The Same As Yes by Joan Fleming (Victoria University Press, 2012)
Reviewed by Lindsay Pope
This slender book of poems is Joan Fleming’s first. The layered effect of Denise Nestor’s cover image signals that there is not a singular viewpoint from which to visualize the world. There are layers. It is an appropriate and portentous indicator of the enclosed work.
All of the poems in each of the three sections, Blue as the Eyes of her Mother, He and She and A Mirror and the First Face, are conversations written in a prose poem format. All are brief. One contains three sentences and none stretch beyond a page.
Their brevity, however, does not restrict their mystery or limit their scope. Rather than conversations many appear to be meditations on a situation, either real or imagined. Meditations which can carry the reader into strange and rarified places even when their genesis is in the mundane, where the inanimate are given voices and become animated and imbued with soul. We see this clearly in ‘Clothespeg Talks to the Clothesline’:
Underwear in my teeth. Socks in my teeth. The shoulder of a shirt in my teeth. Briefly, air – and then a bit of you in my teeth again, strung across the reach of the sun and breeze like a prayer to the god of practical things. Every worn thing becomes a flag, waving, waving, and me, small mouth, it’s a way of hanging on.
And hanging on Fleming does well. She clutches memory, grips experience, clasps the commonplace and then startles the reader with her lyricism and distinctive images as she opens her hand to reveal the multi-faceted way she sees the world.
Harry Ricketts has that “To enter these poems is like entering into a dream” while another mentor,, recalls that she was “struck, in her poetry and in her person, by a kind of openness and searching that I am tempted to call moral or spiritual.” (Dora Malech)
In ‘With Light In Their Fingers They Don’t Talk’ what she touches appears diaphanous but is transformed into a fabric that cloaks a larger world.
They swept their fingers through the invisible sea that rose from her body as she lay on the table. When they opened their eyes, the skin on her throat was so luminous that they cried out. But she couldn’t hear them yet, as they cried out to her through the leagues and leagues.
As Fleming says in one poem “It takes a lot of time to see this much.” The reader who takes time with these poems will be rewarded with seeing in new and remarkable ways and may find their own words to say the same as yes.