Trigger Warning

Maria Takolander

Trigger Warning
University of Queensland Press
2 July 2021

Trigger Warning

Maria Takolander

Winner of the Prize for Poetry at the 2022 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards

Trigger Warning is not for the fainthearted, but neither are the elemental realities of domestic violence and environmental catastrophe that these astonishing poems address.

Comprised of three sections, the first summons a difficult personal history by conversing with poets - from Sylvia Plath to Anne Carson - whose dramatised confessions trigger Takolander’s own. The second part remains focused on the domestic, while redeeming that scene of trauma through a reinventing wit. The final section of this extraordinary book turns its attention outside, playing with poetry itself in order to confront the Anthropocene and the final frontier of death.

This is poetry that balances ruthlessness and lyrical beauty; poetry alive to its time and audience; poetry not to be missed.


Maria Takolander is an established Australian poet, and Trigger Warning is her fourth collection. At times a deeply personal selection of poems, it left me in awe of a poet’s ability to trust and to share.

The opening section, ‘Confessions’, is the most daring and engaging. Throughout it, Takolander’s poems are addressed as conversations with other poets, referencing specific works by Sylvia Plath, Anne Carson, Edgar Allan Poe, Anne Sexton and Adrienne Rich, among others. Takolander uses the oeuvres of these poets to confess details about her life – several focus on her husband becoming unwell and his resulting emergency surgery, others on her childhood surrounded by domestic violence. Takolander bares herself entirely through these poems, presenting arresting portraits of her family, while also characterising how relationships between them have progressed and changed. For this reason, I particularly enjoyed ‘Daddy’ (a nod to Sylvia Plath) and ‘Argument’ (inspired by Elizbeth Bishop).

The second section, ‘Domestic’, and the third section, ‘Outside’, lose some of this hyper-personal focus and instead become more generalised about contemporary life. Some of the poems are humorous – such as ‘Toilet’ – but others feel more like observations, though I did enjoy ‘Escalator’ for its focus on the need for movement and progress in a capitalist society. A particular strength of ‘Outside’ is in Takolander’s nature poems; ‘Haiku for the Anthropocene’ and ‘Scenes from a Documentary’ both focus on the wonder of the natural world. Other poems in this final section are more experimental with their use of form, playing with diagrams and changing the direction of reading. These work well, but may not suit readers who prefer a more traditional layout. Overall, Trigger Warning is a strong and compelling collection, with distinct focuses to each section.

Clare Millar is from Readings online.

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