Praise for Earlier



Reviews, QWeekend, The Courier Mail 15-16th April 2023, p17. Review by Phil Brown.

EM Foster once said “only connect!” It holds true for poetry and prose. Licari connects, which is a neat trick considering how much poetry doesn’t. Many fine poets write for other fine poets, and forget the general reader. Licari ['s] … work is immediately accessible… While she deals with lofty subject matter she is equally at home turning the prosaic into poetry… Love it.


Rosanna Licari’s Earlier is a “bristling corpus” of extraordinary poetry, deeply rooted in intersectional environmentalism. In fiercely potent poems, Licari asks us to “re-imagine”, “re-examine” and “re-image” our connection to the cosmos—to gather matrilineal strength and resilience from “the muscle of life” where “I am made / from no man’s rib / but slid from a womb, damp and blood-streaked.” There are blessings, valedictions and “molten metal-laced” poems of witness, devastation and ardour in this collection, exploring in diverse ways metaphysics, metamorphosis, evolution, new histories and ekphrasis. Superb, intimate and breathtaking in their expression of an ecopoetic community, Earlier is a wonderland of poems, where “The seed forms and anticipates / the unfurling dance / of germination.”

Cassandra Atherton, Professor of Writing and Literature, Deakin University.


If each life is a world, what is a world of billions of lives? Sweeping through evolutionary time, through the passage of ages, Rosanna Licari’s Earlier looks back, applies its forensic gaze to an insistent, pervasive history of births and creations, human and other. Weaving threads and connections, Licari’s poems investigate rich and diverse beginnings, awakenings, and endings too, celebrating lush, thriving, irrepressible life, both individual and collective. Thoughtful, curious, broad ranging, at times wondering, at times biographical, Earlier is an archaeology of poems to unearth and relish.

David Adès, Poet, Host of Poets’ Corner podcast series.

Rosanna Licari’s collection Earlier is an elegant feast that pulses and throbs with vivid life. Licari’s is a poetry concerned with the dramas that take place at the very margins of existence, under great pressure, like the magma that bubbles from vents in the depths of the ocean. At the heart of Earlier are enduring themes of birth, evolution and survival, be it of earth’s earliest lifeforms; the traces left behind by humankind’s ancestors Lucy and Jenolan Man; to the male emperor penguin standing in his ‘gelid circle of hell’ on an Antarctic shelf of ice incubating the ‘feathered dreamers’ of the next generation. Licari writes arrestingly of a female dragonfly carrying out her biological imperative to deposit a clutch of eggs, then turns to scrutinise instinctive human behaviour; the urges and drives of historians and scientists to uncover the myriad stories of our origins. Perhaps the most powerful theme of the collection is that of hope, of survival and continuance in the face of uncontrollable forces, their scouring, purging power leaving their survivors naked as they step from burning rubble into the unknown future, bearing a seed of continuance and new life. For example, the extraordinary image of a water dragon digging a burrow and laying eggs amidst the January 2020 bushfires, or a pair of Madonna statuettes that survive a supercell storm which otherwise wreaks havoc in the poet’s home. Earlier’s eloquent and discerning lyrical narratives are poems for now, with their wisdom and stoicism, their calm beauty in the eye of today’s calamitous uncertainty.

Melissa Ashley, author of The Birdman’s Wife and The Bee and the Orange Tree. 


What an ambitious work Rosanna Licari has crafted — nothing less than a measure of evolution and history, her own book of Genesis and the life thereafter. Her poetry is erudite, precise in its turns of phrase, and always, in all ways, like the great storytellers of old, keeping you spellbound.

Felix Cheong, Singapore’s National Arts Council Young Artist winner.



Earlier. Review by Jane Frank in March 2023.


Rosanna E Licari’s new collection is ambitious in scope and depth. This is Licari’s first major publication since An Absence of Saints (University of Queensland Press, 2010) which won the Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize, the Wesley Michel Wright Prize and the Anne Elder Award. The sixty-seven poems in this book transport the reader through the course of history from the stirrings of creation and the births of various life forms to accounts of the poet’s own beginnings, her family’s war torn past and the miracle of awakening each day to her subtropical Queensland surroundings. Hope and survival are constant themes.

Licari, who is Poetry Editor and Publisher at StylusLit literary journal, is a poet that ponders philosophical questions about the nature of reality: scientific, environmental, metaphysical and anthropological facts and mysteries are interwoven through her work. The titular poem, ‘Earlier’ [11-13] for example, responds to the Rig Veda—an ancient Indian collection of Sanskrit hymns. The poem personifies loneliness—the time ‘before’—as driver in the creation process:

So it spoke with a brilliance

that was wide and fierce.

The flame of a million stars.

Violence that creates

and destroys

and pleasures itself

with its own force, timbre and breath.

Many poems apply the forensic detail of a documentary as if a moving, all-seeing camera is at work. In ‘Drifters’ [15-16] the poet explains ‘the meshing into our existence’ of microscopic phytoplankton, a ‘(drifting plant, a Greek derivation)’ to explain the cycle of life:

We depend on their rhythm —


the drifters cocoon the earth with

the blue haze we breathe.

The same closely observed description is used in poems with a medical focus such as ‘The Hand’ [72] a prose poem where the poet visits a surgeon about a lump to be removed from her hand, connecting the forthcoming ‘surgical embroidery’ with the deterioration of her mother’s mental capacities:

In my mother’s brain

nothing is stitched together. Synapses collapse and don’t

form again. Neurons reach for what is left of sense, but meet

nonsense, the obscure territories …

This is one of a number of powerful biographical and familial poems. Many of these intersect with accounts of Licari’s family’s migration from Europe to Australia. For example, in ‘Early Self Portrait: from Latina, Italy to Bonegilla, Victoria’ [67], the reader joins the poet as a young child and her parents on the arduous sea and land voyage ‘through jade, flat, steel-grey and choppy waters across the Indian Ocean, the Equator and all the way to Fremantle’ and across country to a new life beginning at the Bonegilla migrant camp. In this narrative poem, Licari coughs throughout the entire journey but on reaching Australian soil, is miraculously recovered— an omen perhaps.

A number of poems in the book refer to borders of various kinds and her strong emotional reactions to what they represent. Licari was born in the former Yugoslavia which she writes about in ‘Revisiting Yugoslavia: Rijeka, Croatia’ [81], a poem about the poet’s regret at being born in Rijeka ‘in a country that doesn’t exist anymore’ and not in ‘my father’s city, Trieste’:

… the canal

lined with small coloured boats,

and my confusion surfaces

I stare at it

the old border with Italy.


I imagine my father’s days.

They become part of me:

the contempt for the country

that took his country

is the unease

the shame,

I feel for my birthplace.


Again, in ‘Borderline, Yugoslavia, 1947’, [61] where ‘the echoes from the earth still rise …. history becomes a date and a summarising sentence.’ However, in ‘The Spaniard’ [52-53], we encounter a different kind of border between properties where Licari compares hers with her neighbour’s:

I am the land conquistadors invaded

the Amazon

full of hot man-eating orchids

tendrils and fronds that

weave their way into cerebral cortex

his land is sanitised

concrete and mowing has cleansed and blessed

retirement has expanded his empire


small dogs growl at the fence line.


Again, in ‘Crossing’ [113-114], the crossing from fulltime work ‘across a line’ where there’s ‘a universe of time to myself’ is a slow creep towards the unregulated before the ‘inevitable return to civilisation’.

‘Degrees of Flight’ [73-76], a beautiful poem in five sections about freedom and flight describes ‘the natural border / where the ancient scrub turkeys / pass on their daily route / into my world.’ These birds: ‘Children of crones /…smelling of glacial ice’ destroy the poet’s garden and their flight is described as clumsy compared with the smooth swooping of frogmouth owls, and comparable with the poet’s own inability to take her writing through the ‘abandoned take-off’ of writer’s block.

The fecundity and irrepressibility of the natural world is a force the poet contends with in her daily life. Poems such as ‘A Feast’ [109] and ‘Metamorphosis’ [107-108] address primal hunger in the natural world— zebra-striped larvae moving in a ‘green trance’ before transformation to common crow butterfly, as well as the feasting of bees and bats, their ‘winged reputations smeared with virus’ —are about flight, but also the need to control the ‘leftovers’ of encounters with these creatures on the poet’s property. ‘Paradeisos’ [87] explores the ‘wildness’ and life going on around Licari and her understanding of, and acceptance into, the ‘ordered routines’ of the natural world— those of golden orb spiders, ants, bees, centipedes and ‘burrowing beetles’. The poet’s

… appearance doesn’t matter here. Moist soil presses up through

gaps in toes, grounding the moment …Worms intertwine roots that

bear the earth’s yield. Between the fronds I shape, secateurs nick

flesh and blood tastes of iron. Alone, looking up, my sarong slips

to the ground. The cloudless blue belongs to me.


The poet has returned to ‘the first earthly garden’ where she is at one with nature. There is a moving intimacy here, though in other poems such as ‘A Collision of Birds’ [104], we feel the poet struggling against nature.

Sometimes it is natural forces that work in opposition, but in other more confessional poems, Licari speaks of loneliness as a result of relationships that have ended or places lost as a result of landscapes swept away by change. Behind an often stoic tone, we sense vulnerability. In ‘Tourist’ [111-112], about a visit to Melbourne and a rare meeting with an ex-partner, the poem’s narrator compares the colder climate of that city to the state of loneliness:


Would you like to live here?

A friend later asks. It’s so cool here.

It’s freezing.

Was there a spark?

Only the burning desire to say

I never thought you’d leave me

so alone.


Change is an ever-present theme. In ‘Currumbin Alley’ [117], a stranger tells the poet ‘things have changed’ and in ‘Young Love, Botany Bay’ [119-120], the landscape of a childhood relationship and happy times fishing with her father are remembered before ‘land development scoured the seagrass beds’, these memories only accessible now in the poet’s recollections. With a reference to Sydney Airport across the water:


I still can’t help but rely on childhood memory

… the Bay remembers the spawning grounds

with every gasping takeoff.


There are ekphrastic poems—short like snapshots— at intervals throughout the book, including in response to works by Margaret Olley, William Robinson, Brett Whiteley, Ian Fairweather and Robert Brownhall. Licari’s often literal interpretations of what she sees are deceptively simple, applying the same forensic matter-of-factness as in the metaphysical poems about the beginnings of life that they are juxtaposed between, but their brevity and delicacy are poignant. In ‘The Line’[14] after ‘The Divided Unity’ (1973) by Brett Whiteley:


The sky is

an extension of water

wet inky lines





Licari reminds us of the almost inseparable relationship between visual art and words that so often delivers ekphrasis its power.

Licari also imagines the lives of other women in history including the creator of the ‘Venus of Willendorf’ [‘My Paleolithic Self’, 43-44], a small Venus figure of 30,000 years ago, the natural historian Mary Anning [‘Mary Anning discovers the plesiosaur, 1824’, 32] and dedicates ‘Ascendancy’ [18-19] to botanist and paleontologist Else Marie Friis who studies the evolutionary history of flowering plants. Detailed notes are provided to many of these science-inspired poems. This work by Licari demonstrates scientific knowledge and interest, and rigorous research. But particularly appealing are poems that connect Licari’s knowledge with accounts of her everyday activities such as swimming in ‘Evolutionary Lap’ [24], a brilliant short poem:


Below the goggle line


Surge forward and

breathe out into

a glide    a pull   a pause

… this you ride

… as if preparing to fly


This is a book to be digested in small intense episodes: the poems only get better with every additional reading as the layering and complex connections emerge more fully. This is a collection not to be missed.





Earlier at Ginninderra Press (print)
Earlier at Amazon (print/ Kindle)
Earlier at Booktopia (print/ ebook)
Earlier at (ebook)


Praise for An Absence of Saints



An Absence of Saints.

Review by Tara Mokhtari & Fiona Wright on March 7th, 2011


An Absence of Saints is a collection of lyric poems based on poet Rosanna Licari’s family history, childhood and travels. Divided into three parts, Licari’s collection firstly retells stories passed down from relatives from Europe during World War II, then touches on memories of a childhood as the daughter of migrants in Australia, and finally brings the reader into the speaker’s present travels as an adult.

The poetry is finely structured lyric free verse, historic retelling, and present tense examinations of place and reverie. Licari has strong formal control, her poetic rhythms are musical rather than metric and her eloquence contributes to the polished lyric aesthetic of the poems.

[…] Stories about migrant experiences are extremely important. These narratives speak to migrants of many ethnic backgrounds lessening the sense that we are alone in our sometimes distressing displacement. Concurrently, these stories are a way of relating our unique experiences to mainstream Australia, for whom we are so often a source of amusement, frustration, even a thing to be feared when our cultural differences manifest themselves. (Tara Mokharti)

The poet inhabits a space of betweeness – between the stories of Europe and her experience in Australia, between the past, the present, and an imagined future, between memory and ‘real time.’ The continual structural eruptions of the book leave the speaker with little firm ground on which to stand, but with an receptivity to the symbolic, to heritage and to strange similarities. One of the most interesting – and informative – structural eruptions in the book, for example, is a small sequence of poems about historical explorers. ‘Bank’s Tattoo’, ‘Botany Bay I’ and ‘Hunters and Collectors’ re-imagine stories of national history, of the Endeavour’s encounter with Australia. Often drawing on quotes from Captain Cook’s journal, the poems are keenly interested with language and naming, of bodily experiences (such as tattooing, the sensations of sea travel and ‘the fragrance of coconut oil’) and of adaptation and renewal, here told through a botanical motif. ‘Hunters and Collectors’, for example, describes the collection of a banksia specimen by people who do not know how he seedpods open in fire, and includes the direct statement ‘To collect you have to/ understand regeneration.’ […] Licari’s insistence is always on the concrete and the small, which slowly accrue into the bigger issues and stories of her poems. It is a poetry of subtlety and unencumbrance, that resists excessive ornamentation and offers instead a refreshing voice in contemporary lyric poetry. (Fiona Wright)





Cordite Poetry Review.

An Absence of Saints. Review by Libby Hart on 24 January 2011


An Absence of Saints is one of those poetry collections you pick up and immediately sense all the effort and dedication that has gone into making it, the reader easily recognising those long hours that have since stretched into years where the poet shaped and reshaped poems to then be brought thoughtfully together into a manuscript of common themes. So, it is little wonder then that An Absence of Saints was winner of the 2009 Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize.

Rosanna Licari – the Brisbane-based poet and editor of the online magazine Stylus Poetry Journal, for whom this is the debut collection – and the team at University of Queensland Press have produced a vigorous and handsome book of fifty-six poems. Divided into three parts, An Absence of Saints explores the deep well of family history, discovery, travel and migration.

[…] The University of Queensland Press produce such attractive collections and An Absence of Saints is no exception. However, this book is made all the more interesting by wide stanza poems being presented in landscape format. It is an interesting and bold decision that works and adds value to the overall feel of the book.

In ‘A Note for the Past’ the poet explains that “forgetting is not made / of the present.” An Absence of Saints is anything but forgetting. It is an archive of thought, observation and feelings. It is also a body of work that is full of muscle, heart and philosophy. It stands tall and has an assured voice that is powerful and impressive. I look forward to reading Licari’s next book.





M/C JOURNAL: A Journal of Media and Culture.

An Absence of Saints.

Review by Alison Clifton, 19 October 2010.


Winner of the 2009 Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize, Rosanna Licari’s An Absence of Saints is vital, intelligent, and sophisticated. Bright energy and intriguing nuance are a potent combination in this work. […] Deceptively plain and straightforward, then, seemingly stripped of all artifice, these poems reveal the extraordinary in the commonplace and the simple in the extraordinary. […] Licari’s first collection of poetry is highly readable, at once flowing and majestic, quick and nimble. She writes with assurance and subtlety. I look forward to seeing what she will produce next.





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