‘Autobiochemistry’ by Tricia Dearborn

Review by Caitlin Bowen

Tricia Dearborn is a veteran of Australian literature, with ‘Autobiochemistry’ being her latest long-awaited release. A poetry anthology collection broken into five sections, we move through events in Dearborn’s life as though she sits gently close by and guides us through memories, relationshipsand moments of both pain and triumph. No stranger to detail or frighteningly honest expressions, Dearborn provides us with highly personal, intricate pieces that flow tremendously well. This air of cohesiveness and passage remains intact between each respective section, including a minor segment inspired by (and featuring) the works of Virginia Woolf. Combining the realms of both science and art has curated a work that taps into the intimacies of life, at times being metaphoric and others extremely literal.

The titular first section contains poems that correlate to 22 elements from the periodic table. Dearborn’s background in both biochemistry and the arts is evident throughout all pieces, with her creative ability to weave an understanding of chemical properties into facets of life executed with absolute lucidity and rigor. Both poems ‘Hydrogen’ and ‘Carbon’ marry features of the exact element with an anecdote based in reality and human behaviour. Carbon breaks down the structure and creation of the chemical through exploring its presence in the world of the living. It is a beautiful poem that almost acts as an omniscient brace for what is to come, with much of the anthology delving deep into the minute characteristics and observations of Dearborn’s life. There are beats between poems, with both ‘Nitrogen’ and ‘Oxygen’ playing together with motions of breath work and fear. Reading the two interchangeably almost feels constrictive, before even prying apart the homage to a childhood struggle with asthma. Hints at a turbulent family environment are present with pieces such as ‘Sulphur’, which is deepened as we move through to ‘Elephant poems’. This is a reflective segment that casts a mirror to events over Dearborn’s life, it provides almost psychotherapeutic nuances that peak tremendously with its seventh poem, ‘Your life as a jigsaw’. Split into five compartments, this piece draws comparisons between a puzzle and its’ pieces to the complexities of self.

‘Covalent bonds’ changes pace slightly, acting as a metaphor for opposing relationships throughout Dearborn’s adult life. She writes realistically (albeit pessimistically at times) to draw readers into the hidden moments of connection, utilising stark foundations of biology to convey a scene we can draw reference from. ‘Phlegm: a love poem’ is a stand out here, as it explores the parallel between relationships of a mother and child, to that of lovers. Sickness is used vividly here by Dearborn, as she walks readers through a deeply personal account of illness as a child and the role her mother undertook. It is a privilege to gain access to a memory of such power, with Dearborn’s instructive language lulling a sense of nostalgia for moments of care and intimacy. It is enjoyable to read such a refreshing exploration of love, one that holds its expectations at a realistic standard. Notions of both love and loss are intelligently described by Dearborn, concepts that move flawlessly from the starting segment, through an intensified ‘Covalent bonds’, all the way through the to the conclusive section titled ‘The change: some notes from the field’ that details perimenopause.

Autobiochemistry’ invites a second reading upon completion, as the brilliance of Dearborn’s writing is all things intelligent, sharp and layered within an aura of simplicity. It is erotically persuasive and explores subject matter that arguably needs to be brought to the forefront of societal conversation. The opposing nature of the elements and everyday human experience is a wonderfully engrossing angle, one that Dearborn masterfully hones with skill and poise. The poetry is user-friendly, meaning that readers do not need a scientific background to access the depth of her words. It is an intoxicatingly raw, fantastic collection of work that daringly bares all to its audience and ignites a sense of magic in all experiences of life.