Author: Evelyn Araluen
Genre: Verse/Poetry collection
Publisher: University of Queensland Press
‘The trope once had long hair and spoke of liberation, but now votes for local conservatives and owns a boat.’ (The Trope Speaks)
Dropbear is a remarkable debut by Evelyn Araluen that brings together the past and the present through strong lyrical verse. Araluen writes satirically with ease, while also bringing in a sense of honesty and purpose in her more plaintive poems. This is an outstanding collection of poetry that confronts commercialised culture and will leave readers in awe.
The collection is named after the fictional deadly koala-like bear. There is a common understanding among Australians that if a tourist asks about drop bears, there’s always a wild story to spin. Dropbear is full of references, homages, and critiques of popular culture and Aussie kitsch that are familiar to people who have lived in Australia. A deeper layer of Araluen’s verse comes from her experiences as a Bundjalung descendant. Through her voice, the reader is drawn to recognise the harsh settler-colonial history underlying these playful aspects of Australian culture and the continuing lack of recognition for the Indigenous cultures that predate colonisation.
‘// the prayer for peace says second to
send grief to the soil //
but first to take it back
// says there are some things
too hallowed for forgetting //
too much history to forgive’
(FOR POWER FOR PRAYER FOR PROMISE FOR PEACE)
Araluen takes loose inspiration from iconographic authors of Australian literature, including Banjo Paterson and May Gibbs, and twists the form, characters, or places to create a new meaning and message. Taking apart these works and reimagining how they fit into a more inclusive national literature is a welcome challenge to mainstream culture. Araluen’s new creation of literature speaks back to the ingrained ‘Aussie classics’ and brings a fresh new voice to the writing scene.
The variated works within the collection make for an interesting read. There are poems that look more standardised, some that look more experimental and modern, and even detailed short essays. Divided into three parts: GATHER, SPECTRE, and DEBRIS, each turn of the page brings something new and inventive. Readers will be hooked onto every word Araluen writes.
One of the stand-out poems in the collection is ‘The Inevitable Pandemic Poem’. Set in April 2020, Araluen speaks from a retrospective first-hand point-of-view about sourdough starters, dog walking, closed playgrounds, and masks. Living and writing during a Pandemic is something that no one could have envisioned a few years ago but now everyone understands what it is like to take a walk amongst empty streets. The poem is written delicately and ties together what felt like a very long month in a few short lines.
Araluen has shared with Australia a brilliant debut collection of poetry. Spectacularly written and carefully curated—I am sure that Dropbear will be warmly received and enjoyed by many readers.