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troublemag | December 15, 2018

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Stralian Stories – Coral Hull: the patron saint of Australian poetry

Stralian Stories – Coral Hull: the patron saint of Australian poetry coral hull coral hull

 

by Neil Boyack

 

 

When you read Coral Hull’s work you get a sense fairly quickly that she stands for things, and that she has experienced life outside the mainstream in situations that beckon risk.  These events have shaped her life, her journey, and luckily for us, her skills as a poet. Hull is an outstanding Australian poet because of her “class-edge”, and her utter, absolute commitment to her own vulnerability on the page. Through analysing her life, she shows us she is prepared to flex and spread poetry, the art form, for maximum impact and different outcomes. Her work asks questions of herself: How far can I push myself? How much pain can I unpack? Poets and writers like Josephine Rowe, Geoff Goodfellow, can boast the same sort of “class-edge” in the Australian scene, yet no-one in Australian poetry can match Hull’s own commitment to analysing one’s life, history, and condition.

 

From Bottles, (William’s Mongrels)

 

i would feel the black edge of

mussel shells between my toes/ or shrimp nibbling my

legs at the steep banks of river’s edge/ or big grey

yabbies held in sunlight & air for too long squeezing

tiny bubbles from their tender grey armour/

i released

as much air as possible from my lungs/ enabling my

body to sink in a standing position to the bottom/

once at the dark centre the currents slept/ & all

the dry land worlds would drift away in tangles of

floating hair/ beating low & still in my eardrums in

murky brown throbs/

 

Born in Paddington, Sydney, on 12th December, 1965, Hull is well known for her animal activism, her directorship of The Thylazine Foundation. Hull has claimed the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, has been published in numerous international and Australian journals, and her work has been aired on radio regularly. Penguin Books, Five Islands, and Salt have all published Hull’s works. After all this achievement she dropped out, dissatisfied with the constructs of the literary world. She has been diagnosed with Multiple Personality Disorder, as well as experiencing Autism Spectrum Disorder. She has penned extensive writings and views on her beliefs around religion and her journey into conspiracy.  These are fascinating accounts from a skilful writer within the context of a mental-health-challenging reality.

 

From Hospital Creek (William’s Mongrels)

 

six to a car on the road

out of bre/ we cross the

ghost grey bridge & turn

our vehicles around/ we

switch off our headlights

& drive back over the

wooden slats of hospital

creek/ this will allow

the min min lights to

follow us back into town/

it’s local legend along

the goodooga road & a

supernatural thrill if

you can’t hold your grog/

 

Hull’s subject matter much of the time is herself, her mind, her life, her projections, her relationships, her family, her attitudes, but never is it self-centred. It is more than analysis for the sake of poetics. Hull’s writing is, I would argue, her own therapy and catharsis, her own healing path from trauma: the love-hate relationship with her father, who was a cop, then a railway cop, and someone who towers over her as a draining, yet educative force; and then there is her uneasy relationship with her mother which is inescapably punctuated by shared experiences leading to a sense of empathy, loss and grief for a family that could have been.  All this is coloured by magnificent portraits of the Australian bush, Hull’s adventures, her boyfriends, camps, travels, all of which seem a part of the same rich, mortifying, and beautiful life circle.

 

From THE RITUAL KILL (Bestiary)

 

god wasn’t at the killing place/

the cow was created on a meat

production line/ lived in hell a

short time/ to be ‘stuck’ in the

throat/ by a rabbi with a prayer

book & blood stained apron/ the

kosher shiver of a monster life

draining away/ cows take sixty

to a hundred seconds to lose

consciousness/ as an australian

public struggles with its dumb

conscience/ bellowing from

calves overpowers the rotary

saws/ bewildered cows lifted

by chains/ & those big broken

hearts that just keep pumping

 

Hull’s views on animal cruelty and animal rights seep through the tapestry she weaves. At times it is an annoying, jarring, bleeding heart, yet readers should persist when working with Hull as there is great satisfaction and reward. Her later work starts to morph away from poetry into reportage and journal-like entries signalling a change in her “reality”. Conspiracy and actors within the world she inhabits collude to run her down, to double-cross her, to verbally abuse her, almost everything in the world being interpretable as a symbol connected to Hull’s wellbeing. On her website there are YouTube clips communicating paranormal experiences, which, presumably, correlate with Hull’s state of mind and her interpretations of reality. Some would see this as a turn-off, yet I think this is a brave continuation of lifelong record-keeping, and the work of someone who isn’t troubled by the wider expectation of a successful poet, who has always been driven to answer the deeper question of her own existence. Coral Hull is taking us along for every dimension of the ride.

 

From Twin Rivers: Lightning, Thunder and Rain (How Do Detectives Make Love?)

 

i break

cobwebs that hang like thick nets over his bed/

my father will wake as the first heavy raindrops

hit the window glass like sobbing from the dry

southwest/ the house has filled itself with the

swelling of his throat & air through fan blades

& through cheeks/ i shut the doors to his bedroom

that have let too many landscapes in/

after two

hours of working my face was not my own/ it had

become my father’s face in the midday sun/ after

the tough & stupid labour of clearing the yard of

pigweed/ & of sharp balls of roly-poly bush that

blew through the caged emptiness of the meat house/

lingering in the blazing determined blankness

of amphetamine

 

The Canal Contemplations has special resonance and excitement for me as a welfare professional working with lost, neglected and damaged children every day. Never, have I seen this fertile, sad area of life subject to such artful scrutiny. Theory and the “medical model” extort the sector as the only prisms through which speculation can be filtered, yet here we find an illuminating, inventive and effective vehicle (the saint-like social worker) grapple with pervasive issues around attachment and trauma symbolised in “canal children” showing up all the faults of the imperfect systems and practices we apply to address such societal difficulties; the scientific and Kafkaesque ways in which focus ends up on compliance rather than the wellbeing of children.

 

From The Canal Contemplations (Holy City)

 

1.

The social worker is sent to a canal to find and capture the lost children:

This old city psyche is a thunderous voyage,

In the stillness of the disquietening dawn and

at a distance, approaching emergency sirens

light up the clovers along drains and gutters.

What will become of us once they arrive?

Will the bridges to other events collapse?

Yet, even here — there are great advances,

in the heart-breaking parentless love stories

of children who glide the canals like sails.

 

From HOW DO DETECTIVES MAKE LOVE?  (How Do Detective Make Love?)

 

how did my parents make love/ was it in the 1950s

way/ in their pyjamas under the blankets/ could my

father switch off from his job as he switched the

light off/ when he made love with my mother in the

dark/ did they laugh/ even though he told me he

couldn’t bear to fuck her unless he was drunk/ did

he still pick up the bits & pieces of people from

under trains/ or leftovers from motorbike accidents/

the bloodied thighs & thighless women & eyeless

torsos/ did he fondle the falling away breasts of

bloated corpses dragged from rivers with concrete

boots?/

 

As a writer Coral Hull is an inspiration to me, and any writer serious about their craft needs to investigate her as a priority. Her work reeks of commitment, innovation and contains an Australian essence that many fumble, and confuse with nostalgia and a dumb loyalty to a traditional form reciting the “the romance of the bush”.  Sometimes you need to read her lines three times to work out the power behind her word combinations.  Other times you want to hug Coral Hull, one human to another, in response to the disruption and the personal pain she describes so evocatively, or simply in thanks for what she has offered the world.

 

References:  www.coral-hull.com/

 

Neil Boyack is a writer, poet, musician, and welfare professional.  He founded the Newstead Short Story Tattoo www.newsteadtattoo.org and all of his work, including audio, is available at www.neilboyack.com

 

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