March 2024

Back to Issue 15

Seams of Repair

By Stephanie Green

Calanthe Press, 2023

Reviewed by Cassandra Atherton

Seams of Repair is a captivating collection of lineated poetry and prose poetry that write into ‘the lacuna that grief brings’ (‘Residue’). Dedicated to Stephanie Green’s grandmother, ‘who understood why words matter’, Seams of Repair provides a lyrical lexicon of intimacies, giving priority to the demotic and quotidian in impressive moments of sehnsucht. The collection’s focus on the interplay and unfolding of language demonstrates Green’s passion for quiet nuance and striking visual imagery in stark expressions of desire and absence. 

The foreword to the volume elaborates on Green’s book title by explaining that her use of the word ‘seams’ refers to ‘the art of ceramic repair known as “gold mending” or Kintsukuroi, where gold-coloured lacquer was used to mend or seal an object.’ Many poets have used kintsugi for inspiration and, indeed, there is an eloquent prose poem by Misbah Wolf, ‘Kintsugi Illuminated’, in a 2020 issue of Cordite Poetry Review that ends:


          There is gold that fills in the hairline fractures of broken plates, and gold to be poured

          into the space where bodies are drained of all tears, and gold to blind the last days

          when words had meaning.


Isi Unikowski’s poetry collection, Kintsugi (2020) also explores bindings and patchings and uses the ‘kin’ in kintsugi as an expression of the bittersweet vulnerability in relationships. However, it is Jen Webb’s prose poem ‘Broken things’ that subversively captures the darker moments of the craft: ‘Fuck sutures: everything that matters will escape. Go slow: pour in the molten gold: fill every space.’

For Green, kintsugi becomes a metaphor for ‘how the mended fractures of human experience might leave us stronger, or still fragile yet even more precious than before’. It is also a metaphor for poetry practice, specifically the redrafting of poems. In this way, her Seams of Repair is in dialogue with the trope of gold joinery and wabi sabi. Her poems celebrate the beauty of imperfection and transience, or of the beguiling trace, when rifts are mended or personal histories are revealed.

While there are many lineated poems in this collection, the vast majority of the poems are prose poems, and it is in this form that Green creates remarkable juxtapositions set against a backdrop of subversive simplicity. In this light, it is pertinent that Green begins her collection with one of the most powerful prose poems in the collection, ‘Seams of Repair: Kintsukuroi’. The poem explores the pieces of ‘that old pottery bowl’ as a metaphor for the broken relationship in the poem and ends on a hopeful note resembling a gold lifeline:


          If there was once breakage, now there is more than repair. Fragments bound in

          beauty, measured only by what was lived and can be transformed.


The fragment is integral to the prose poem form and scholars have pointed out the influential work of Friedrich Schlegel and Novalis, as well as Baudelaire in establishing the open-ended nature of the fragment. Green references the fragment here in a similar way, with her prose poem resisting closure through the narrative fissures it creates.

In the prose poem, ‘Boxing Day’—perhaps a nod to Gwen Harwood’s famous sonnet ‘Suburban  Sonnet: Boxing Day’—the focus is on imagistic evocations of the uncanny suburban quotidian: ‘Just before sunset Grandpa will go out to milk the cow and we’ll watch the swans rising, black against the peach blue sky.’ It is in the clarity of these deep image moments that Green’s vision is at its most haunting.

The patrilineal line is a feature of this collection. Many poems read as an elegy to Green’s father in haunting moments that play on the eccentricities of domesticity. For example, ‘Rust’ begins ‘In the kitchen my father at his lunch every day after my mother died, salads, a, tinned fish and brown bread’. ‘Stooped’ begins ‘My father was always a question mark’ and he is also described as ‘a gentle parabola / in his blue shirt and / grey cable knit vest’. And in one of Green’s most arresting images, in ‘Yellow/White’ we encounter ‘A bouquet of dandelions, / plucked from the lawn, / my father’s fingertips / stained with varnish’. These small intimacies are also connected to the expression of mortality that provide uncanny moments in many of the poems about home. Indeed, a wistfulness about the passing of time underscores many of the poems.

In this collection, ageing is also twinned with the importance of holding onto some of the wildness of youth. In ‘The Scent of Home’ the narrator asserts, ‘I am still that young girl / who swam in brown Birrarung’, and ‘The Old Place’ ends with the moving lines, ‘Now, under the arc / of our shifting canvas temple / we pretend we can smell / smoky eucalyptus leaves / and long to be young again.’ Tropes of absence also occur in the ‘Edge of Vision’, and are a foreshadowing of death for the narrator:


          The rest of us stayed at the water edge, but you somersaulted below the rapids and

          stayed so long we all thought you might be lost. You came up laughing, minutes later,

          one hand on hip, the other raised to wave at us from the baking rocks. Was that the

          first time I wondered how it would be when you were gone?


The sublimity of the scene lies in the transgression of the boundary between land and river. It ends on a devastating moment of black humour that triggers an unwanted reminder of mortality.

Finally, there is a cornucopia of food in this collection which expresses not only a joy in consumption but also in the way food triggers memories. Taste, much like a Proustian madeleine is a powerful key to the reliving the past: ‘Sweet and Sour’ begins with the demand ‘Give me purple morello cherries / and shards of dark chocolate … salty plums sour and wrinkled as crones’. Throughout the collection there are walnuts, sea urchins, coffee beans; ‘the smell of burnt sausages in the kitchen and a stale loaf of bread’; ‘Mozart and marzipan chocolates’ and the wonderful sensuality of the white peach in ‘Peach, Wine, Rain’. 

One of the best poems, ‘Oysters’ is about shared intimacies. In this sensual poem, the metaphor of eating oysters has sexual overtones, revealed when the oyster juice stains the narrator’s dress. The poem is quoted in full, here:




          No one might have noticed

          that salty


          those soft tongues

          and tasty kisses

          scooped from the sea

          or the liquor


          on my pale dress

          if only you hadn’t


          so very loudly

          on the deliciousness of


          its briny odour


          a taste you had

          long ago


          so that nobody

          could resist,

          at least,



In Seams of Repair, Green ultimately asks us to savour life and the pleasures of orality: ‘Hold now, for just a moment. Wait until the parting…Don’t rush, hold now. Too quickly you’re away. Sliding over undulating amber seas, to distant shadows and joys’ (‘Hold Now’).