Monster’s Ink by Samuel Wagan Watson
Review by Kylie Thompson
Rating: 5 stars
Genre: poetry, memoir, politics, cultural identity
Poetry, at its heart, is an art form of truths scaled back to their cleanest elements. And though often when we learn about poetry at school a lot of the heart is ripped away in hopes of studying the form and techniques, there’s a world of staggeringly beautiful work out there for anyone game to venture past their high school memories.
Samuel Wagan Watson is one of Australia’s most well-known First Nation poets, a self-proclaimed writer and raconteur making a name for himself as a dynamic, emotive force in our poetic scene. In his latest work, ‘Monster’s Ink’, Wagan Watson tackles some of the biggest issues facing Australia as a country, and all of us as individuals, with trademark wry humour, compassion, and a fierce undercurrent that makes for utterly compelling reading.
This is one of those anthologies where you might need to pause a moment, let the words and ideas settle in a little, before moving on. A collection to savour rather than speed through. Wagan Watson’s work is deeply personal and autobiographical, exploring the idea of race in modern Australian life, and where exactly the land’s traditional owners fit in a ‘multicultural’ environment where racism is still far too common. But though race plays a key part in the works, this is also an anthology about love, and life, and the richness of the world around us. If you love the chance to see the familiar through someone else’s eyes, you’re in for a treat here.
There is the occasional bit of saltier language, but rather than being for the sake of looking edgier, or shocking readers for attention, Wagan Watson’s language choices are a clear and compelling call to arms, a reminder that words have power, and if you’re offended by their power on a page it might be time to consider how they’re wielded in daily life.
‘Monster’s Ink’ is a work of experimentation by Wagan Watson, a chance to play with the poetry of prose and storytelling. This isn’t the poetry of the classroom, measured in beats until the next rhyming word, and with the meaning taking a back-seat to the form. There’s a freedom to it, a blend of poetic performance, intimate conversation and storytelling. Think the poetic equivalent of sitting around a fire, sharing everything and anything, and you’re coming close to the feel of ‘Monster’s Ink’.
If there’s a downside to this collection, it’s the shortness. ‘Monster’s Ink’ is a chapbook, rather than a larger work of anthology, and while this makes it easy to slip into a handbag or backpack to be savoured in spare moments, it also means that you arrive at the end far too quickly.
Here’s hoping there’s more work from Wagan Watson soon, then.
‘Monster’s Ink’ is published through Recent Work Press, and is available through the publisher’s website, and from selected stores and events nationwide.