Poet Maria Takolander's latest collection is partly a series of messages addressed to other poets

Poet Maria Takolander
Poet Maria Takolander
  • Trigger Warning, by Maria Takolander. University of Queensland Press, $24.99.

Maria Takolander, born in 1973 in Melbourne to Finnish parents, is one of those poets who retain key elements of their European heritage while moving steadily into the Australian mainstream.

Trigger Warning, her fourth collection, is primarily a series of sequences, either using separate poems with overlapping themes or sequential poems examining, as did the Cubist painters, the same subject from different angles.

Most of the poems in the opening sequence, "Confessions", deal, in one way or another, with the near-death cardiac illness of her husband.

Takolander's indirect and possibly ironic strategy here is to address her 10 poems explicitly to a group of poets, most of whom are famous for their "confessional" poetry. They include the Americans Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop and Anne Sexton, among others.

The prevailing tone, however, can be sensed in the opening sentence of "Cruel", addressed to Takolander's husband, David McCooey, also a poet. "This time it is you, swaddled in bandages and sheets, / your mouth discreetly crossed with tape / where a corrugated hose runs deep, / feeding you air like a mother-bird."

Takolander attempts something comparable in the book's second section, albeit using a lighter tone. Her house's everyday machines are defamiliarised and looked at in terms of what they suggest about their users. The ending of "Refrigerator" is characteristic: "When we begin to think too much on such things, ever-protective, / it silences itself in the dark with a shudder."

Many of Trigger Warning's most remarkable poems are to be found in its final section,"Outside"."Chernobyl Redux", for instance, is a complexly cautionary examination of what remains after the accident there in 1986.

In our quest for "green energy", the nuclear option can sometimes seem attractive but Takolander's sequence here is a powerful dissuader. Take, for instance, the sardonic ending of "Bio-robots": "Of course ... the birds have returned against all those glum forecasts. / Listen to them: chirruping away with the Geiger counters".

Three other poems in this final section are what we might call "vintage Takolander".

One is her oblique retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk ("The Bean Seller's Tale"); another is the mysterious dialogue poem "Night, Falling" and a third is the prose poem, "On Happiness", a disconcerting allegory about our paradoxical pursuit of poetry.

"Like pain, it was hard to credit in others. In fact, there was always the possibility that it did not exist at all".

  • Geoff Page is a Canberra poet.
This story Messages to other poets, from different angles first appeared on The Canberra Times.