ANZL reviews Bordering on Miraculous


Ian Wedde has reviewed Bordering on Miraculous by Lynley Edmeades and Saskia Leek, the latest in our kōrero series edited by Lloyd Jones. 

‘At first read/look, the poems by Lynley Edmeades and paintings by Saskia Leek in Bordering 0n Miraculous have much in common. Both have a tonal delicacy or restraint  Saskia in terms of her (for the most part) muted pastel palette and the light touch of her thin brush strokes, Lynley in the economy of her (for the most part) understated content and the elegant deftness of her lines and rhythms. They seem compatible, a good match. Obvious differences in tone and presence might have heightened the drama and contrast of this meeting and its ensuing conversation. As it is, the fascination of the exchange between two women (who an interview reveals were already familiar with each other’s work) owes less to their obvious compatibility and more to the subtle directions of shifting impulses within their exchanges  how the moments in their conversation originate and how responses follow, or, sometimes, seem not to.

The sense of location and identity  of origination  in Saskia’s paintings feels secure, in that they appear to stand alone. There’s an internal consistency, often in terms of iterations and motifs. The negotiations within them and their associated or neighbouring images seem internal to an existing world. In this world there are some repeated representational forms (mugs, bananas, flowers, clock-faces, and others); forms whose exact borders between representation and abstraction are somewhat fluid (suns or fried eggs? Fruits? Window frames? Clouds? Are colour grids abstractions or things?); and coloured fields or shaped areas of colour that are or appear to be abstract, but may be the sea, the sky; or simply the colour field/ground on which objects are placed, in which case the definition ‘abstract’ is a misnomer. These rich interplays both page by page and across successive or neighbouring pages are conversational, or even, at times, narrativistic, suggesting relations, conversations and even stories that have what feels  reads  like a largely self-contained environment.

By contrast, Lynley’s poems often seem responsive in a variety of ways, in that they may depend on their relationships to the paintings for their situations and what they have to say or have been invited to say. For example, on page 27 there is an image of what is surely a yellow sun on a brown scumbled ground with rays reaching out across an area of glow.  The poem notices


the slow melt of general

warmth and how the sun

often comes to be the centre.

The reaching suggests a casual

spreading with a few

nostalgic licks of brown.


But then:


The circle is the centre

is the place of insistence.

It calmly asks: what if

yellow is the thing?


And then, an apparent non-sequitur, but, in fact, a deliberate dérive or refocus to one of the poet’s key preoccupations:


What if it’s ok to sleep

with the baby in the bed?


So, any absolute distinction between the apparently self-contained world of images and the descriptively responsive one of the poems doesn’t really play, and in fact breaks down at certain key points (the baby as ‘centre’ of ‘general warmth’?), as in the second pairing in the book, in which the poem introduces us to the new baby who will feature in several more poems, such as the one quoted above. In the early poem, in which a new mother expresses both parental absorption and pleasure (‘Look at all the little things’) and frustration (‘he wakes: we curse’), we encounter the line, ‘every day: look baby: can you see the birds:’, and on the facing page find an image of folded-back green curtains, the top and bottom sections of window frame, and framed by these an expanse of what must be blue sky with a single black  ‘m’-shaped cipher for bird wings. Is the bird connection between painting and poem coincidental? Surely not; but which came first? And does it matter, except as one of the teasing pleasures of the exchange?’

Read the full review here.