Rico Craig's Bone Ink (Guillotine Press, 2017) is unpredictable, ambitious and layered. It is surprising to see this is Craig's first volume, as the work is assured, mature. Bone Ink explores the corners of the known suburban world (e.g. Kellyville, Westmead and Quakers Hill in western Sydney) and hands us things we haven't fully investigated or recognised yet. Craig plays a magician time and again, weaving and spinning the ordinary into the sublime. He reminds us to stop and really take in the world we tell ourselves we know.
Much has already been said about Craig's investigation into myth and masculinity and how he had handled these notions with aplomb, so I will concentrate on his ability to generate exquisite lyricism in an effortless manner. This is his great, great strength. The writing is often as electric as quicksilver in midsummer. I come back to Craig's wording and sentence structure more than I do his overall messages or points.
Take the following from Through the Witch Window (possibly the most accomplished and memorable poem in Bone Ink; here, Tranströmer and Ginsberg seem to conspire and inspire) -
My head out the window, howling your name into celestial
alignment; we're satellite streaks, orbital promise.
Or these fragments from Tropical Storm Danielle: Night Surfing -
We know nothing like stealing a wave from the night... I'm drawn to the gleaming rig windows, their burley of distant alliance.
Chris Ofili in The Upper Room concludes with this golden line -
They scamper and we gleefully ditch our humanity, chasing, a pack running to know the tremble in our ribs.
Hamburg opens with, If anyone asks I will say, you are oceans away, afloat in the ventricles of a great city's heart.
These are all perfect lines, ideal lines, lines to have tattooed onto your forearm and paraded. I wish I'd written them.
My only reservation with Bone Ink is its density and ambiguity. Some of the poems are too cryptic: an overall clarity and resonance is sacrificed. Some of the pieces in the collection's second half, The Upper Room, needed more backstory or context to anchor them - this would have made them easier to grasp. Perhaps, some of these poems could've been trimmed to make them punchier, more purposeful. Many readers may totally disagree with me here. Maybe, I am too much a fan of briefer poems.
The cover of the collection is electric, breathtakingly alive. If only it was real neon! With its combination of letters and symbols it immediately reminded me of the iconic, impactful jackets of 80s Split Enz albums True Colours and Corroboree. I take my hat off to the designer, Camille Walala.
Bone Ink is a gutsy volume to revisit and hold onto as your travel through our city's outer suburbs at midnight on a Saturday night. Well done to Guillotine Press on another impressive collection.
LJ, October 2017.