Written by: Morgan Bach
Te Herenga Waka University Press
Reviewed by: Margaret Austin
Reading Middle Youth by Morgan Bach has me wondering at the life experiences of a poet concerned with, yet bleakly cynical about, the fate of Earth and all upon it. My wondering is probably naïve: Bach’s views as expressed here are backed by sad facts we are being forced to face.
My reading, therefore, is accompanied by head shakes of reluctant agreement. As always, recognition of a personal kind strikes a chord. Moderate Fantasy Threat is an example. “Sifting my skin through the millions of men / afloat in the city” she writes in a poem referencing London. She is “prostrated at the altar of boredom” as “sex has become / an administrative task”. A movie of her life, she says, would receive the same rating as the title of this poem.
Date line also recalls London, and it’s a bleak recall. The city features Dreadnought Walk, sexual assaults in a Wapping alleyway and at Canary Wharf. World weariness has become a theme. “Another date, another line / You found yourself crossing / You walk through churches you don’t believe in / with your body / you don’t believe in.” I’m feeling for the writer, whether she intends it or not.
It’s no surprise then to read cosmos, a lengthy five-part poem, and find the writer has been reading theories about the universe’s end. “In Iceland, people have gathered / to watch fire pouring from a fissure”. Such stark imagery is all the more striking because it’s rooted in reality. And I cheer when the sometimes-obscure nature of the imagery that characterises this collection is relieved by this quote: “We know our luck / is borrowed / from our future selves”.
Yet more stark is the eponymous Middle Youth, in which our writer, almost 40, feels “I can never say to my friends with newborns / I am afraid”.
Morgan Bach does us a huge service with this frank expression of her vision. We need more of such unvarnished truth-telling.