Friday evening I went to the launch of Louise Nicholas’s first full length solo collection, The List of Last Remaining, published by 5 Islands Press.

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The event was MC’d by Jude Aquilina in the stunning home of some of Louise’s friends, with the book officially launched by Jan Owen. Jude and Jan, like Louise, are local poets, stalwarts of the SA poetry scene both having been published widely. Jude began by acknowledging the huge crowd there, and it really was, before introducing Jan.

Jan described Louise’s work as fresh and spontaneous with outrageous originality, combining humour and poignancy culminating in strong endings. There are poems about Louise’s father, mother and children, and Jan cited a few of her favourites – ‘Think of a violet’, ‘Whom the gods love’ and ‘Death by Wikipedia’ before reading ‘How to scale a fish’, a beautiful piece in which Louise links this to thoughts of her mother:

‘Notice the scales – how perfectly shaped,

translucent, like a baby’s fingernails.’

And then comparing the delicate skin of the fish to her mother’s:

‘Like her skin, buried

these past five years

beneath bed-ridden blankets,

 

her knees, when the blanket fell away,

gleaming

as if unearthed in moonlight.’

Louise then took the mic to read four poems after a long list of thank you’s, sharing that this launch was particularly special due to it being on what would have been her mother’s 99th birthday.

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Louise started with ‘Coffin Bay’, the first poem in the collection, describing ‘the day our parents went out in the boat and didn’t come back’, how in their throats ‘hard lumps of fear had risen like gelatin / in home-made ice cream’ and when their parents were finally sighted, how her mother was ‘sitting in the stern as still and serene as the figurehead / from a long-forgotten ship.’

Louise then read ‘Tunnelling into the light’, quite possibly my favourite in the collection (although there are many to choose from!) about the birth of her daughter, where ‘Every five minutes as I prepared our tea that night, / I felt you leaning on the lock of your release’, gorgeously expressed as is this:

‘When we sat down to eat, you too sat down

and waited until I had cleared the table to try again,

then rested once more in the snug stairwell of my rib cage…’

For balance, Louise then read a poem about her son called ‘The black one’, describing ‘a Sunday afternoon’ when she is ‘mark spelling tests’ while he is ‘hung-over, sprawled in front of the television’, a warm homely scene.

Louise finished with ‘Love Laughter’, a wonderful poem where laughter ‘is lightness itself’ advising that for ‘sombre occasions like funerals and other people’s / book launches, best leave Laughter at home / and take her conciliatory sister, Smile, instead.’

The cover image of the collection was taken by Robert Rath, an amazing photographer, and remains a mystery (we don’t need to know everything always). Louise is a fine poet, which is reflected in this collection, where poems have many facets, catching the light as a diamond would, dazzling in their brilliance.