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)
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.
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.