On June 7, novelist Andrea Goldsmith helped launch Susan Hawthorne's new verse novella Limen at Collected Books Workshop. This is what she said: • • •
It gives me great pleasure to launch Susan Hawthorne’s Limen on a number of accounts.
- a new verse novel
- poetry by a poet whose work I admire
- it’s a beautiful book, a beautiful object
- poems circled by wonderful, imaginative artwork
- and that it is a new work by Sue Hawthorne.
I met Sue in the early 1980s, but it was not until several years later that we properly met. It was Melbourne Cup Day, 1988, an alternative cup day party in the wilds of Northcote. At the time Sue was working at Penguin as their fiction editor and I had just finished Gracious Living, the novel that would become my first published book – although perhaps not, if not for that cup day party.
Since that auspicious cup day party I have followed Sue’s career as she moved into a commissioning position with Penguin and then, together with Renate, started Spinifex. And I have read her work as it appeared. Sue has written both prose and poetry, fiction and non-fiction, but it is her poetry I have particularly welcomed. So when I was asked to launch Limen, despite a schedule which hardly allows the drawing of breath, I said yes. Quite simply I wanted to launch Sue’s latest book.
And how pleased I am. This is a deceptively simply book: two women and their dog go camping. It starts to rain – and rain and rain. The rivers rise, tracks disappear under water, the water threatens the car, the waters threaten their very survival.
It is the title Limen that alerts you to there being more to both the content and the structure of this book.
‘Limen’ – comes from the Latin limen: THRESHOLD. The OED defines ‘limen’ as a threshold below which a stimulus is not perceived. The same Latin word produces the far more common LIMINAL.
But there’s also the other meaning of threshold – like that of a doorway.
Both meanings are relevant to Susan’s verse novel. Firstly there is the threat of the rising waters, the women never know if they are safe. Safety is above the threshold of perception. This definition of limen feeds the suspense and tension of this book.
LIMEN also suggests a transition, a state,, a threshold between earth and sky, between day and night, between water and heat, survival and drowning – and it is these paired states, together with many more that also drive narrative.
Both definitions of limen involve SPACE – intellectual and emotional space. This is enhanced by the space on the page. Many pages have just a few lines of poetry at the top and then space crossed with one of Jeanné Browne’s images. What this space does is create room for you, the reader, to enter the women’s journey. You, like the characters in the story, are suspended on the threshold, in the space between two often opposing possibilities. The space both on the page and in the poetry itself, is a source of narrative tension. Reading this book you live the experience of the women.
On your first reading you will gallop through. You can’t help yourself. On later readings you can linger over the poetry.
late in the day a wind drift of butterflies
echolalic laughter of kookaburras
in the melaleuca
its paperbark ruffled
as a frilled ballgown (p.8)
(Sue is terrific with birds)
And some more marvellous images
e.g. they lay out wet clothes and bedding to dry: ‘a bush laundromat/ on ancient rocks’ (p. 81)
at sunrise/clouds are crocheted close (p. 146)
My favourite poem is on p. 111.
I float feeling the wash of water beneath
arms extended like billabongs
never quite reaching the itchy point
where mosquitoes feed
the river is a psalm
singing like a full-throated choir
could my arms
be jabiru wings
in slow beat
coming in to land?
the dog interrupts
my river poems
insists I play
she runs in wild circles
to the water’s edge
she is a crazed runner
jumping and turning in the air
I therefore officially launch Limen. May it have a long and illustrious journey.
Susan Hawthorne with Limen illustrator, Jeanné Browne