Kristiana’s second poetry volume opens with a quiet assertion of power, self-acceptance and self-compassion. The poet declares herself to be
‘foolhardy and faerie,
clumsy and pretty,
angry at the world
and everyone in it,
loved and unloved
but always in love.’ [‘I will’]
A more fitting opening would be difficult to find. Reed’s collection explores with tenderness the sadness and scars of youth, the ongoing torture of self-criticism yet the desire to bring hope and love to those who surround us. We visit the places cherished by the poet, depicted in their understated beauty – gardens, lakes, lighthouses, treehouses, swimming pools – but which ever remind her of the unstoppable nature of time’s passing, and as such, she must find ways to exist beyond it.
Memory and time twist throughout the collection as Reed reflects with poignant nostalgia upon those memories ‘layered thick with dust’ and the bravery it takes to revisit them. There is an apparitional quality to Reed’s work, as she attempts to solidify the disappearing things of life, those things only accessible by thought:
‘Sometimes I imagine you here,
hovering like wreathed mist’ [‘A daydream’]
‘I do not wish to call you a ghost
but that is exactly what you are –
you walk through walls, the atriums of my heart,
you knock on all the windows’ [‘The letters unsent’]
The collection is rightly named, inspired by the flowers painted on the poet’s childhood bedroom wall by her mother:
‘My mother’s arms
paintbrush in hand.
She is decorating
my bedroom walls
pink petals, purple shadows
and sunshine yellow centres’ [‘Flowers on the wall’]
Flowers appear consistently throughout the collection, seemingly representative of the poet’s conflict with the ever-changing, yet strikingly cyclical nature of memory, rebirth and maturity, ‘the foretold power of a blossoming weed’ [‘Dandelion fairies’] identifying a sweet microcosm of the shaping of the adult self through childhood secrets and stories. The poet is caught between the awakening of adulthood and the endless desires of her girlhood’s heart.
The stuff of girlhood, the notion of being ‘the girl who grew her hair past her shoulders’, haunts the collection. The mature Reed articulates the need to live up to childhood expectations. Adulthood, with its heartbreak, has not panned out the way she hoped it would; the collection is tinged with a painful regret, an anxiety. As the reader, we see the poet caught between the admiration she has for her mother, and longing to be like her, and the plague of self-imposed expectation. We want to soothe her, as the poet presents the experience of allowing herself some compassion and lenience in ‘The beauty, the living’ and ‘Memory lines’.
A wonderful moment is the poet’s quoting of a notation found in an old poetry book, by a certain ‘Anne’:
‘Not just the burning of leaves
but also leaving a past behind,
best not remembered.’ [‘Secondhand’]
Anne, like other women mentioned in the collection, provides the poet with a tender inspiration and comfort. Reed’s invitation of Anne’s words reminds the reader of the shared experiences across humankind – the unavoidable sadness that each of us must experience, and each of us must find a way to continue living. Reed creates a striking image in a poem that follows shortly after:
‘I am a forest on fire:
burnished boughs dancing
in a fatal glow’ [‘I am a forest’]
The leaves that Anne sought to burn, Reed personifies; the natural images that the poet employs throughout the collection take on both an air of hope and renewal, and, in their dried and burning form, an embodiment of the unsavoury past. Reed effectively uses familiar images from the natural world experienced earlier in the year – the great Australian blazes, the destruction of much life and habitat. Reed asks us to consider what life may be lost in this self-imposed, or perhaps involuntary, burning of the self to seek renewal – is there goodness that must be burned alongside the suffering?
Yet, this chance at rejuvenation is quelled. The poet realises, with time and contemplation, that life may simply continue to be accompanied by
‘a dull ache you cannot strap
nor stem the blood with tourniquet’ [‘The anatomy of melancholy’]
The poet battles with this conflict throughout the collection, declaring her fear of change, as she is weighed down by the constant disappointments of the past, the failures, the repeated let-downs and repetitions of each unfavourable experience:
‘… I remember:
how awful new and different feel
how awful risk-taking tastes’ [‘Bellyache’]
Reed lifts us from the depths of this fear, in a short relief; her attention to the collections’s structure and its subsequent portrayal of feeling, inconsistency of emotion and mood, and the unpredictability of existence, is incredibly refined and carefully thought through. We rise with her after the grounded anxiety of ‘Bellyache’ to a few sensual moments of transcendence and imagination. Echoing the words of ‘Secondhand’, the poet celebrates the poetic mind as an escape from the mundane.
While acknowledging the reality of darkness, Reed’s writing sparkles as she engages with colour and senses. We experience her own growth, and we breathe a sigh of relief as she finally permits herself to believe in goodness in ‘The fields beyond’.
Of course, the poet is not naive enough to trust too blindly in her own words as seen in ‘Pomegranate seeds’.
‘The fields beyond’ features an echo to Reed’s first collection ‘Between the Trees’. The poem represents a step towards newness, joy and hope – yet the poet doesn’t fail to acknowledge and deconstruct the romanticism associated with personal growth and rebirth, revealing her desire to identify a way of doing that maintains her humility and honesty. It is only through identifying this for herself, in authenticity, that she will achieve freedom from that which burdens her.
In ‘Honey gold Sundays’, the poet’s attitude towards time and memory has changed. She no longer fears it, but rather celebrates it with a peaceful reverence. Moreover, the appearance of honey draws the notion of healing, perseverance, and natural beauty into the collection. Formed with no shortage of labour, yet made on instinct rather than force, and known for its healing properties, the poet uses honey as a symbol for her own healing, and perhaps the natural processes of recovery and rejuvenation that we do not have to force, as humans, but that we are given. Its golden colour also continues to appear, bringing warmth to the earlier atmosphere of regret.
Reed excels in her use of anecdotal language yet she is unafraid to explore the realms of fantasy. The combination of the every-day with the magical and mythical mirrors the poet’s identity, forged from fairytales [‘I am little Red to the Wolf’] and normality. She seeks to find a middle-ground, a sort of ‘third space’ in which these things can coexist, and simply be.
Reed restates this conflict time and time again, each way different and unique to those that precede it:
‘I began to learn how to balance
beginnings with an end,
and how solitude and loneliness
are not the same thing’ [‘November mornings’]
‘Flowers on the Wall’ is a wonderfully intricate collection of memories, dreams and imagination, woven together in the threads of regret and desire. In keeping with the very reality of the human experience, Reed does not shy away from despair or darkness, but acknowledges them as part of the experience of living, and seeks to draw the light from them. Her use of natural imagery, evoking the luminescence of the moon in particular, is careful and lovely. She makes intelligent use of colour, often employing either a warm yellow/gold or a cool indigo, each one placed purposefully to enhance the mood of each piece. Similarly, Reed draws contrast between physical sensation (in pieces such as ‘Bellyache’ or ‘Heartburn’) with the mental and emotional experience in others, highlighting the unity of the mind and the body. These pairs continue to appear throughout the collection – warm/cool, mundane/fantastic, light/dark, physical/emotional, death/life, flowers/weed. There remains a search for unity, a desire to disassemble these separations that permeate the human experience.
Despite her efforts, the speaker is never fully convinced of her own ability to embrace newness, and allow herself to become whole. The tree, like the speaker, is subject to the changing seasons, despite its deep-set roots and its sturdy trunk. The speaker looks to nature for reassurance:
‘The wheat was always my hope
as it paled from green to gold
and stood (mostly) firm in the rain.’ [‘The Harvest’]
The speaker celebrates the changing beauty of the natural landscape, and in doing so, attempts to grant herself permission to celebrate the darker moments of her own life, the growing pains, the developments, the ageing. Reflected in nature, those experiences are necessary to the progression of life and abundance.
Reed’s volume is written with skill and tenderness, honesty and bravery, joy and regret. While it is one woman’s portrayal, the emotional experience of reading provides an acknowledgement of the fundamental truth of earthly living and the ways we seek to manage it. Kristiana Reed hands it to us in her ‘open palms,’ and invites the reader to look upon her in authentic, bare exposure, embodied in rich, absorbing poetry.
Flowers on the Wall will be released at the beginning of August.
It is Kristiana Reed’s second poetry collection.