I am the first to admit that a lot of poetry to me remains beautiful but elusive, the meaning somehow slipping from my grasp, my lack of astuteness or cleverness obvious by my ignorance; yes, it sounds lyrical, but what does it mean?

This is not true of Sarah Holland-Batt’s collection The Jaguar (UQP 2022), an extraordinary anthology about nature and yearning and loss and self-understanding, but mostly a meditation about and for her father, who died of Parkinson’s disease, leaving behind a legacy of intelligence, compassion, curiosity, a thirst for learning and a wartime determination to see things through, all of which have transferred through osmosis to Holland-Batt herself, and which radiate from her in clutches of brilliant phrases or else seep slowly like molasses dripping.

I believe one can still appreciate fine poetry, the use of language and the unexpected compilations of words, even if one finds the meaning somewhat impenetrable. Perhaps that is the point, not only of poetry but of all writing, that once written, it belongs to the reader, and becomes in their hands and in their ears and mouths something rewritten and reborn.

But this collection is in no way obtuse or difficult to decipher. The first section, particularly, devoted to her father, is easily accessible. It depicts the deep, awkward, confusing, beseeching and devastating love for someone we know who is dying. The slow catch-up of mind to body. The small humiliations and intimate disgraces, where once lions (jaguars?) stood and roared.

With themes of regret, familial love, desire, the commune with nature, the force of art, the damming inadequacy of our care for our elderly, Holland-Batt juxtaposes these purposes with the gaudily and grotesquely overabundance of luxury, the flaunting of life to excess compared with the simple, pared-back end of life reality which we must all face.

The Jaguar is an elegy, a eulogy, a love-letter to a father adored and missed. Gift this volume of poetry to those who have lost someone they love. Buy it to prepare yourself for your own inevitable losses. Wish that you had a daughter as talented as Sarah Holland-Batt to memorialise your life.