Winner of the 2022 Stella Prize
I told you this was a thirst so great it could carve rivers.
This fierce debut from award-winning writer Evelyn Araluen confronts the tropes and iconography of an unreconciled nation with biting satire and lyrical fury.
Dropbear interrogates the complexities of colonial and personal history with an alternately playful, tender and mournful intertextual voice, deftly navigating the responsibilities that gather from sovereign country, the spectres of memory and the debris of settler-coloniality. This innovative mix of poetry and essay offers an eloquent witness to the entangled present, an uncompromising provocation of history, and an embattled but redemptive hope for a decolonial future.
I cannot speak highly enough of contemporary Australian poetry, and Evelyn Araluen’s debut collection Dropbear is no exception. Araluen is the recipient of several awards and fellowships, including the Nakata Brophy Prize for Young Indigenous Writers, the Judith Wright Poetry Prize, and a Wheeler Centre Next Chapter Fellowship. Her first collection is a momentous occasion.
As I read through the poems in this debut, the final line of the opening poem stayed with me: ‘got something for you to swallow’. The whole collection for me was about swallowing and sitting with the truths that Araluen explores – the horror and continuing messiness of colonisation. I felt the collection was also Araluen digesting her own feelings about this land and the complexity of her position within it as a descendant of the Bundjalung Nation. I was particularly drawn to the ways that the collection employs canonical Australian texts – Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, Blinky Bill and the poetry of Banjo Paterson, for example – to wrestle with the colonial image of Australia. Araluen’s use of intertextuality here is rich and well-considered. This is not just a collection that contains post-colonial anger, however, as many poems reflect a love and deep compassion. Araluen is not just exploring an Aboriginal history (or colonial one), but a personal history too. In fact, these things cannot be separated.
Readers who enjoyed Alison Whittaker’s Blakwork will similarly enjoy this collection, as Araluen uses a range of poetic forms, with passages of memoir and more academic reflection interspersed throughout. There is also an eerie yet beautiful immediacy to many of the poems – grappling with the 2019–20 bushfires and the pandemic. For many readers, this will open up the exciting possibilities of blending poetry, memoir and theory, and it makes for a great book club choice. Araluen is a poet I’ll be keeping my eye on, and Dropbear a collection I’ll return to.
Clare Millar is from Readings online.
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