The Hazards (2015, University of Queensland Press)

 

Winner, Prime Minister's Literary Award, 2016

Shortlisted, West Australian Premier's Prize for Poetry, 2016

Shortlisted, QLA Judith Wright Calanthe Award, 2016

Shortlisted, Kenneth Slessor Poetry Prize 2016

Shortlisted, John Bray Memorial Prize 2016

Highly Commended, Wesley Michel Wright Prize, 2015

 

Opening with a vision of a leveret's agonising death by Myxomatosis and closing with a lover disappearing into dangerous waters, The Hazards reflects a predatory world rife with hazards both real and imagined. Holland-Batt's cosmopolitan poems careen through diverse geographical territory – from haunted post-colonial landscapes in Australia to brutal animal hierarchies in the cloud forests of Nicaragua – and engage everywhere with questions of violence and loss, erasure and extinction.

 

Charged with Holland-Batt's mercurial imagination and swift lyricism, this unsettling and darkly intelligent collection inhabits an uncertain world with a questioning eye and clear mind, unafraid to veer straight into turbulence.

 

"By turns gorgeous and gut-wrenching, worldly yet intimate, Holland-Batt's The Hazards explores love and landscape from 'O California' to Queensland, Boston Common to Sicily. These 'postcards from another life' chart an inner travelogue, a new century in all its strange beauty. No one writes love poems like she does." - Kevin Young

 

"What a powerful and insightful interpreter of the world Holland-Batt is. She pins down the urgent and competing forces of suffering and sentience, legacy and loss." - Judith Beveridge

 

Praise for The Hazards: 

 

"[The Hazards] lulls us into comfort, charms us into awe, then undercuts us with danger and the dark...A virtuoso performance." - Sydney Morning Herald

 

"The Hazards is a thrilling psycho-geographical evocation of physical and internal landscapes. It brims with the threat of annihilation and the promise of home... Holland-Batt's stark and sumptuous lyricism is indelible." – Australian Book Review 

"A kind of tough lyricism and an exacting use of language makes for dramatic, assertive poetry, dealing with hard love and harder loss. Holland-Batt writes of personal and historic figures, of the hazards of human and animal life, imagining always, often through surprising metaphors, the ‘real and imagined hazards’ of living." – 2016 Western Australian Premier's Book Prize citation

"Holland-Batt’s formal imagination transports the reader fluently through mythological, personal, artistic, geographical and historical landscapes. Violence, caused by the pursuit of beauty or truth, is appraised with virtuosity and unfailing precision... These poems enact their dirges and their duende, in gorgeous, magnificent sweeps where language never reaches its meanings unscathed."  

2016 Kenneth Slessor Prize citation 

 

"Strikingly impressive...phenomenally self-confident." - Australian Poetry Review

 

"Dazzling." – Stephen Romei

 

"An absolute gem of a collection overspilling with poems of compelling urgency and dazzling accomplishment." – Jaya Savige

 

“Perhaps the most talented of a whole new crop of outstanding young female Australian poets. Aria was remarkable for its precocious accomplishment and sense of promise. Now Holland-Batt has more than fulfilled those expectations. The Hazards is dense with metaphorical energy…in the service of substantial moral and psychological insights.” – The Australian

 

"In Sarah Holland-Batt's The Hazards, from 'the promise of Berlin' to the 'mosquito net latitudes' there is style and fashion to relish, but under the skin of these poems we experience metaphors of the world's suffering. It is an exciting second book." – Robert Adamson

 

"A charged and effortlessly imaginative evocation and intermingling of the world around us and the world within." – Stephen Edgar

 

"Evocative and startling...The Hazards unearths the dangers we live in and alongside, the dangers we court and hold close to ourselves."  – Westerly

 

"The Hazards forms a polyptych the tempera of which variously explodes in vivid, violent colours or fades into aquarelle transparency as land- and cityscapes, flora and fauna, friends, family and lovers and works of art live and die and live again in Holland-Batt’s sonorous, delicate music... If you read one just one poetry collection this year..." – The West Australian

 

"Technically flawless, consistently gorgeous... often unsettling." - Mascara

"Thrilling... The beautiful and the dangerous swim shoulder to shoulder in this book, and are impossible to separate." - Plumwood Mountain

"In some poems, hazard lurks in the margins as dark accident, in others it comes in the form of direct threat. Though these poems range far afield in terms of subject matter, Holland-Batt’s colourful miscellany is corralled into one thematically cohesive volume and afforded a darkly binding gravity through her repeated employment of ‘hazardous’ narrative complication." - Verity La

"Holland-Batt’s intense lyrics describe the natural world with sharp vivacity, as they simultaneously incise the presence of loss and death. With a sensitive and subtle ear, she can invoke Bishop or Heaney or Hughes or Larkin or Lowell, while always tending towards her own singular vision. ‘But this morning I saw a young rabbit/hunched in brush and shadow,’ she writes, ‘It had caught the disease/we brought here for it…’ The beauty and violence of the natural world entwines with an emotional universe." – Judges' citation, 2015 Wesley Michel Wright Prize

 

Sydney Launch Speech - Fiona Wright

 

I want to get a few clichés out of the way before I get down to the real business of launching The Hazards. The first is to say that I’ve been looking forward to reading this book for about eight years, so I’m just thrilled to see it here in the bookshop, even more so to be helping to introduce it to the world. The second is that I kept stopping, as I was reading this collection, to audibly exhale, to think, goddamn, this book is good. It’s really, really good. (So that’s my fan-girl moment out of the way. I’m sorry, but it had to happen.) To get back to business:

 

One of the most surprising, and most impressive things about Sarah Holland-Batt’s The Hazards is that it’s a dangerous book. Surprising may seem a strange choice of word here, given how the collection’s title points towards peril, to thick risk or malevolent chance, but it feels appropriate because Holland-Batt is such a masterful writer and, formally and linguistically, her poems are so exquisite and so elegant that the dark undercurrent that animates so many of them can often go unnoticed until it’s far too late. And suddenly, you’re in deep and fast-moving water and have no idea exactly how you got there.

 

Many of the poems, for example, are love poems – yet within them there’s always an encroaching sense of loneliness, or loss. There’s no love without the shadow of death, no solace that’s not also a sadness. And this makes the love poems in this book all the more wrenching, because they’re always aware that the tenderness and happiness they capture cannot last; they are elegiac, even in the moment that they unfurl.

 

In one of my favourite poems, ‘The Atlantic’, Holland-Batt’s depiction of a pair of sleeping lovers – which includes a strangely disembodied description of an heirloom watch ‘buckl[ing]’ my face ‘to your wrist’ and of a shoulder ‘pinion[ed] like an anchor’ – are interspersed with images of literally disembodied body parts washed up on a beach, the handiwork (if you’ll pardon the pun) of a local serial killer. These are brought together through lines of dark augury, ‘we will wound each other yet’ and ‘something will have us in the end’. It’s a poem both intimate and terrifying, or perhaps terrifying because intimate, and because intimacy cannot exist without profound fear. And it’s unsettling and incredibly beautiful at once.

 

But there are other kinds of love (and loss) within The Hazards too – in poems about family, about landscapes and foreign cities, and about animals. Holland-Batt’s poems are always remarkably expressive. Often this is because of her dexterity with metaphor –where a nurse is ‘axe-faced’, or tendrils of orchids ‘strangle’ for example, and the shadowed threat at the heart of the collection momentarily erupts. At other times, these metaphors structure the poems, drawing disparate elements and images of the world together into a kind of unity, such as when gulls shift ‘like thought shifts’ or the quick ‘slipping’ of a cut peony into water becomes a loved one’s imperceptible slip into death.

 

The other great joy of the collection is in Holland-Batt’s rhythmic lists of details, in poems that chart such vastly different territories as Californian highways, coastal holiday towns, suburban Queensland, the streets of Berlin, and the Amalfi coast, again managing to make something painfully beautiful out of sadness, transience and loss. She writes, for example, in ‘No End to Images’: 'No end to tissues of tears beside the bed/ or to avenues of trees and cathedrals,/ no end to bee-eaters in the rose apples/ or summer on the balcony in Neukölln,/ no end to the pharmaceutical clouds over Kraków.’

 

This ability, or this impulse, to make something beautiful out of pain, or against time, is also explored in across the poems that deal directly with art, ekphrastically or otherwise. In these poems, the painter Hammershøi, is said to ‘love light above all, whose main habit/ is dissolving’, Edward Hopper invites us to step into a ‘buttered room’ and be still for one summer evening, Botticelli’s Primavera is a reminder both ‘that our natures/ are dark’ and ‘our lives are short too’. Art – and poetry – are a resistance against transience, against the fleeting. But so too is love another kind of resistance, as the poem ‘Rain, Ravello’ points out, stating ‘Art is not enough, not nearly/ enough, in a world not magnified by love.’ Or there’s this, from ‘Ensign’: ‘We have a little time left. We should love.’

 

There are so many more moments, so many more poems in The Hazards that I’d like to talk about, from the rich and elusive first line of the book, from a poem about jellyfish, ‘I have always loved the translucent life’ to the haunting image of the ‘seed-green’ head of an orange-bellied parrot on display in the British Museum, or a shark’s slit-open corpse on a jetty, the meditation of history and violence in poems like ‘In the Mauerpark’, or the tragedy of a father no longer able to raise enough breath to call sound from a trumpet. But I also want to leave these as moments of surprise, of sudden and unfathomed danger for when you all read the book. As you should. Because it’s just so very, very good. - Fiona Wright

 

Buy it: Amazon | Book Depository | Penguin

 

Hear excerpts of The Hazards at The New Yorker  and Slate.