How decent folk behave by Maxine Beneba Clarke

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In the prologue Maxine Beneba Clarke quotes Nina Simone that “an artist’s duty  . . .  is to reflect the times” and that is what this body of poetry does, reflecting themes of climate change, bushfires, Black Lives Matter, Me Too, Covid 19, domestic violence, and other current political and social issues. The opening poem “when the decade broke” refers to many of these issues but provides hope with the concluding lines “suddenly, we were wide awake . . . faces tilted to the sky, watching revolution break”. Similarly the closing poem “fires move faster” recalls the many traumas of the last decade but at the same time finds the hope in the simple things, “zucchini plants flower, sharing a meal with friends”, concluding “we all will fight, to live”. So while there are many fierce and confronting issues that thread through this collection of poems, there is still the hope that we will rise up and take action.

These are powerful compelling poems that address issues that should be front of mind. They wake us up, put into words the issues at stake, and drive us to feel, think and act. The title “How decent folk behave” is a fitting admonition, the line coming from the poem “Something sure” about a mother exhorting her son to not be a bystander, to call things out, be a good man and “lead a bad man home”.

The words are strong and emotive, “the monsters are out”, they recall women's suffering and black people’s suffering; it is “blood-truth” that we need to confront. We feel the grief. The poems are vibrant, and thought provoking; there are many historical references that we need reminding about. It is a volume that has an immediate impact, and will be re-read and discussed and provide inspiration for social action.

Highly recommended for classroom text study.

Themes: Climate change, Racism, Feminism, Domestic violence, Discrimination.

Helen Eddy