Cath Drake’s debut poetry collection The Shaking City is due to be published on the 14th April. In today’s guest post, she reflects on its unexpected comfort given the situation we find ourselves in.
Inside the shaking city
“… a guide to staying clear-eyed, combative and caring in unsettled times.”
– Philip Gross
My debut poetry collection The Shaking City is due for publication in a fortnight’s time. I could never have dreamed how this endorsement from Philip Gross on the cover, and indeed the book itself, would suddenly take on such relevance in the time of Coronavirus.
While I was finishing writing it, the environmental crisis became increasingly urgent. And just as it is being printed, the global pandemic has also descended on our lives. Now everything is interpreted by the utter transformation and precarity of life in lockdown.
We are all in the ‘shaking city’ together. We all were before but now it’s more obvious. We’ve had to radically change in the face of the pandemic. We still need to radically change in order to address the environmental crisis, and indeed to survive as a species.
My book explores endurance to change, personal and global – the ‘shaking’ is an energy that holds both the extremes of discomfort and opportunity.
Each poem in the ‘Shaky School Album’ sequence contain ‘shaking’ at a point of change – a release, a realisation, a time when you face the unknown and come out the other side. It can be unnerving and exhilarating.
Some poems explore shaking in the unearthing of trauma, personal and societal. It can take courage and forbearance to face this kind of shaking, essential for positive change, and not to become enveloped by it.
The stories and characters in the book find solace in ways that are helpful or less helpful, often in unusual places or unexpected ways. Both are worth voicing, in the very least to be able to have compassion for all the ways we find comfort.
There are poems about misfits who turn out to be more in touch with their own sense of ‘shaking’ or aliveness in the cracks and corners of society than those following the norm. I wanted to explore mundane and imaginative worlds in order to get closer to what no longer makes sense to me – how our way of life increasingly undervalues community and the natural world.
‘This joyful, exuberant, wildly imaginative collection exhorts us all to unmoor our minds, to ‘live’ among the strange and shining.’
– Kate Potts
There is joy in seeing the world anew, in seeing each incredible infinite detail. I believe an environmental lens is vital to wellbeing and survival. I’ve been flying that flag since I was a teenager and when working as an environmental writer, journalist and broadcaster for many years in Australia. It has been very dispiriting seeing this care slip so easily down our list of priorities in my lifetime (although these last couple of years it’s moved back up the agenda, at least before the pandemic.)
The absurdity of not putting our natural world first has always distressed and astonished me and in the book I turn to an Australian folkloric Bunyip to help express this for me.
Another theme in the collection is the difficulty of being so far from home living over the other side of the world. Right now, in lockdown, we feel physically distanced wherever we are. Most of us feel this yearning on a daily basis. I hope it is at least partly, yearning with gratitude – the moments I’ve been able to spend with friends from home are deeply precious memories.
Our city is shaking. Even if it takes all our ability, even if we are particularly vulnerable, can we stay alive to it and come out the other side making better sense of our fragile world? I hope my book can help in some small way to find new ways of seeing in this difficult time.
The shaking city of Australian poet Cath Drake’s debut poetry collection is a metaphor for the swiftly changing precarity of modern life within the looming climate and ecological emergency, and the unease of the narrator who is far from home. Tall tales combine with a conversational style, playful humour and a lyrical assurance. The poet works a wide set of diverse spells upon the reader through her adept use of tone, technique, plot and form. She is a welcome new voice for contemporary poetry.
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