Fragments by Antigone Kefala

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

Antigone Kefala is a contemporary Australian poet and prose-writer of Rumanian heritage. Her family moved to Greece but settled in New Zealand after World War II. Having studied French literature at Victoria University Antigone Kefala relocated to Australia in 1960. She has taught English as a second language and worked as a university and arts administrator. Among her credits is membership of the Literature Board of the Australia Council.

Readers respond positively to Kefala’s poetry probably because she does so well at ‘capturing the moment’. It has a raw freshness about it, projecting the view that unless you’re very quick the moment will have gone. The transientness of the life experience and its vitality feature in her verse. Such rapidity of event requires fine precision of language and this is what she delivers. Sydney Harbour – New Year (25) is a fine example of the vitality of her verse:

Lights falling from the sky

A rain of stars

That burnt the air

Flamboyant

Full of a phosphorescent joy

Crushing against the polished

Marble of the waves

Burning the sea in liquid colours.

Each word carefully chosen to supply the spectacle of fireworks ripping across the urban sky. Her vocabulary selection, descriptive adjectives and “burnt”, “crushing” and “burning”, strong verbs that contribute the drama of the moment. Then support from the very appropriateness of “a rain of stars” and the “polished marble of the waves” to conclude a vibrant and aesthetically pleasing moment.

Winter Afternoon (11) is a cogent example of Kefala’s contrasting points of view, the woman quiescent and accepting, the wildlife vibrant and unfeeling. The smoking woman is

A detached observer

presenting a life

unconnected to her

that left her

indifferent

while out in the world

Through the glass

the sea green with the wind

and the seagulls

icy white with red eyes

shrieking above the beach.

It is as though the dynamic interplay of the seagulls, compelling in their defiance of the world that they inhabit, contrasts with the studied indifference of a race who has given up on life’s challenges. That the woman is smoking and drinking coffee underlines the sadness of a society poisoned by lack of care.

Kefala’s minimalist technique is never more in evidence than in the poem In the Bus (78), another example of a transitory moment.

This is my life

she thought

looking at the crisp light

the peaceful morning streets.

This is my life

I am living it now

I am losing it now.

The moment gone already.

 Kefala’s Fragments is not the work to take to bed with you if you’re feeling down and in need of some cheering-up. Without knowledge of Kefala’s earlier work a reader must assume that the darkness she portrays in these poems is all that she has to give. There is the drama of the moment, the precision of language, the moment captured, snippets of herself revealed in sparse detail, and her contrasting observations on humanity and nature, each one for the detached observer to enjoy but each touched with a dimness that cries out for more, a sparkle in the eye of omnipresent, unnatural calmness. What vitality there is belongs to the world outside humanity for who indeed “can rise now out of their ashes” (15)?

However, there is a great deal of depth in Kefala’s poetry. There is much to enjoy, many poems short enough and sufficiently compelling to remain in the mind and surface at quiet moments throughout the day. It is unfortunate that her work is not wider known – but is that not how it is with many poets today?

Fragments

(2016)

By Antigone Kefala

Giramondo Press

ISBN: 9-78-1925336-19-1

96pp

$24.00

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