Review special: Poetry

Hamesh Wyatt reviews the latest collections of poetry.

The Pop Artist's Garland: Selected Poems 1952-2009
FWN Wright
Ed Mark Pirie
HeadworX, $24.99, pbk

Niel Wright completed The Alexandrians in 2007. He began in 1961. More than 3000 poems are contained in 120 books over 40 volumes. This is huge.

In The Pop Artist's Garland: Selected Poems 1952-2009 Mark Pirie puts together about 100 poems to show a sample of Niel Wright's work.

Epigrams, triolets, odes, pop songs, sonnets, narrative verse, lyrics, elegies and ballads are poured out from this Wellingtonian, now in his 70s.

In the past, Wright has been admired and reviewed by James K Baxter and Eileen Duggan. He wears his classic-poem passions like badges.

"Wahine" (1973) concludes:...

Hours later we learnt with shock that
The Wahine, overwhelmed by an exceptional wave
Had sunk in the harbour.
Just as conclusively we've
Become strangers.
Fifty lives were lost
Within sight of the city viewers.
The last
Of the wreckage was salvaged the other day.
That's how we watched our love die,
Uncomprehendingly, though in full view
It happened. Tell me, what became of you?

The Pop Artist's Garland is worth a look to see what is possible using traditional form and style.

Wright knows poetry is a craft. Recently, Sarah Quigley said "I don't like my poetry shouted or ranted, gaudy, tinselled, amped up or dumbed down. I like it the old-fashioned way: silent, solitary, book-bound".

Old-fashioned poetry can be found in The Pop Artist's Garland.

Lives of the Poets
John Newton
Victoria University Press, $25, pbk

John Newton's debut volume of poems Tales from the Angler's Eldorado was released in 1985.

It has been represented in many major anthologies since, especially his poems "Ferret Trap" and "Opening the Book". "Opening the Book" is included in this follow-up collection Lives of the Poets 25 years later.

Newton takes the reader on a thrilling ride.

A bit like Wright, Newton knows his way around a good poem and crafts deceptively simple techniques into his work that eventually reveal their nuances with repeated reads.

His imagery is sometimes brutal. People get hurt emotionally and physically.

Check out the 20-part title sequence which makes up a third of this collection.

We follow the journey of Hank and Shona. Newton's latest showing puts the focus on his peerless wordplay, the quality of which has made him a literary treasure for many years.

From "Trout-Fishing and Sport in Maoriland":

I wanted you to open up the wound in my mouth
but when you took out your pocket-knife I thought better of it.
A green beetle was trapped in the wipers.
You dream of places where there are no fish.
When the barbed wire spiked me through the sole of my gumboot
you cried out in sympathy and hurried towards me.
The wire-strainer lifted the skin off your hand.
I was so scared I ran home effortlessly.

Themes of fear, hatred and sorrow are wrestled with successfully.

Newton is beautiful in places, grand and joyous in others. He remains a talent in a field sometimes clogged with new poets.

As he mentions in "Gram Parsons at the Palomino", "Sweetheart, you're okay, your sorrow is as good as anyone else's. Lives of the Poets is a delight.

Koiwi Koiwi / Bone Bone
Hinemoana Baker
Victoria University Press, $25, pbk

Matuhi/needle by Hinemoana Baker was a beautiful, classy debut collection of poems released in 2004. Baker is a writer, musician and sound artist living on Wellington's Kapiti Coast.

The follow-up collection, Koiwi Koiwi/Bone Bone, delivers more poems of praise, love and gratitude. She takes nothing for granted in her work and as a result is exciting and innovative.

Poems about mess and distress still sparkle.

"mrs: finishing":

the sound is so high
and soft in the night
it could be the neighbour's
wind chime, one note
the same note again
it could be a text
arriving on the phone
in the hall
a distant cat
a satellite
the washing machine
finishing, finishing, finishing

Being a graduate of Bill Manhire's Creative Writing Class in 2002, Baker knows how to put together something fascinating and hit the right spot, using minimal punctuation. She is a restless poet who uses language to be snappy and funny, until you realise the story behind the poem.

It could be waiting for her father as a little girl at "the squash club", or the desperate thought "to my mother's surgeon". Baker is uplifting and inspired through her verse. She illustrates her faith in family and friends. She certainly does not ignore the big questions.

Koiwi Koiwi/Bone Bone is a success, a noble effort from one of our best poets.

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


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