‘Anecdotal Evidence’ by Gayelene Carbis -Reviewed by Emma Lee

Reviewed ByEmma Lee
‘Anecdotal Evidence’ by Gayelene Carbis -Reviewed

‘Anecdotal Evidence’ Gayelene Carbis

Five Islands Press

ISBN: 978-0-7340-5360-2,


‘Anecdotal Evidence’ is Gayelene Carbis’ first collection and themed around childhood memories, family and the transition from child to independent adult. ‘Apollo Bay’ details a fractious summer holiday with the poet, her brother, her parents and maternal grandmother where the mother is impatient with grandmother and brother complains about the choice of music in the car because his sister chose it and grandmother sings during the night, 

‘She never really heard me sing

except yelling down her ear sometimes

but she knew I loved it, loved to sing,

loved music, knew it was my music

that went with us all the way from Melbourne

to Apollo Bay every year so she sang for me

in the big double bed half the night

because she believed I liked it.’

Grandmother is going deaf so can’t hear the music her granddaughter has chosen but sings anyway, believing any song can overcome the generational gap. The granddaughter recognises that her grandmother is singing the wrong songs for the right reason so tolerates it. The mother, stuck in the middle, doesn’t seem to have inherited her own mother’s eagerness to please others or is she the source of her daughter’s tolerance, in ‘Dust’ the daughter remembers her mother using a feather-duster on her children but not praying,

Pray for us sinners

we’d say at school and in church.

Suffer the little children. My parents never went.

Except Christmas Eve, my birthday, when

I begged them. How funny that we only ever saw

our own, childish transgressions, and never theirs.’

It marks one of the rites of passage from childhood to adulthood when we recognise our parents’ fallibility. That transition is also marked through music, in ‘Blue’ through Joni Mitchell,

‘because I was a child clinging to childhood / but when I stop

and think about those moments where I found myself on the other

side the other side of family and friends who’d been there forever

the other side of who I had been and who I might become but

how strange that those old loves come into my mind when really

the juncture is Joni and what changed my life was you and all

of that came later long after the others the singers and lovers

long after all of them when I left home and lived with you and

learnt to love Joni and learnt to love you and you gave me Blue

The stream-of-consciousness style and enjambment pushes the reader breathlessly through the poem as if the writer is trying to push out her realisation before it gets forgotten or she loses her thread. The poems after the poet has left her childhood home become calmer and more structured as if the physical distances also gives her an emotional distance. She records the patterns in her parents’ marriage as her elderly father succumbs to dementia and her mother continues to treat him as if nothing has changed. Her mother, though, lives her own fantasy, imaging having her adult children fill the house at Easter when none are visiting.

An answerphone message from a former partner offering to cook for her reminds her of ‘The Taste of Fridays’

‘All those turns we took every night,

you standing there gently rocking the pan

just above the flame, furious spurts of fat

almost lashing your face.

Our own private Australian barbeque—

you doing the meat, me chopping up vegetables

and cutting up fruit, just the way you like it.

The way you do for children,

or someone you care about,

someone you love.

By the time you reach where you live now,

I’ll probably be in front of the tv

with take-away.’

Readers don’t get to know what caused the break up so the poem suggests the narrator is giving up on someone cooking her a meal and taking care of her in favour of a quickly-chosen take away eaten while her attention’s on the TV. If the latter is preferable, perhaps that’s her comment on the relationship, but the only aspect of it that readers see is the shared Friday night meals.

‘Anecdotal Evidence’ draws on personal experience and is mainly focused on the transition from childhood to adulthood. Gayelene Carbis uses a variety of forms, style and tone to suit each poem – from densely packed enjambment and prose poems to tightly structured sequences – to fit the poem’s subject. ‘Anecdotal Evidence’ is a solid debut exploring familiar topics.


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