Between you and me / By Amber Fresh (2009)

Let me tell you a secret: the last six years I’ve found it hard to enjoy poetry. Something changed in my brain sometime around 2003. But then there’s collections like this one that remind me how good poetry can be.

Amber is a Perth poet and this small collection evokes a certain scene in Perth so well, of poetry readings, of enduring a session at the Ocean Beach Hotel, of twenty and thirtysomething parties, of Coles carparks and of the inner suburbs.

Her poems have a casual, insightful humour which manages, paradoxically, to also be passionate and intense. Thus in ‘Casual as’:

While you were at the bar
trying to organise some
casual sex
I was in my room
writing a melancholy song for you
and drawing a comic about how we met

But that’s because
I didn’t know then
that you were at a bar
making other arrangements

That phrase ‘making other arrangements’ gets me every time I read it – such a brilliant piece of sarcasm and so terribly sad, using that rather old fashioned phrase to devastating effect.

These poems show an ability to express states of mind and stray, strange thoughts that I believed no-one else knew about it. Thus in ‘Did you do it’:

i hit myself in the face
to see what it would feel like

it felt like

did you do it?

Two poems deal in a fascinating way with faith; in “1 Corinthians 6:18”, the Holy Spirit is compared to ‘an X-men girl/ who turns boys to dust/ with a touch of her hand’. It’s an earnest, distinctive take on evangelical experience. In “Jesus is my homeboy”, the poet hears God tells her to take her doona to some people who will need it ‘on the corner of aberdeen and station street’. It’s a poem of quiet faith that doesn’t lose its sense of humour just because it’s talking about God.

The collection hangs together so well. I was left at the end feeling like I’d read a short novel, that I’d experienced a season in the poet’s life. It was a season that felt a bit like the film You and me and everyone we know, with that same quirky take on big questions, a bit like Leunig’s cartoons, and a bit like (I’m not sure why this came into my head) Leonard Cohen’s novel Favourite Game.

You can buy the book at Oxford Books in Leederville (I’m told it’s on the counter) or from Amber herself – amberinparis@hotmail.com. It costs around $15 plus postage.