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2016 - Shortlisted
Intimate, inventive, full of luminous and convincing detail, terra Bravura is an autobiography in poetry. Among the book’s achievements are the ways in which past and present come in and out of focus, and how certain motifs and reappearing threads keep the whole work stitched together. The emotions in the poetry are always well-tethered to metaphors, which are often rich, beguiling and edgy. Whether she is talking of her own past, or the fraught lives of her ancestors, the hard-won frankness and originality of Meredith Wattison’s voice reveals how pain, loss and suffering are often a legacy of uncontrollable social and historical forces. The poems show a breathtaking linguistic range. The book opens with the poet trying to find the grave of her great-grandmother: ‘Thousands of tiny pebbles/ cover her grave. / It is as though small lamenters/ have come.’ and continues through many disarming tableaux of rumination into violence and inheritance.
Wattison’s seductive registers of voice are plangent and moving, often reaching an elegiac pitch but never becoming maudlin. She conveys the complexity of emotions through strikingly inventive tropes, as in the poem in which she watches her son walk to art school: ‘My son … paints like a caffeinated/ pilgrim, walks like wet paint.’ terra Bravura does much to animate how subjectivity can be approached in poetry. The book has both a sidelong and a centred gaze, the tangential and the essential forming the two poles around which the book revolves. Wattison continues to enhance her unique voice, her linguistic panache, and her remarkable approaches to subject matter.