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Hamesh Wyatt reviews some latest works of poetry.
101 POLITICAL POEMS
edited by Philip Temple and
Otago University Press
Among the various highlights of the recent Dunedin Writers & Readers Festival was the launch of Manifesto Aotearoa: 101 Political Poems, edited by Philip Temple and Emma Neale.
This big, beautiful book attracted more than 500 poems from 200 poets. For this collection, the editors decided on one poem per poet. Three exceptions prove the rule.
Given 2017 is an election year, I like the idea a poem is a vote, although this collection does not add up to a manifesto in a traditional sense. Yet when global and domestic politics are in turmoil, it is neat to think a bunch of poems bring about a unified call to arms and a declaration of purpose.
New Zealand has a long, painful legacy of colonialism. Some of these poems look at this.
Manifesto Aotearoa is divided into four sections: politics, rights, environment and conflict. Poets are from diverse cultures, young and old, from established and new voices, from the Bay of Islands to Bluff. On a cold May night at the Leviathan Hotel, 22 poets voiced their work.
In alphabetical order, they stood up to a packed room. Diane Brown's Every Day My Name Is Out There, along with Nicola Thorstensen's Protection Order, were expressed.
Human contact matters in this latest collection. Some people yawn at politics, but this handsome book has a sense of mystery, and intrigue. Check the anger in Ivy Alvarez's Manufacture.
Midday break from factory floor, |
soles burning with solid toil, back and forth on concrete.
My feet feel deeply soiled.
Dirt or worse, ground in skin. I
have my violin. Sweat sticks to my
soaked with salt. My notes lift us
up to forgetting. We nod through cigarette smoke,
tannic-stained fingers of rust.
Stop. Go. I work for my boy. Press
counter-productive, if I let it.
Prepare. Every second is a hunter.
More haste. The phrase chases me
around the filthy floor,
dim-fingered like a boss, brushing
against women. Trim
right here, he says, leaning in.
Clock-hands point to midnight.
Weigh up overtime shifts, Sunday
time and a half, every day
slips, falls. My notes will lift me up
- until I break the bowl of my
Think about the small mercy of
figs, honey, something to drink,
warm me up. This floor has stolen
my wrists. My knees. See? I walk
in a storm
cloud of doubt. Shake my head;
time's my friend.
Can't get out just
Special mention has to go to local artist Nigel Brown, who provided the cover and striking images, and penned a poem too.
FULLY CLOTHED AND SO FORGETFUL
Victoria University Press
Fully Clothed and So Forgetful is the debut collection by Hannah Mettner, a Wellington-based poet originally from Gisborne who has appeared in a heap of literary journals.
Fully Clothed resembles a soundtrack to a road movie screening inside Mettner's mind. These poems are full of power and effort.
There are so many themes: love, motherhood, sexuality, family and anxiety.
She delivers thoughts about Alice, abducted children and life in the 1970s. Mettner is a newbie, but she shows her chops.
From Living Alone:
I don't know if I can stay while you
are still so technically here.
There is enough of your skin,
intention, in the carpet, the
cushions, the bed we shared again
and again, that I could construct
completely, down to the flare of
your eyelashes, and explain
the orbital transit of our hearts
making an infinite pattern
around and around each other
when we dance.
The house is a casket laced with
a pattern of drawing-pin holes in
the vestal tiles, the way the
windows have ceased to confide.
At 91 pages, this little collection spins quickly, sometimes a little too fast. Fully Clothed is one not to obsess over the rough edges. The spirit of the thing is not too bad. Mettner will improve.
Jeffrey Paparoa Holman
Into its fourth season, the Hoopla series by Makaro Press features three small collections.
This year established Christchurch poet Jeffrey Paparoa Holman provides Dylan Junkie; Johanna Emeney offers her second collection, Family History, and newcomer and fellow Auckland poet Elizabeth Morton presents her debut collection, Wolf.
Paparoa Holman, who obviously loves Bob Dylan and the impact he has had on his life (you can hear the growl as he remembers important moments), has had a busy few years.
Having released Shaken Down 6.3 in 2012, he followed with Blood Ties: New and Selected Poems, 1963-2016 (2017).
Shaken Down 6.3 includes the poem Miyagi prefecture: 11 March 2011, which is revisited in Dylan Junkie as wave drowns world. It is heartbreaking:
now everyone knows
one Japanese word
our cars were toys
our houses were toys
our ships were toys
a warehouse sailed
bridge we ran!
prayers and cries
don't let me die!
then the sound
of birds of many
With horrible things going on in our world, Elizabeth Morton's Wolf is almost a little book of prophecy. We know the one who has known loneliness and love and yet is still alone. England is thinking of repopulating its country with wolves.
It is with this sort of background Morton writes with disturbing clarity. She serves up a heap of little images in less than 90 pages.
A matador weeps in the bullring. Blackberries burst like blood-clots. There is a bit of reincarnation as a swagman, fisherman and call girl.
Breakfast in Iraq:
the morning smells
of motorways and salt.
all the birds are
empty. last night
fell asleep listening
to a woman retching
into a bucket.
somewhere a car bomb
has spat a million tacks
outside a supermarket.
a woman in a sundress
sucks blood from the
henna of her hair.
it is after dawn but
no children sing
for pastry and milk.
a television plays
cartoons to the growing
crowd of umlauts
where eyes used to be.
This whole series is dark and disturbing, yet also funny and delightful.
Johanna Emeney comes from a small country family. But things change quickly when a mother is diagnosed with breast cancer. From Ham bag:
I no longer miss my mother daily.
Now it's only when I see
something like this:
a calico bag for baked meat
(to keep, cure & preserve)
that I hear her ask:
Ready to go? Got your hambag,
And I say:
Yes, Mum, all the better to put my
and we're beside ourselves again.
It is easy to see how Emeney's poems have been commended and placed in the Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine. She makes things seem so effortless.
Emeney is energetic, even when describing painful moments. Family History will linger in the memory.
Hamesh Wyatt lives in Bluff. He reads and writes poetry.