Bella Li has published three collections of poetry, Maps, Cargo (2013); Argosy (2017), winner of both the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards 2018 for poetry, and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2018 for poetry; and Lost Lake (2018). Born in China, Li emigrated to Australia at the age of three. Her work is often a unique assemblage of collage, poetry and photography, and, as the titles of her collections suggest, often deals in themes of exploration and loss—the shadow of Australia’s colonial history always looming near.
“Voyage” calls to mind Baudelaire, whose own “Voyage” trails Li’s as a kind of ghost ship. “Sullen days”, as Li’s poem opens, is just one of the bitter truths Baudelaire thought our travels brought us, not an opening up of perspective but a realization that the world is “tiny and monotonous” and we are but “oases of fear in the wasteland of ennui”. Or as Li phrases it “my eyes reeked of distance”. Baudelaire’s themes take on new stakes in Li’s writing, as she pitches her work against a national history of exploration leading to dispossession and her own migratory past.
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Author: Thomas Moody