Book Review: Ghost Poetry, Robbie Coburn

A poetry collection that reflects deeply on trauma, loss and hope.
Ghost Poetry. On the left is a book cover with a close-up of a horse's face. On the right is an author image of a young man in a field, with his hands in his pockets and looking off to the right.

Readers are advised that the following review contains references to self-harm and suicide.

Robbie Coburn’s latest collection, Ghost Poetry is split into three parts and addresses with unwavering honesty what makes us human, shining a light on themes such as trauma, grief and suicide. What is remarkable about this collection is that, alongside these raw emotions, there is a message of hope. Coburn’s collection is masterful and breathtaking, against stark imagery that will burn into the reader’s memory.

Coburn creates a duality, like a magnetic force, that pulls and pushes the reader, with topics of life and death, flesh and bones, awake and asleep, and grief and hope – at times causing the reader to have a physical reaction. Such is the case with ‘Rape’:

You live in every part of me;
a waking dream of you
entering my flesh
and becoming a wound.
I wish you had told me then that you would never leave me alone
and there was no way to drown you.

The second part follows similar themes, but there is the introduction of a horse metaphor. It is obvious that with his succinct descriptions, Coburn has spent time around horses and it this knowledge that makes these poems visceral and demanding. This is most evident in poems such as ‘Horse Womb’, ‘A Farm Dream’ and ‘Wreck’:

The sound of their hooves is endless
and their bodies made of blood
when you wake
one morning
and trace my spine and ribcage
in search of an opening.
your fingers gallop across the length of my skin 

Coburn’s collection creates space to address themes that are often not addressed: self-harm and suicide. The reader can feel comfortable to be taken to such places because Coburn’s raw and intimate poems come from a place of knowing, making them honest. 

This is poignant in two of Coburn’s poems, ‘They Lie About Your Death’ and ‘Last Poem’. While it is tempting to relay the words in this review, the reader needs to be led to these pieces by Coburn, and take the time to carefully read them in full. They may not be easy reads, but that is what makes Ghost Poetry such an achievement. He writes with frankness.

Read: Exhibition review: Dana Awartani, Samstag Museum of Art, Adelaide

In Ghost Poetry, Coburn reinforces his reputation as one of Australia’s most essential poets. As a contemporary work, it shines a light on themes such as depression, trauma, addiction, memory mutilation and violence. A must-read. 

Ghost Poems, Robbie Coburn
Publisher: Upswell Poetry
ISBN: 9780645536898
Format: Paperback
Pages: 96pp
Publication date: 3 January 2024
RRP: $24.99

Barrina is a Barkindji writer, artist, critic and curator living on the unceded lands of the Ngunnawal & Ngambri. In addition to her role with the Amplify Collective, she is the Arts Reviewer for the Canberra City News. Alongside her creative endeavors, Barrina has a long-standing career in the museum and heritage sector both at a state and federal level.