Poetry roundup

James Brown. Photo: Robert Cross
James Brown. Photo: Robert Cross

A roundup on the latest collections of poetry by New Zealand writers.

James Brown
Victoria University Press

James Brown is back with Floods Another Chamber, his sixth collection of poems.

A finalist at the New Zealand Book Awards three times, Brown teaches poetry at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University.

This latest collection, Floods Another Chamber, contains poems that still border on something insane. Brown writes poems thinking, reading, listening to music, people, nothing.

These are intimate, touching poems sculpted with dry wit, empathy and the light touch of a master. Following his last collection, the celebrated Warm Auditorium (VUP, 2012), and bigger than some previous collections, Brown’s latest effort explores human experience, his lines crackling like fireworks one after the other.

Floods Another Chamber will leave the reader with a broad smile, a tear in the eye and a heart that’s full.

As he says: "... Poetry is a bit like lighting a fire: you often have to wander away to gather fuel, but you need to return and keep blowing on it for it to really take hold and raze everything in your suburb — or however far it’s going to travel."

Emu begins:

After a blast down Serendipity,
you begin your work in
Holloway Road.
Clinical’s wet trees bend their
fingers over your head
like ‘Here is the church . . .’
Doors open
and close, but where are the people?
Highbury Fling is fast and gloamy
before a brief openness to the Sanctuary
fenceline. The wind bends
through pines.

How I Met My Wife, The Brown Wiggle and End are all laugh-out-loud funny. Yes, Brown throws in the odd swear word — but only when it is appropriate, like when you drop a brick on your foot.

There are so many brilliant moments: Janet and John Go to the Book Launch triggers memories of Janet and John primers recited as a child and adds those awkward feelings that can happen at book launches. Soft Returns is a sustained piece that is worth the price of admission.

Anna Livesey
Anna Livesey

Anna Livesey
Victoria University Press

Anna Livesey’s poems have been widely published.

Artificial Intelligence was one of the best New Zealand poems last year and showed how far Livesey has come since Good Luck (VUP, 2003). The Schaeffer Fellow at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Livesey has lived in Wellington, Beijing, Shanghai, New York, Dunedin, Wellington and, currently, Auckland, where she works as a corporate strategist.

Livesey’s third collection, Ordinary Time, comprises just over 50 pages, its 28 short-prose poems  delivering thoughts on early parenthood, motherhood and childcare.

And it is not all sweetness and light. For example, Eleven Days:

The rotten flesh-stump that joined us
has fallen off.
I haven’t washed her.
I haven’t healed.
In these early days, wrapt in our own salty language,
we swear a fealty
I know we cannot rely on.

This is glorious stuff, all circling, with layers of meaning. The job may be a slog, or a bit of a joke. But shut the door on the way out, Livesay is going somewhere with this.

From the title poem, she says "Having started as a poet, I suppose any contribution is a positive mark on the ledger".

Ordinary Time is much more than this. Livesey provides a depth that is surprising and welcome. There is nothing ordinary about this slim volume.

- Hamesh Wyatt lives in Bluff. He reads and writes poetry.

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