Michele Seminara's Suburban Fantasy is a disquieting romp behind suburban curtains

The "fantasy" of Michele Seminara's second full-length collection of verse, Suburban Fantasy, establishes itself disquietingly from the first poem, and it's not the romp the raspberry-pink, pop-cultural binding of the book might suggest. This is fantasy from the word's deep etymological past-fantasy as illusory appearance, fantasy as mask or disguise, the veneer of respectability that conceals disturbances beneath.

This is dark stuff, dealing with domestic power imbalances, the fracturing and rupturing of families, and a frequent sense of irredeemable, incurable suburban disease. Thus, in "Family Tree" we witness a toppling:

They cut the limbs off first. / Of that tree (which is me) / the one which bears / the blaring yellow x on its chest.

And by the poem's end, ...all through the house, the stench / of diesel and that terrible, / enraged squealing.

But while some of these poems are cries of domesticity at its most desperate and damaged, Seminara's play of language and imagery permits flashes of humour at the most unlikely moments. In "Bow and Scrape", a poem about the appeasing behaviours that help keep an uneasy household peace, Seminara writes: Silence is best. / Stillness. Trying not / to put a word wrong. / (I speak so circumspectly these days / even the dog won't come!)

And even in extremis, there is room for escape, redemption, through pitch-perfect, rhythmically precise, verse. In the poem "North Facing" which prefaces the collection, Seminara writes:

here, there is only one/ room to hide in, one / secret space/ in which to sit, / and this, this / gash of a poem, / this is it.

But these poems of fantastical (often nightmarish) suburbia are not the sum of this book. Peppered throughout the pages are a number of "found poems" - remixes of lines, words, phrases from other texts: everything from the New Testament to Christina's Stead's The Man Who Loved Children, Patrick White's Flaws in the Glass and Philip Larkin's The Whitsun Weddings.

The art of speaking to and through another writer might appear a game, a clever exercise. If so, it's a hard game to play and a tough exercise to master, with much at stake. Seminara plays the game with aplomb, not only seeming to retain some of the sense, cadence and integrity of the original text, but re-imagining each in a way - faithful yet interrogative - that wholly makes sense. So (to select an example which the reader of this review might most easily Google in its original state, for comparison) in "Plot", Seminara's "Whitsun" brides, Loosed from their fathers, free of knots, / under their belts, the secret smut, leave the sun-dazzled poet ultimately with:

A blinding sense of nondescript, / bright parodies of dull success; / their aims like arrows falling / out of sight as if they'd died - / And not one flashed uniquely, / And nothing fresh survived.

Suburban Fantasy deals with difficult, even shocking subject matter at times, but never for its shock value. Seminara's technical skill and poetic sensibility see to that.

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This story A disquieting romp behind suburban curtains first appeared on The Canberra Times.