Like many of the finest scribes, such as continental Irishmen Beckett and Joyce, Bianca Bowers is an exile. A poet and author originally from South Africa, now living in Australia, she often writes about rootlessness and place, and searches for a definition – or redefines the idea of – “home” in a variety of ways.
Pressed Flowers is a collection of poems she has retired. Think of them as a Greatest Hits album of the songs she no longer performs. Much of this work has been previously published and, given that many poetry publishers and contests demand first-publication rights, it’s easy to see how such a collection could come about. What is not so easy to understand is that Bianca Bowers is now giving away this inspiring work for free. All you have to do is to subscribe to her web presence.
Bowers’ poems frequently have a power, whether through the force of the language to which she’s clearly entitled given her eloquence, through a compulsion to claim the aforementioned space, or to articulate themes such as motherhood and aspects of the feminine. She’s not a man-basher, but anyone with any social insight will acknowledge that Bowers has some vindication to make a case for herself and for women more broadly. One of the most anti-man poems – if we could call it that – is His Sin, where the futility of fate is examined. A woman has to accept that her life will not be what she had hoped for. Whether abusive or unfaithful, the narrator’s lover is clearly a factor in this realisation – or at least the articulation of the idea.
Given that we don’t have far to look into many world cultures of both the present and the past to determine that men have frequently been (for example) pissing their wages against the alley wall next to the pub rather than bringing it home in the form of groceries or clothes, the universality in the personal is apparent.
Much of her work is characterised by loss or sadness. But again, to stress, Bowers’ poetry is rich and multi-hued in themes and tones. Her work is frequently vivid in its imagery, emotionally charged, dynamic, and raw. It features nature in various guises – both at its most brutally Darwinian and in its sheer beauty – often at the same time. It covers human interaction insightfully, and the strength and fragility of relationships. While I don’t want to give away details, the morbid Smiling Bag is a clever piece of work that could be shoehorned into a detective noir novel.
There is a very creative exploitation of language throughout this collection. What we can assume to be a road surface, hot underfoot, is described as “solar-powered tar”; in the same poem, a “secret sin” is apparently sent out as a bottled message into the sea in an act of catharsis. In this and other work, Bowers has a remarkable capacity to surprise.
Perspective is important too: A butterfly rests upon an elephant’s trunk, perhaps feeding on the larger beast’s tears. The sun is a mere star, the moon a whole planet.
Not every poem’s ideas appear fully developed, but – just as we can read a brilliant short story and say the same, in the sense of things being left open, the reader can draw conclusions – fully-teased out detail is unnecessary with imagery like this, and each piece is a satisfying read, distilled to fine thoughts and wonderful word choice.
There are images and ideas throughout Bowers’ work to inspire further thoughts and ideas, concepts and themes that leave this reader both contemplative and envious in an “I wish I’d thought of that” way.
Bianca’s website is here. You can also find her on Twitter, Instagram, Amazon, and elsewhere.