It is hard to read Fiona Wright’s new collection of poems, Domestic Interior, without her award-winning and much-publicised essay collection, Small Acts of Disappearance, in mind. That book dealt with Wright’s eating disorder and Domestic Interior notably abounds in references to food. Food appears in similes: “Older sisters were round and brown / as hard-boiled eggs” (in the poem “Commute”); “my hands grow thick and lumpy / as air-cured salami” (in “Surely”). Food is also in titles – “Sweet Potato”, “Pudding” – and in allusions to cafeterias and bakeries. And there are poems in the form of charms, such as “Charm Against Casual Cruelty”, which lists various ingredients, precisely measured: “a small green chilli, an eggshell / a peanut, a wheat husk”. Indeed, all the poems in this book are skilfully measured and disciplined.
Domestic Interior has a section concerned with the poet’s illness, but this is not a book marked by narcissism. In “22 Days”, the poet in hospital reflects on the refugee crisis from her position of “asylum”. She becomes “so furious / on the night of the election / that I want …/ the world to go to hell / to be / my own psychic geography”. Wright’s poems are also often about places. This is particularly obvious in the section called “Elsewhere”, which offers poems set in Perth and Berlin, though Wright’s poetry is generally focused on suburban Sydney, as in “Centro: Bankstown” and “Bells Line”. In the latter, the poet is driven past Rooty Hill, “which always sounds like more fun than it is”.
This highlights a major strength of the collection: wit. An edgy wit distinguishes the strongest poems, such as “Tupperware Sonnets”. This sequence of four poems resonates with Sylvia Plath’s “The Applicant” in channelling an artificial domestic and dystopian voice: “I don’t know where I’d be now without it, without my Happy / Chopper. I love it. / I have two. I have two Happy Choppers.” Other poems employ “overheard” voices and are similarly marked by a comic tone, while defamiliarising the everyday and adverting to something darker.
Despite self-alienation rendering the section of love poems peculiarly closed and sterile – with the poet herself fearing “hollowness / within me” – Wright’s work is generally open to the world and, importantly, to readers, due to the accessibility of her subject matter and the inviting clarity of her poetic style. KN
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 25, 2017 as "Fiona Wright, Domestic Interior". Subscribe here.