Book Review – Thread me a Button by Jude Aquilina & Joan Fenney
I nearly missed this collection for two reasons. The first was that it was located at my local library and while the superb and nearly fully complete state system enables me to find and request almost anything and have it delivered to my nearest town, the clientele of the local library is generally conservative and older. I’d be more likely to find a healthy quilting section or the poems of Banjo Patterson ( to be fair they have great crime and fantasy sections). So I wasn’t expecting poetry, nor poetry written this century. Second the collection is small physically, I initially mistook it for one of those small advice books or guides that publishers release.
Whatever caused me to look further I don’t know but I’m glad I did. Readers of the blog will know that I am exploring poetry; reviewing as part of the Australian Women Writers challenge and also engaging in reading as part of my poetry practice.
I expected to enjoy some poems and to learn something. I’m not averse to sewing in general but I didn’t think an anthology organised thematically around buttons would be too engrossing.
But it was. To the extent that I feel jealousy. Creating an anthology around buttons was a stroke of deceptive genius and the poems have taken, what on the surface is a simple idea and stitched together a collection that is diverse in tone, form and subject matter.
There are 43 poems in all, presented in the sections: In the sewing draw, Love’s tangled thread, Dark holes, A buttonhole to history and Of Kith and Kin. We don’t find who is responsible for each poem until the list at the end of the collection – a good choice I think forcing the reader to concentrate on the poems themselves rather than who has written them.
Overall the collection favours less complex diction and manages to evoke nostalgia and emotion consistently. There’s humour, horror and love poems and a collection that you might think would drag on the topic of buttons ends up extremely well rounded.
It’s hard to pick favourites as several read throughs have revealed other poem’s charms to me. But if forced to pick two that were immediate favourites - From Her lover’s Uniform by Fenney, in which a small token of affection is imbued with lifelong meaning and sadness, is one. While the second is Deep in a Forrest by Aquilina, perfect in the way it holds its cards close to its chest until the final, horrible reveal.
Thread me a Button is a lovely example of accessible poetry. When I hear people criticise poetry for aloofness for being too distant and divorced from reality I think of something like Thread me a Button and shake my head. This is perfect for the person who is unsure about this “highfalutin free verse” and for poets who know how deceptively hard writing such accessible poetry can be. I think its also useful for poets thinking about the presentation and construction of their collections - its a great model to work from.
You can purchase it through Ginninderra Press
This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014. Please check out this page for more great writing from Australian women.