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Saturday, February 12, 2022

Ketak Datta Reviews Aussie Magdalalena's Newest Poetry Book "Compact Bone"

The Density of Compact Bone
By Magdalena Ball
Genre: Poetry
Publisher: Ginninderra Press
100 pages, ISBN: 978-1761091865, Paperback

Reviewed by Dr. Kataki Datta

The Density of Compact Bone is a remarkable collection of poems from the prolific pen of renowned poet, Magdalena Ball. This is not her debut collection of poems. Hence, she is mature enough to carve a niche for herself among creative writers who are revered for their creations. This book has been divided into four interesting sections: “The Age of Waste”, “The Stronger the Entanglement the More Warped Space is”, “Chronon”, “The River Will Wash Us All Down”. Not less than ten powerful poems are included in each section. Environmental issues, Apocalypse, Time as an inexorable reality, the practicality of existence and its hapless yielding to the demands of Time, Space and Love and even the Anthropocene, we are inching on to—all serve as grist to her mill. The poet has addressed the difficult issues through the necessary terms borrowed from the pages of Science and fitted them into the emotional matrix of her poems, quite adeptly. And they never seem outlandish or misfit. 

A British lifestyle survey report once pointed out a hair-raising issue of wasting food and dumping of excess food in the garbage bins. This is sheer waste of food which is essential for sustenance. In nature, waste of many resources meets our eye very often. While we are in the times of Anthropocene, we should be wary of wasting our valuable resources like water, oil etc. In the very opening poem, Weed Garden, of this section, “ The Age of Waste”, Magdalena Ball wields her powerful pen,

  “A patch of weeds left to grow tall”, 

Which she decides to annul by walking next morning till …

…” I’ve left the farm

lost my body
with all its false softness

broken to sinuous fibre
too tough to digest.”

Losing the farm to destructive weeds is tantamount to losing a body to the rupture of “sinuous fibres”.  in poem after poem of this section, poet Magdalena Ball is warning the civilization to be careful about the threat of extinction it is going to face, with gradual depletion of all its resources:  

“Her name is Mud
 last of her kind……  

 Her name 
Is the Sixth Mass
Glaciers, forest, buildings,
Man.”  (“FKA”)

Even humanity is touching low, as civilization is inching towards its extinction, when existence itself is threatened:

“Earth of course is
saturation blue
periwinkle in the morning
sumptuous even when 
under the hot weight of 
bearing down.” ("Is Blue an Earth Tone?”)

Magdalena Ball leaves an indelible impression on our mind as she looks at all the conventional perspectives and challenges them with an analytical, scientific and a completely novel one. Just like Joy Harjo or  Adrienne Rich, Magdalena makes everything new in her world. Sometimes it feels like she is chiming in unison with Yeats’ “Surely some revelation is at hand” ("The Second Coming”) and sometimes she is with Wordsworth to give vent to her pent-up angst, “ Little we see in Nature that is ours/We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!” ("The World is Too Much with Us”) and at times the work is Huxleyan in its search for a brave new world. 

In the second section, “The Stronger the Entanglement the More Warped Space Is” , the poet explores the future of earth, space and the ‘entanglement.’ The poet opens the third, title section with suspense, initially hesitating to relate her own experience to the world, and then she opening up into ‘feminine energy’ finding solace in the woods, amidst trees and nature as in the title poem: 

… “because my feet failed
beneath all that bluster
still bone.” 

The poems in this section are fraught with covert meanings and overt explanations:

“Every day is another chance
 to die of kindness
 the infinite regression of
 immortality.” ("Tomorrow’s Box is Quantum”)

Poems like "Shadow Genome” and “Transmission” explore the notion of being ‘transmitted’ into a different form, ‘second life, second soul’ may be. All these ideas are either the influence of Hindu religion or the Buddhist concept of transmogrifying into another soul in another birth. 

In the third section, “Chronon”, Ball explores many aspects of time, both as an indivisible unit, and against the hypothetical but still true statement that Time is not continuous. If such continuity of Time is questioned then, Eliot’s tall claim that “Time present and Time Past is contained in Time Future.” A length of Time is frozen in the matrix, it seems. Ball catches Time in all its varied facets and spectra:

“Nothing is lost, not even the moment
Shattered into light pulses, entangled
In the mother tongue, in the morning
leaves a taste on the lips, sharp
breaks through like the crack of a whip
reminds you that time is a construct
 you write every minute with breath. [Eastern Whip Bird]

Magdalena Ball might have been influenced by Jorge Luis Borges’s well-renowned essay, “A New Refutation of Time” (Labyrinths), where Borges says, “ I have accumulated transcriptions from the apologists of idealism, I have abounded in their canonical passages, I have been reiterative and explicit, I have censured Schopenhauer[not without ingratitude], so that my reader may begin to penetrate into this unstable world of the mind. A world of evanescent impressions: a world without matter or spirit, neither objective nor subjective; a world without the ideal architecture of space; a world made of time, of the absolute uniform time of the Principia; a tireless labyrinth, a chaos, a dream.”[256]

The last section of this volume, “The River will Wash Us All Down” is both interesting and mindboggling. The poems of this section highlight a desire of the poet to go with the flow yet follow her own course, paving a way for unique forms of understanding. For example, in “ If I could open a space”, she  declares of breaking  ‘every boundary’, ‘dissolving…every boundary’, taking ‘every burden on my (her) tiny  back’ and forgiving ‘ even myself(herself), every ragged mistake/to open this space.’ The Density of Compact Bone is a rare collection of poems to be treasured by poetry-lovers.  


Dr. Ketaki Datta is an Associate Professor of English with Bidhannagar Govt. College, Kolkata. Apart from academic publications, she has two novels, three translated novels, and a book of poems, “Across the Blue Horizon”[ funded by Arts Council, England]to her credit apart from a bunch of short stories: both original and translated. She had been to Lisbon, California and University of Oxford on an invitation to read out her papers, mainly on indigenous and World theatre.  She is Regional Editor of The Theatre Times from India, headed by Prof. Magda Romanska, Professor, Emerson College, Boston. She has contributed to Routledge Companion to Dramaturgy, edited by Magda Romanska; Beyond Improbable Lines: The Partition of India (Cambridge Scholar Publishing) by Daniela Rogobete and Elisabetta Marino. Lately, she has co-authored a book of photos and poems titled “ Urban Reflections” with Prof. Wilfried Raussert, Univ. of Bielefeld, Germany. Her book on Oral Stories of Totos is coming out soon from Sahitya Akademi. 

More about Magdalena Ball can be found at her website:

Snapshot Courtesy Joy V. Smith

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