a review by Matthew da Silva.
Love and Metaxa Review
When I was reading this book I was reminded of Billy Joel. I felt like I was seventeen again and listening to records downstairs at Vaucluse, the stereo leaking out its sweet sounds like glass through which I tried to see the outlines of my own face. Strigas uses poetry to make sense of her life like I used to use music to make sense of mine, but her enterprise is more real. As she writes in ‘Ugly is Beautiful’:
In a poem you look for peace.
In life, all you find is chaos.
But like Billy Joel the suburban magic of Strigas’ apotheosis – if you read the introduction you can get a history of the book’s becoming, and of Strigas’ journey to becoming a published author – rewards particularly because of the familiarity of the tropes, even though, as a man myself, some of the insights must be outside of my understanding from lived experience. I could never write a poem like ‘A man’, where the poet conjures up a masculine reality as a response to feelings that work to form her but that she seems to resent.
Often there seem to be two voices, one rendered on the page in italics. This second voice is like the poet’s conscience. In ‘Rinsing’ we see romantic love compared to washing clothes. This is an effective strategy as it allows the poet to boldly step into a place where the reader can also share her feelings, and possibly add some of his or her own. It’s a bright-lit room we can both inhabit at the same time – the writer and the reader – as we participate in an act of imaginative reckoning (this is what poetry’s for). You have some predictable tropes (stains, cycles) and though the poem is not long, you feel as though a considerable distance has been travelled. After all it’s thousands of miles between my house and where Strigas lives. But “step‐by‐step you know / what will come next, / then repeat.’ That final line, the last line of the poem, is an invitation not only to contemplate one’s own life, the many times you’ve thought about love as laundry (love as laundry) but it also prompts the reader to do some more work. You might even, the next time you do laundry, think about past girlfriends, past wrongs, mistakes that you thought had been left behind but that, you know, leave their traces on the fabric of your memory.
The two voices form a harmony, as though the poet were two people or one person at different times in her life. In ‘Not a love affair’ there’s the poet of the present (“You feel love to be a phantom. What if that person never destroyed you? What if that spirit wasn’t deserving? Love? What is that?”).
So different from the hard present where the poet is forced by circumstance to put words down on paper in order to come to terms with what’s happened. “Decades later, when you run into an old ghost, you will feel frightened—fifteen with acne again. You’ll know.” It’s almost as though, in her busy mind, the poet were talking to her younger self.
It makes no sense. It terrifies your logic. What does logic have to do with phantoms? You intend to get to the bottom of love. You approach and ask the ghost to sit down, you smile, and then you say hello.
While in this poem the italicised words seem to come from the past, perhaps 20 years earlier, a time of discovery, of shame, of becoming, in ‘I want to be her’ they belong to a woman the poet sees outside her hotel room. In ‘Stranger at parties’ it’s the thoughts of a stranger. In ‘The galaxy of you’ it’s the poet herself in her writing present who’s talking in italics.
Italicised parts might be the thoughts of another person or of 15-year-old Christina, in other places they seem to be the conscience of the poet sitting alone in her room typing, and, for example in ‘Lacustrine’, it’s sometimes not clear who’s saying the italicised words. This multiplicity of voices is characteristic of Strigas’ method. We come close to a source where, we know, many voices combine in our minds as we go about our daily business. The postmodern additions – the references to poetry and writing – are aspects of the same faceted reality Strigas inhabits like a mage. Poetry is like a window opened into a room as we walk, thinking, remembering, hoping, on a quiet, dark street. We can hear the sound of Billy Joel leaking out of a lighted room while, in another part of the same house we’re passing by on soft feet, the flickering blue light of a TV screen forces out images we cannot see. We only know we recognise the tune playing. Is it for us that it plays?
It’s as though Strigas clothes her ideas in words. Clothes figure again in ‘Inheritance’. Here there’s a stain of another kind, but her relationship with money is complex and nuanced. Thankfully it’s not a matter of baldly rejecting, nor is it a covetous link tying the author to the subject, rather it’s an imaginative bond made up of complex feelings that we’re invited to survey as though at an auction where we can bid on their remains by promising our attention for a few moments. (Do I hear fifty?)
It’s in this realm of exchanges and of feelings, things that leak across the borders set up by agreed-upon referents, where we can deliberately tug garments for our intuition and take them off their hangers out of closets, perhaps put them on for a change – will the weather be too cold? is this style right for the occasion? – so that we might step out onto the broad expanse of existence manifest in the vibrant concurrence of consciousness and page. Digital reality a PDF more flexible by comparison to paper, able to be sent at the speed of light, faster than cathode rays spreading out of a bungalow on the dark street. Money isn’t everything
But if I turn it into a poem
it does sound lovelier
though Metaxa is a harsh word, its suggestive weight seeming to drag the poet down. Those memories possibly including ones where the girl was asked to wash glasses. It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to. The self-reflexive moment of poetry – the (re)lived experience, the past crumbling like broken bread – surges like a wave over the beach of the present. It’s a summer’s day and we’re again on a family outing
But real love bleeds in inks
with an old fountain pen