The energy of this anthology burns across its pages, with a determination to remake - not just the expectation readers may have of Aboriginal poetry, but the language itself. The anthology is astutely divided into five suites of poems by Gomeroi writer and academic, Alison Whittaker. Each suite of poems is prefaced with an essay by a leading Aboriginal writer, most of them poets, although known for their work in other genres: Chelsea Bond, Evelyn Araluen, Bruce Pascoe, Steven Oliver and Ali Cobby Eckermann.
The variety of voices is significant. As perhaps the best known, only two of the poets, Oodgeroo Noonuccal and Lionel Fogarty, are represented by more than one poem here, and they are at opposite ends of a spectrum of accessibility. Fogarty uses English words and grammar in unfamiliar ways that signal a desire to own and remake the language; Oodgeroo, in contrast, uses plain language that is familiar, but emotionally challenging. Although celebrated as one of the first Aboriginal poets to appear in book form, she was criticised for what was dismissed as propaganda, as well as her regular metrics and endstopped rhyming. When she explained that her writing models were the verse of Henry Lawson and the Christian hymn books of her upbringing, her work was reframed by the colonial experience of Aboriginal Australians. And this is the kind of reframing used by Alison Whittaker to construct the anthology as a resistance to colonisation.
For Whittaker, ‘Fire Front’ is ‘the sharp frontier of Blak poetry’ p.xii aimed at ‘the emancipation of First Nations’. (Even her use of the spelling ‘Blak’ is political.) She points out the relational and intergenerational voices of the poems: one well known poem by Oodgeroo addressed to her son, Denis Walker, and a poem written back to him by his granddaughter Elizabeth Walker. This kind of ongoing conversation makes ‘Fire Front’, as Whittaker says, a reference point rather than an absolute authority. With its inclusion of rap and song lyrics, prose poems, performance pieces and the often highly poetic essays in prose, this is a dynamic introduction to ‘Aboriginal poetry and power’ for older readers, who will want to learn more about the writers and the sweep of history that have inspired it.