The Taste of River Water

Cate Kennedy

The Taste of River Water
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The Taste of River Water

Cate Kennedy

The Taste of River Water New and selected poems by Cate Kennedy Disarming, warm and always accessible, Cate Kennedy’s poems make ordinary experiences glow. Everything that suffuses her well-loved prose is here- compassion, insight, lyrical precision and the clear, minimalist eye that reveals how life can turn on a single moment. Musing on the undercurrents and interconnections between legacy, memory, motherhood and the natural world, the poems in this exhilarating collection begin on the surface and then take us, gracefully effortlessly, to a far more thought-provoking place. Grounded in lived experience, with all its mysteries and consolations they resonate with a passionate, sensuous honesty. Praise for Cate Kennedy’s earlier poetry collections, Joyflight and Signs of Other Fires ‘These poems are driven by Kennedy’s instinct for story, character and place, but there’s a moment when the poems suddenly open up, out of nowhere, and we find we’re standing inside ourselves, in that pure, torn-open moment.’ - BRONWYN LEA ‘Sensory, rich and compelling. Kennedy gives us a new look at the familiar strangeness of place in which the sum of the parts forms a marvellous whole … This book is full of seamlessly constructed beautiful images that are hard to fault. These are poems of great hope and richness of spirit.’ - MARK O'FLYNN


In an introduction to American poet Robert Hass’s poetry, Stanley Kunitz likened the effect of a Hass poem to stepping into water from air that is almost the same temperature, hardly noticing one is at the will of the sea, suddenly. Cate Kennedy – also regarded for her novel The World Beneath, and her short fiction – is a different poet to Hass, less an experimentalist or stylist, but she relies on getting the reader comfortable before providing something like this change in the atmosphere by the time the poem is out. A twist might be the appropriate word to describe this affect, too, as the poems in The Taste of River Water, Kennedy’s new and selected poems, favour narrative.

In the longer poem ‘Last Man Standing’ about a wounded and dying war veteran, she – with her novelist’s eye – pieces together a past, using photographs and his scribbled death bed messages. Poetry enters when she shifts things, quickly and with line breaks, for the benefit of surprise: ‘After they’d taken out part of his jaw and cheekbone/he shuffled, face caved and disfigured, into the backyard,/thinking to move the sprinklers.’ In a direct and careful poem about the complicated feelings of loss surrounding a still birth, Kennedy turns suddenly and pithily at the end of the poem: ‘Soon I will rise/pen and paper/envelopes/spade/the unbearable sight/of turned earth.’ In many poems the act of creation – of writing – is never far from these everyday observations, offering deeper layers.

The Taste of River Water contains more densely lyrical poems, too, like the sensual, unpunctuated ‘How to Eat Guava’: ‘that curved yellow moon surface/eat it’. Many of the poems, though, consider moments of epiphany that pierce or – for a more appropriate verb – seep through to the daily and are passed emotively over, in this process, to a sensitive reader.

Luke Beesley’s latest poetry collection is Lemon Shark. He runs a series of poetry nights for Readings.

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