable courage, as in ‘Asylum Interview’ where a man is interviewing a woman who was raped by soldiers:

His pen scores the paper
drawing back her cover
like a soft flap of mango skin
exposing her shame

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