Little Bit Long Time is the debut collection of poetry from Aboriginal writer Ali Cobby Eckermann. It came out in 2009 and its print run sold out. This review is of the second printing by Picaro Press as part of their Aegis series.
I have been hesitant to review poetry before. Part of this is time - if you are going to read poetry I think you really need to read it closely and that takes as long, if not longer than reading novels. The other reason is that I often feel inept at offering criticism of poetry. I am not a trained critic (nor likely to become one considering the pay rates) but I like talking about the stuff that I like so …
Little bit long time is the only collection of poetry in recent memory that I feel I have liked or had a connection with almost every poem. Part of this is accessibility of the language. Eckermann is a plain speaking poet with no pretention to anything other than capturing the voice, feelings and issues affecting herself and other aboriginal people. I often find a lot of Australian poetry has a specialised audience of academically educated, trained and practising poets, who do a fine job but leave me feeling a bit unmoved emotionally.
Little bit long time is a mix of the deeply personal and the universal. A copy of Intervention Pay Back needs to be force read to Mal Brough and Tony Abbott until they get it. Pretty much every issue with white governments riding rough shod over aboriginal self determination is encapsulated in that poem.
The titular poem Little Bit Long Time could be about any massacre of indigenous peoples but it brought to mind the 1928 Coniston Massacre . The refrain “little bit long time” takes on a chilling tone in the last stanza.
Perhaps part of my joy in reading this collection is that it transports me emotionally to my life in Alice Springs. Eckermann uses a couple of different registers (is this the right term?) standard Australian English and the patterns of speech and use of language that is common to Aboriginal English in the Northern Territory and South Australia. I suspect that I have an advantage over a few people whose only exposure to Aboriginal people is through the media. Whatever the case I hear the cadence when I read her words.
I think Little bit long time is a superbly accessible work, in a way that I’d like more Australian poetry to be. It’s at times intensely personal and underlines many of the issues Aboriginal people face but there are commonalities of the human experience artfully articulated here that any lover of poetry would enjoy.