The verb ‘to mourn’ has too many manners,
is uttered by ladies fingering old photos
or sighing over letters from the front.
This new volume from Penelope Layland absorbingly quizzes memory, while questioning our apprehension of time and the importance of deep human connections. These poems explore mourning and loss in a way that is salutary, affirmative, meditative and uplifting, subtly refracting our common understandings and our claims on knowledge. In these works the ghosted quotidian, like a long filigree of light, reaches out to remind us of what we value and care for.
– Paul Hetherington
Some collections have a resonance well beyond the turning of the last page. Layland’s is one of these books. This understatedly slim volume of elegiac poems punches well above its weight in count of words — sensitively and insightfully dealing with the riddling intimacies of grief. In the secular age, where religion is not readily available, this volume, so skilfully and artfully achieved, consoles and instructs, showing us the difference between sentiment and sentimentality, importance and manufactured profundity.
It is the naming of particulars and their transformative role as memento mori that Layland is concerned with the piece of string from the jar under the sink of a dead relative, that becomes a bow tied on the forefinger to keep that loved one alive in memory. The heartbreaking change that occurs between the light weight of a living child and the heaviness of her carried coffin. This book is a triumph of discernment and understanding.
-Judges comments 2019 Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry
From the Afterword:
The poems attempt to engage with aspects of the elegist’s preoccupations: the power of naming; the impermanence of memorialisation; the conviction that nature itself partakes in our grief (and the equally compelling conviction that it does nothing of the sort).