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Natalie Harkin’s poetry is passionate, wise, visionary and full of pointed questions aimed at the wilfully ignorant. It is, she tells us, her ‘note to self to speak up, to unsettle and be brave’. Both unsettling and brave, the book is structured in a superficially playful yet (in truth) very barbed format. This collection of 26 poems, whose titles span A to Z, brings to mind primary school readers of yesteryear — implying the urgent need to educate the wider population on Indigenous matters.
Described by Peter Minter as a ‘harrowing ledger of colonisation’, Dirty Words is also ‘a codex of the fabric of filial memory and cultural lore, traces of stories on the wind and tide’. At once angry and compassionate, Harkin writes of the Japanese lives wasted through uranium mined on Nunga lands. She writes of ‘The Ways of the Abo Servant’ and isn’t afraid to address the Queen of England — ‘fairy tale woman on my biscuit tin … great Head of State we are bound to your custard-cream rounds’. Witty and acerbic, Harkin has crafted a collection dense with intelligence, haunted with reverence for Elders and culture, and altogether liberating.