Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 3, 2016

Inside My Mother (2015), poetry by Ali Cobby Eckermann – Combined reviews

ILW 2016Inside my Mother

For the first of my posts during Indigenous Literature Week at ANZ LitLovers, I’ve decided to feature poetry, but as I’m not confident about reviewing poetry, I’ve decided that I’ll serve my readers best by providing a link to the best of reviews of this lovely new collection of poems by Ali Cobby Eckermann.

Descended from the Yankunytjatjara language group, Ali Cobby Eckermann was born in 1963, in the Kate Cocks Memorial Babies’ Home in Brighton South Australia.  Run by the Methodist Church from 1954 to 1976, it was an institution for single mothers and their babies, and for children deemed to be in need of care and protection.  In 2011, the Kate Cocks Home was one of those included in the Uniting Church Apology to mothers who were forced to give up their children for adoption.  Ali Cobby Eckerman was one of those children: taken from her mother, adopted out, and not reunited with her mother, Yankunytjatjara woman Audrey Cobby, until three decades later.

Eckermann was the first Aboriginal Australian writer to attend the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa in 2014, and her oeuvre comprises

  • her first collection of poetry, Little Bit Long Time (Picaro Press, 2009);
  • a second collection called Kami (2010);
  • a verse story for children His Father’s Eyes (Oxford University Press, 2011);
  • a memoir Too Afraid to Cry (Ilura Press, 2012);
  • a collection of poems Love Dreaming (Vagabond Press, 2014);
  • a verse novel Ruby Moonlight (Magabala Books, 2015); and
  • this poetry collection, Inside My Mother (Giramondo 2015).

This collection is marked by sadness and a sense of an irrevocable void.  In the Author Note that accompanied the press release from Giramondo Publishing, Eckermann tells us that it was influenced by the grief she felt on the death of her birth mother and her two elder sisters, who are also her mothers.  (If you’re not familiar with Aboriginal kinship structures, click here for an overview.  IMO every Australian should have an understanding of this most fundamental aspect of Aboriginality).

It was a huge time of loss for me, as I had known these women for less than two decades.  I was thirty-four when I first found my mother and began to recover my sense of myself.  Now in their passing I became a matriarch of the family, alongside my sisters and cousins.  This time was compounded also by the passing of traditional cultural mentors and healers in the APY Lands of north-west South Australia, who had given such quality to my life.  I felt empty and scared and began the slow recovery from such profound grief by trying to articulate my feelings.

Yet listening to an Earshot program at Radio National featuring an interview with Eckermann and her warm, rich voice reading some of her poems, I was struck by her sense of calm about the tragic elements of her life.   She mentioned that her eventual meeting with her birth mother was a meeting between two women – an extraordinary situation when you think about it – and she also mentions her delight when she met someone who told her that she looked like her mother.  Since my mother’s death last year I am more conscious of the ways in which I resemble her, and so I can sense the void of growing up without knowing anyone who resembles you.  It seems like an eerie experience to me.

Not all the poems are sad because this collection is also about healing, but some are striking in their depiction of heartbreak.  In ‘Lament’ an old man cannot stop singing his song, because he is the last speaker of my mother tongue.  But in ‘The Last Cuppa’ the generations come together to tend to an old woman at the end of her life:

and she just knew that her daughter
would just know when to come to
dislodge the cup of tea grown cold
from the stiffening of her fingers

and brush her hair.

As is often the case with poetry, text layout is important.  For copyright reasons I have deliberately compressed this image so that you can’t read the poem in its entirety, but here in ‘Severance’ you can see anguish represented in the way the words are arranged on the double page layout.

when your own born child/gets/whisked/away/from/o u t s t r e t c h e d      longing/

Inside My Mother 001

For reviews of the collection, see

  • Anne-Marie Newton at Cordite: I like what this reviewer has to say about the complexity of the poet working at the linguistic crossroads of two cultures – in English but from an Aboriginal perspective; 
  • Emma Rose Smith at the NSW Writers Centre discusses the style and themes with great insight; and
  • Geoff Page at Mascara is interested in the political context of Aboriginal poetry and considers that Inside My Mother is packed with things that non-Indigenous Australians need to know or be reminded about.

I think he’s right, but it’s also a beautiful collection in its own right.

Author: Ali Cobby Eckermann
Title: Inside My Mother
Publisher: Giramondo Publishing, 2015
ISBN: 9781922146885
Review copy courtesy of Giramondo Publishing

Available from Fishpond: Inside My Mother and direct from Giramondo (where there are also links to other reviews of the collection.)



  1. I guess one of the intentions of ILW is to bring writers with whom we are unfamiliar to our attention. So, thankyou for this one, Cobby Eckerman’s work sounds wonderful and I might try and get hold of one of her verse novels.

    I also like this quote from Page’s review: Cobby Eckermann (b. 1963) makes good use here of a strategy and linguistic authenticity which non-Indigenous poets can employ only at some risk should they wish to ventriloquise on behalf of Aboriginal people.


    • Ah yes, that contentious issue. The crucial word is ‘on behalf of’ and I believe that even amongst indigenous people there is a view that the diversity of our First Nations means that they themselves ought not to speak ‘on behalf’ of others.


  2. Ali Cobby Eckermann is a gifted writer. The range of Eckermann’s poetic form and subject matter across ancestry, language, cultural heritage, and testimony attests to the importance of her poetry and autobiographic writing. I was fortunate to meet Eckermann in New York City during her tour with the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program. In Eckermann’s presentation, she gave testimony to the rich history and culture of Australian Aboriginal people but also the continued struggles they face. I will add the poetry collection, Inside My Mother, on my reading list.


    • That’s great…I’m sure you will enjoy it.


  3. I am just about to start my book by her, Ruby Moonlight, and am looking forward to it. I hadn’t realise she’d been at the Iowa writing course. It’s interesting how many Aussies have been there. It’s clearly an impressive place.


    • That one is on my radar too … I look forward to hearing what you think about it:)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for a great post and links for further reading – I don’t know why you keep saying you are not confident commenting on poetry, you do a fabulous job and in this case insightful and sensitive!


    • For me, it’s like short stories, I have trouble discerning the themes and preoccupations of a whole collection, whereas with a novel, I feel much more comfortable:)


  5. […] I hope people take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to connect with Paola and her art and for further information and interaction with Aboriginal Australia during NAIDOC Week, visit Lisa Hill’s blog and take part in her great initiative for Indigenous Literature Week. […]


  6. […] Inside My Mother, by Ali Cobby Eckermann who identifies with the Yankunytjatjara / Kokatha people from the north west desert country of South Australia, see my review […]


  7. […] my mother (2015, poetry collection, Lisa’s combined reviews post, shortlisted for the NSW and Premier’s Literary Awards, and described by Eckermann as an […]


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