Les Wicks – Book review of
Soldier boy and the Rural Fundamentalists
by Sarah Tiffen

Les review LE P&W 3 Nov-Dec 2023r

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14th Anniversary Edition, Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume Three Nov-Dec 2023.

Soldier boy and the Rural Fundamentalists by Sarah Tiffen
– book review by Les Wicks
Published by Gininderra, 2017. Available at: https://www.ginninderrapress.com.au/

Soldier boy and the Rural Fundamentalists by Sarah Tiffen
Last year I was grateful for the opportunity to tour large parts of rural Australia with my new book. I found myself constantly amazed & humbled by the diversity & strength of the women writers I worked with there alongside the sacrifice & good graces of those who organise writers groups in their community.

Sarah Tiffen is one of those who works tirelessly for development/exposure of local writers while cementing literature as a cornerstone of their region’s cultural life. She is a contemporary poet from the Riverina. Her works have gained attention in the literary world. as she shares her experiences and observations of life, including themes such as love, loss, farming & the environment.

One of the most notable aspects of Tiffen’s poetry is her use of imagery. She has a skill for creating vivid pictures in the reader’s mind through her words. Her poems are filled with detailed descriptions of the world around her, from the colours and textures of the landscape to the intricate emotions of the human heart.

Another strength of Tiffen’s poetry is her ability to capture complex emotions in a simple, straightforward language. She has a talent for distilling complex feelings and experiences into relatable, accessible language that resonates with readers.

Her works have been praised for their emotional depth, rare but rich imagery alongside accessibility. There are several pieces addressing the clarion call of the “rural fundamentalist”. This is a somewhat problematic phrase for me with associations of hillbillies or WACO. But the reader is quickly directed to its meaning here as that which is fundamental to the lives of regional Australians.

An array of perspectives & imperatives is celebrated herein.

Our hearts move in miles and acres, furlongs and inches
The Rural Fundamentalists

apricots the taste of sex and dust, rich gold and dusty
The Rural Fundamentalists III

digging, tying knots and cutting things, branches and wire
The Rural Fundamentalists IV

Alongside this, of course, is the cost

our God is a benevolent God, demanding work
not blood, though sometimes blood is taken
The Rural Fundamentalists

A key portion of the book is the very long poem dedicated to the passing of Les Murray.  Travelling to smaller centres, repeatedly I have encountered women who Murray had encouraged and mentored. This real selflessness highlights the depth of this hugely popular poet. Tiffen was obviously one of those women and the sorrow at his passing is on display here

where do I put my grief on this wintery afternoon
On the Funeral of the Poet Laureate, the Bard of Bunyah

Surely you are there at the altar smiling, thinking

Oh contrarian, Oh posturer for the redneck humble folk…

As we travel through the rest of the book the complexities and joys of a relationship are vividly portrayed

I will pull you slowly shoreward
with a rope of silk and tears
Whither You Go, so I

So too we share Tiffen’s spiritual explorations ranging from work that has an almost biblical tone to a broad-based numinous gaze (but one which is framed so openly as acknowledgement of the first custodians of the land & how we tread upon it).

Steeped deeply in the Deep Ways of Country,
we are not native, but know no other life
The Rural Fundamentalists

For me, these reflections build purposefully towards what I regard as the second key dimension of this book… the infinity dialogue poems. These pieces concern an interchange between two lovers on the nature of life, meaning & the universe. They come to life brilliantly as both conversational and profound

given infinity,
anything that can happen must happen
an endless number of times
The Infinity Dialogues II

I thought to lay down with you
to soothe the storms,
but could not, so
a late-night lie
seemed the smallest concession to make
in the face of the great and sacred whole.
And you called me cunt — and I let you
because… because it was complex,
The Infinity Dialogues

Getting poetry out there is always hard. You can multiply that by a factor of three for those not based in a capital city with its attendant networks. Tiffin’s book deserves to be read.

© Les Wicks

Les Wicks  Over 45 years Wicks has performed widely across the globe. Published in over 400 different magazines, anthologies & newspapers across 36 countries in 15 languages. Conducts workshops & runs Meuse Press which focuses on poetry outreach projects like poetry on buses & poetry published on the surface of a river. His 15th book of poetry is Time Taken – New & Selected (Puncher & Wattmann, 2022). https://leswicks.tripod.com/lw.htm

Sarah Tiffen, author of six volumes of poetry celebrating a rural Australian sensibility and a Riverina aesthetic – deeply tied to the place where she was born, where she lives and works and where all her ancestors lie buried. Recognised by Les Murray, Donald Hall, shortlisted for the ACU Poetry Prize several times, and founder of Riverina Writing House – an independent publishing house and centre for writers and writing – Sarah’s work echoes Dylan Thomas and Seamus Heaney and Murray, evocative, spiritual, raw – she also is a mother and teacher.

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