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Hamesh Wyatt reviews the latest New Zealand poetry collections.
SALT RIVER SONGS
Potton & Burton
Sam Hunt has just turned 70.
He has released at least 21 books of poetry and has earned a heap of awards.
Salt River Songs is a little book containing more than 50 poems.
It has been talked about on television and in the foreword by Colin Hogg that a lot of these poems are about death.
I think they portray Hunt’s loneliness.
Hunt said recently: "I prefer loneliness to boredom with people. This [the Kaipara] is a lonely place but it suits me."
Hunt would not like to be trapped solely in a little book.
Many New Zealanders have seen Hunt on stage.
The tapping foot, the hand reaching out, feeling for the rhythm.
He has so many poems at his fingertips, his own and other people’s, at least 2000.
Hunt has a special brain and heart to comprehend all that data.
Hunt lives alone.
His home is full of prints, paintings and children’s art.
One section is dedicated to his sons’ photos, back to first-born Tom’s primer one class from 1982, finishing up with second son Alf’s final year of high school just last year.
All these pictures are lovingly pinned up by a doting dad.
He comments in this latest collection, "Bride among brides":
Once a year I’d see her
in my son’s class photograph —the dark one always
at the edge of the picture;
knew she’d break hearts.
(Time has its way.)
Today, in the "Newly Weds",
bride among brides . . .
From her local marae
you hear the Tasman
smashing itself to pieces;
if you don’t breathe
deep as the sea,
The personality of Sam Hunt fills Salt River Songs but does not take the poems over.
Like James K. Baxter, Hunt’s friend before him, he has mixed the mysteries of the known world and found himself older, wiser and more muted with wonder.
HERA LINDSAY BIRD
Hera Lindsay Bird
Victoria University Press
Hera Lindsay Bird has released her sensational debut collection of poems.
Clearly she has fun writing poems and this slim volume is full of little surprises.
She has inspiration to spare.
Bird talks about her life honestly.
She was born in Thames to hippie parents.
In her early 20s she took a course at the International Institute of Modern Letters in Wellington.
Bird completed an MA in poetry at Victoria University.
And Together We Fight Crime is an unpublished manuscript.
Not a single poem made it into this new collection, Hera Lindsay Bird.
In 2013, Bird moved to Dunedin to live with her partner at the time.
She wrote most of the poems here that have ended up in this collection.
Bird is now back in Wellington.
She also works full-time at Unity Bookstore.
These new poems are personal.
There are lots of sex poems, but many people have given Bird the thumbs up.
Her long poems "Monica", "Bisexuality" and "The Dad Joke Is Over" are witty and compelling, complete with comic relief.
This new work is trippy and fun.
"Everything is Wrong":
. . . What I say to you I say to me
I don’t care about subtlety
I don’t care about forgiveness or God
All I care about is looking at things
And naming them
A rocking horse rocking on the banks of the river
Animals in their soft castles of meat
None of us are getting out of here alive.
Bird likes Dunedin and people like Nadia Reid.
AS THE VERB TENSES
Otago University Press
As the Verb Tenses is Lynley Edmeades’ debut collection of poetry.
She serves up vivid details and life in the West.
Edmeades lives in Dunedin with her partner and cat.
Clearly her inspiration comes from reading, listening and conversing.
And there it goes, the sun
left behind by today, aching
across what’s left in light
and calling to that window — be closed.
What’s left? A boiling kettle, a creaking door.
I can feel time making small dents
in my hope, eroding possibility
like saltwater takes to the dunes.
As sure as this seat beneath me
is the simple fact of you: you’re gone, you’ve been,
Edmeades writes with the wisdom of a woman who knows her form, and has also learned to move beyond it. I am sure there will be more to come.
NOTHING FOR IT BUT TO SING
Otago University Press
Michael Harlow’s 10th collection of poems is Nothing For It But To Sing.
Harlow, who lives in Alexandra, won the Kathleen Grattan Poetry Award in 2015, for the manuscript.
Harlow invites the reader on unexpected interior journeys.
"Today is the Piano’s Birthday", the title poem from his third collection (AUP, 1981) is echoed in the final poem in this collection.
"The piano’s birthday":
Today I saw the star
I fell from
a blaze of light
felt it enter my body.
Like the green song
of the earth — the Marjatta
tree its blood-red
bursting forth . . .
At the book launch last month Cilla McQueen commented on Harlow’s deceptive simplicity of style.
For Harlow nothing simply needs to be just one thing.
Auckland University Press
John Dickson has not released a collection of poems since Sleeper (AUP, 1998).
He was born in Milton, educated at Southland Boys’ High School and attended the University of Otago.
Dickson was Burns Fellow in 1988.
He has talent to burn.
If you like your poetry full of honesty, Mister Hamilton is the one for you.
This is a collection of poems that are rather tastefully well-dressed.
For many years I lived in Southland.
In fact, I am from Southland.
Some people say my speech is slowI say it’s deliberate, just.
And my soul runs dark
like Southland’s slow intestinal rivers
laden with manuka dust.
And my detachment from anything plain . . .
Mister Hamilton is full of heart.
At its core is a love story.
MAUKATERE: floating mountain
Maukatere: Floating Mountain by Bernadette Hall is a single long poem sequence.
This is a beautifully produced hand-bound book.
It includes drawings by Rachel O’Neill.
Much of this little book looks at home:
We’re disheartened by our expenses.
The kids are out at the derelict farm.
They’re meant to be picking strawberries.
Instead they’re throwing rotten apples at one another across a rough paddock.
It’s full of thistles, dock, gorse seedlings, wildling pines and mouse-eared hawkweed.
"We like it when you do that," they shout back at us, "when you chat and laugh".
Hall’s new work is one which stares at the world with a crushing mix of vulnerability and defiance.
FALE AITU | SPIRIT HOUSE
Victoria University Press
Tusiata Avia’s third collection of poems is Fale Aitu | Spirit House.
In this new collection Avia weaves together voices of the living and the dead.
These poems are confessional and confrontational, gentle and funny.
Avia speaks from Samoa, Christchurch, Gaza and New York.
She shows great taste with her language, even if some of these poems seem randomly diced, sliced and thrown in a blender.
"Tell me what you remember":
Sitting on the floor with Sticklebricks, too old for them by then
The way the sun came through the kitchen window and fell on my Lego house.
My mother kissing Karen, who smoked and drank vodka and had a boyfriend
And let her German Shepherd lick the inside of her mouth.
This collection is fast-paced stuff with a tongue-in-cheek timing.
It is thrilling from beginning to end.
Avia is accumulating a canon of work that in future years will be called brilliant.
DARK DAYS AT THE OXYGEN CAFE
Victoria University Press
Dark Days at the Oxygen Cafe is James Norcliffe’s seventh poetry collection.
He pens poems about Seneca and James Dean.
They sit alongside other poems about a Turkmen dictator and an owl man.
He has lived in Dunedin for some time.
Norcliffe likes Simon Armitage.
These new poems are seeds for thought well planted.
Norcliffe draws on myth, history, pop culture and personal experience.
He is not feeling very well in the title poem:
. . . Why isn’t there linen
anymore? I like linen.
A man shouldn’t have
to live in a world of Kleenex.
We ought to invade
That goddamn country
where the linen comes from.
And it’s cold in here.
Why is it so cold when
it used to be warm?
. . . This is solid stuff, rather than amazing.
THE HATRED OF POETRY
Just for something different, Ben Lerner has produced an entertaining, original essay.
The Hatred of Poetry is hilarious, intelligent and original.
. . . "You’re a poet and you don’t even know it," Mr X used to tell us in second grade; he would utter this irritating little refrain whenever we said something that happened to rhyme. I think the jokey cliche betrays a real belief about the universality of poetry: Some kids take piano lessons, some kids study tap dance, but we don’t say every kid is a pianist or dancer . . .
Lerner has published three collections of poetry.
He teaches English in America.
Lerner’s hatred is a form of unrequited love.
- Hamesh Wyatt lives in Bluff. He reads and writes poetry.