Sarah Holland-Batt’s third book, The Jaguar

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the jaguar by Sarah Holland-BattCredit:

the jaguar
Sarah Holland Batt
University of Queensland Press $24.99

Sarah Holland-Batt, at 40, has established herself as a key figure in contemporary Australian poetry. His three books, Aria (2008), hazards (2015) and now the jaguar, appeared at sensible seven-year intervals and won a number of substantial awards. Her recent book of short essays on poetry, lightning fishingconsolidated its position.

Holland-Batt’s highly metaphorical style has been an influence on many young Australian poets – though few seem to match his almost conversational fluency in the medium. In the jaguar, the poet’s approach is slightly more relaxed – though, paradoxically, more intense. Perhaps it is because she has here, in the person of her recently deceased father, a more expansive and deeply felt material to work with.

Obviously, the death of Dr. Anthony Holland-Batt (1937-2020) deeply disturbed the poet. Some readers may have heard the eloquent media pleas the poet made on the issue of elder care during and since the time his father was abused in one of these institutions.

Noting the title of the book, some readers may also think of Rilke’s famous poem The Panther and suspect a connection. Holland-Batt’s poem, however, is in a very different mood. At the beginning of the poem, she recalls the acquisition: “A madness he bought without trying, / vintage 1980 XJ, a revolt against his trembling”.

Sarah Holland-Batt is a poet and thoughtful commentator on contemporary Australian poetry.Credit:

Her father proceeds to drive her dangerously to the edge of legality and destructively alters her. “Eventually his modifications / killed him, the car he had always wanted and waited / so long to buy, and it sat like a carcass / in the garage, like a tombstone, like a coffin – / but it’s not a symbol or a metaphor, I can’t help it.

Of course, given the information provided in the before and after poems, we can clearly see that the vehicle is highly metaphorical. It is a mark of Holland-Batt’s self-confidence that she can employ such a sardonic manner alongside other poems that are more orthodox poignant. Above all, his father’s humanity is not simplified – or retrospectively sentimentalized.

After so many poems of sorrow and suffering, the jaguarReaders of Part III will experience a perhaps necessary surprise when they are presented with 15 poems that are basically about love and sex. Most of them seem somewhat autobiographical, but others may well be satirical plays on prevailing attitudes. One of the most attractive is epithalamium, supposedly written to “celebrate” the wedding of a narcissistic ex-lover. Holland-Batt’s characteristic tone in this third section is felt in his lines: “To love a narcissist / you have to believe it, and reader, I did – / for a time I loved him, I believed in its cruelty and its beauty…”

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