This volume begins with a book length sheaf of new poems titled A Hunger, by Petra White, then reprints the first two, The Simplified World (2010) and The Incoming Tide (2007). A Hunger is also of course the volume’s title, naming the spirit of urgency in even her quietest language here.
In these narrative meditations, White’s poetic gift and its broadening scope of styles and questionings are manifest – her tones able to slip delicately between irony and cut-through joy or bleakness. Beneath the sketch of an occasion, the emotions and rhythmic movements are complex, ever shifting with the movement of thought. The founding gestures driving this are vivid observation and memory (personal and literary) with point of view often quietly altering within a poem. The result is poems that are as mysterious as they are clear.
Generally, the tone has a personal feel, but this is tempered. White uses ‘I’ only sparingly. In poems about childhood, youth, workplaces and much else she is more interested in the nature of an experience than ownership of it, which gives the poetry fair room to play. Her concern is to say something about our time and place, with the surprise of its opening out to worlds of otherness. Some poems turn to the shadows of depression, touching on how depression dwells, finding its register so it can speak. A place where ‘I’ does have prominence is in the shock of the opening sequence of love poems. There the poet co-opts the usually male Petrarchan conceit of a lover’s introspection into the subtle agony of feelings.
Her free-verse vigour has at the back of it the ghost of pentameter’s gift for cadence and phrasing. She writes odes, elegies, lyric sequences, compact near-sonnets – the flexing of line upon line playing into the mind’s play, making poetry’s invitation to be uttered. The inherent freshness in Petra White’s poetry – its thought, its imagery, and its language – is tangible in that invitation.
This Revised Edition of A Hunger (2018) omits one poem. Six poems are revised, slightly or substantially.