Mike Ladd at Adelaide Uni

Mike Ladd with work by Cathy Brooks

Last year I missed the launch of Mike Ladd’s latest book Invisible Mending– a refreshing collection which ranges across genres including essay, memoir, short story and poetry.

Later in the year I caught up with Mike and got my copy. I have to say I was so impressed with the mixed-genre approach that I’m considering doing a similar thing myself!

Last week I went along to an evening sponsored by Friends of Adelaide Uni Library. Mike spent some time reading from the collection and giving background.

As the blurb says “Based loosely on the ideas of scarring and healing, Invisible Mending extends from family intimacies to connection and disconnection in the Australian community, environmental damage and repair. It also has an international view.’

 

Mike spoke of his interest in the pantun form, his artist’s residency in Malaysia which was interrupted by the sudden death of his father. All of these elements prompted an inspired sequence of pantuns: ‘A Book of Hours at Rimbun Dahan.’

 

The light comes so slowly

Another hazy, smoky dawn.

Dreams of my dead father woke me early.

There’s too much time, then there’s none.

 

These poems are so economic, so dense. Like a well-written haiku; an observation (generally of the natural world), then an acerbic – often enigmatic – line which might reflect or could refer to the first two lines, perhaps something deeper.

 

And another:

 

                  I start the great four-bladed ceiling fan.

                  Seconds later, a gecko drops to the floor,

                  stunned. Yes, the world’s like that.

                  We all hang on as long as we can.

 

Mike tried to write one pantun a day while he was in Malaysia. Anyone can write four lines of poetry but those punchlines don’t come easily. As Mike says, it’s so easy to cross the line into aphorism or appear overly moralistic. But Mike never succumbs to this. None of these poetic gems are the stuff of memes or back-of-bus-ticket philosophy.

 

                   Under the mosquito net, settling to sleep,

                  you feel safe from the world’s attacks.

                  Then you hear the needling, invisible whine

                  of that one mosquito inside the net; the mind.

 

 

 

There are four poems in this collection with which I feel a long connection: ‘Meeting the Ghost of Don Dunstan on Norwood Parade’, ‘Learn to speak the Language’ (the title of which I stole for a poem of my own!), ‘Bedroom Ceiling Fan’ and ‘Night Drive: The Hume’. Early versions of these were performed when Mike and I were in Max_Mo. It’s good to learn a poem orally and then to see a final print-published version.

 

‘Tide: My Father’s Dementia’ brought back for me the memory of my own father’s death when my son Ben & I, after the triumph of winning the Newcastle Poetry Prize awoke in a motel room to the news of my dad’s passing. There’s a similar feeling of grief, yet fatalism, yet relief, in these words:

 

                  What can stay?

                  Something willed

                  from love and words and time

                  whispers from the shore

                  and in the curtains’ dance.

                  A tide washes over his rippled brain,

                  makes the estuary without him tomorrow.

 

The prose (I’m not sure whether to call them short stories or essays) ‘A Neighbour’s Photo’ and ‘Ken’ (about Mike’s African refugee and indigenous neighbours), ‘Breakfast in Valparaiso’ (impressions of the Chilean city, centred around a stray dog), ‘Gaudi and the Light’, (a brief Gaudi bio and Mike’s personal reaction to seeing Sagrada) and ‘Gaps’ (Mike’s reunion with his son after several years) have a style I really like. Like Mike himself, these essays deal with emotional events without resorting to the maudlin. They are self-effacing, very human stories told in a matter-of-fact manner and are all the better for it. I don’t think that I can do any better than Barry Hill’s description of ‘flinty’…

 

The stories/ poems/ essays are interspersed with photos by Mike’s wife, Adelaide artist Cathy Brooks, who also created the rather unique giant embroidered thumbprint on the book’s cover and the works featured in the slide-show which accompanied Mike’s address.

 Details: Wakefield Press

 

 

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