Books

Elfie Shiosaki and Linda Martin (eds)
maar bidi: next generation black writing

For this anthology, Elfie Shiosaki and Linda Martin have curated flashes of memoir and memory gathered from a creative writing program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at the University of Western Australia. From its beginning, maar bidi tells the reader what to expect within its pages, from the literal – “next generation black writing” – to the symbolic, with the use of lower-case text for the title, deliberately going against English style conventions.

This use of lower case recurs throughout the anthology in a purposeful manner. In “Loss of innocence”, Mabel Gibson’s lower-case prose brings an extra sense of infancy to a memory of her mother from when Gibson was eight years old. The use of lower case in Brianne Yarran’s “Australia’s future is bright” feels liberating, stripping the poem of expectation and rules so the reader can take in the message: “so close your eyes and think of a time / a time of equality between you and I”.

As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the writers of this anthology are producing Black writing. However, being Black is not all these writers discuss. Angelica Augustine shares a moment with the reader in “7.23 in the morning”, right before “the stresses of life [come] down on me”. Gibson writes frankly about mental illness through the lens of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings: “Having a mental illness is normal, it is not beautiful.” These discussions add to the anthology’s conversations on Blackness, asking the reader to travel with the writers across their intersections.

The discomfort the reader might feel is exacerbated by the questions posed by many of the writers. In one poem, Serena-May Brown asks the reader an unrelenting series of questions that hit hard and deep: “Why are we seen as a threat when we breathe? / Why are we being killed for no reason?” Connie Gamble begins “Stand still…” by asking, “It’s the 21st century / but why does it feel like the 20th century?” As with all good poetry, the answers are seldom found within the poems themselves, but through the reader questioning and requestioning their own contexts.

Several pieces, particularly those in the anthology’s first section, “watchful eye of mother”, interweave matriarchy and Mother Nature. Nancy Murray’s “Walking amongst the trees” sets the mood for this section, while Savannah Cox turns these themes inwards in “My blood runs through”: “Broome is me. / My body is the land.”

A mix of poetry and prose, maar bidi provides the world with a candid collection from this continent’s next generation of Black writers. 

Raelee Lancaster

Magabala, 104pp, $24.99

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jan 23, 2021 as "Elfie Shiosaki and Linda Martin (eds), maar bidi: next generation black writing".

A free press is one you pay for. In the short term, the economic fallout from coronavirus has taken about a third of our revenue. We will survive this crisis, but we need the support of readers. Now is the time to subscribe.

Reviewer: Raelee Lancaster