Book Review – ‘Skeleton Parade’ by Mela Blust

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author.

Mela Blust’s debut chapbook, Skeleton Parade, is a triumph of living through trauma. From the gut-punch of the very first poem, it’s clear this is a collection that delves into the darkness of abusive relationships, perfectly capturing the initial blush before the turn, the mask it wears:

they never say that.

they say pretty words,

come here honey.

Blust’s poetry trails down the spiral, showing the repetitive patterns of these relationships and how the survivors find themselves in the same situation, over and over again, recognising their trauma but unable to break the cycle. There is a delicate introspection as she examines how this knowledge sits adjacent to reality, present but still detached:

I often wonder why

            as children

we are

terrified of the monsters

under our beds

and as adults,

we willingly lie

beside them.

Mela moves carefully and with intent through the patterns and cycles of this trauma, alternating between stark and confronting memory and the sage voice of experience. She acknowledges the impact of early experiences and how they shape self-esteem, self-worth, and the ability to trust others. There is also a glimpse of the words and behaviours of perpetrators; the weapons they use and how survivors are rendered powerless in the face of them. Blust doesn’t shy away from the darkest moments, referencing physical and emotional violence, and self harm. But Skeleton Parade isn’t all shadows – there is a defiance that comes through, a triumph as the survivor rises from the ashes. In the poem spit or swallow she sums up resistance perfectly:

you are angry because I, because we, because she

                   is saying

            is saying

     is screaming

NO.

There is a spare beauty to the writing. No poem runs for more than a page, but Mela’s poetic sensibility leans towards clean lines in which every word carries more than its own weight, and there is no wasted excess. The language sparkles like crystal. Blust uses metaphor and simile to great effect to create a sense of lyrical beauty, even when pulling back the cover on horrors. The poems have a lovely rhythm, and lend themselves to being read aloud. Layered images turn and pivot throughout, sometimes adding depth and sometimes surprising the reader with a sharp twist. This keeps the reading fresh; subsequent readings of the book reveal more subtleties each time and, despite the crisp word count, Mela provides plenty of veils for the reader to peel away.

Skeleton Parade is a remarkable debut. Mela Blust keeps the thread of tension throughout the entire collection incredibly tight and the reader holds their breath, waiting for the moment of release that surely must be on its way. The book finishes on a note of hard-won victory, even as it suggests the fight is never over. The final words of the final poem make a strong statement:

i’m coming.

Mela Blust is more than coming – she’s arrived. 

Mela Blust’s Skeleton Parade is available from APEP Publications.

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