The unremarkable motions we go through, and the connections we make, can often be the territory that offers startling insight from skilled poets. What is familiar becomes strange. The banal becomes moving. Mental illness becomes something we talk about, and capture, honestly.
Fiona Wright’s second collection of poetry, Domestic Interior, though only published recently by the independent publishing company, Giramondo, was written alongside 2016’s award-winning book of essays, Small Acts of Disappearance, which explored her history with eating disorders. She was also one of the subjects of the WayAhead-supported exhibibition, ‘Just Ask Me How I Feel’, photographer Jennifer Blau’s series of portraits of people with lived experience of eating disorders.
Wright’s poems are quietly devastating, capturing the experience of being distanced from the self and the body, as well as from others; a distance which can arise from loneliness, travel abroad and, of course, mental illness. Her poems are careful, compassionate but not saccharine.
The poems often explore the lived-in parts Sydney, where she grew up and where she continues to live, first in the southwest and then in the inner west as an adult. She writes familiarly with her thoughts on life around the parts of the city she knows well. Some of her poems are laced with irony but they are never casually cruel. Many a filled with honest observations and generosity for the myriad of characters who populate the city’s suburbs.
In “Love Poem: Miranda Fair”, Wright opens with:
I love the way she orders skinny mugs
of chino and excavates a foamhole for her sugar.
How she stops to look at houses
in the display case of the real estate, their windows
pressed against the glass like yapping puppies’
noses. She’s three-waysing her desserts
these days, now she’s through her Paleo phase.
The unnamed woman in the poem is drawn with the same deftness she brings to her other subjects. The poems reference parts of the city, in titles and in the poems themselves, including Belmore and Bankstown, Marrickville and Potts Point. Each of the references illustrate her relationship to place, and the people in them. The poems set closer to the city reference parts of her adulthood and fall into the section that specifically explore her eating disorder.
Domestic Interior is separated into titled sections of several poems each. The second last is called A Crack in the Skin: On Illness and contains many of the poems which examine most explicitly her experiences with her eating disorder, as well as her relationship to food and her body.
In this section, the poem, “Coastal Walk (with Tanktops)”, juxtaposes the extreme sense of disconnection between the writer and her body, with the “fitspiration” quotes emblazoned on people’s activewear as she walks along the Bondi to Coogee walk.
Some days the wind is almost frightening (PAIN
IS WEAKNESS LEAVING THE BODY) and I
stand myself against it, let it wear away
my boundaries, my edges.
Throughout the collection, Wright conveys the everyday experiences of people living their lives in a big city. From the horror of suburban domesticity of “Tupperware Sonnets” to connecting with a lover while in recovery in “Love Poem: Skull”, Domestic Interior explores the often complex relationships we have with where we live, both in terms of city in which we reside and the body we inhabit.