Poetry books I have enjoyed in the past year 1/2


As promised, I am launching this blog with a taste of some of the books I have enjoyed in the past year (it is coming in three parts). Part three I am linking to two books I reviewed in The  Herald.

Janet Charman At the White Coast Auckland University Press 2012

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An award winning poet, Janet Charman’s new collection is dedicated to her grandmothers and this book does seem like a gift for women. At The White Coast is a collection of travel poems – here, abroad and through the past, whether invented or true. Charman’s continual flair with words translates into enviable lines, sweet rhythms, elastic syntax, experience rendered into economical delights. She moves from bedsits to ferry stops, from trains to social work, from picket lines to boyfriends, from girlfriends to spaghetti-authentico (‘always in besidedness/ more than a couple’). Or ‘i think/ before sailing into orchard and paddock/ she had the breathless crush of metropolis’. This is my favourite Charman book to date – the poems are both moving and marvellous.

Albert Wendt From Mãnoa to a Ponsonby Garden Auckland University Press 2012

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Albert Wendt’s latest collection, From Mãnoa to a Ponsonby Garden, is a joy to read. The poems reach out into the stretch of the Pacific with their heart very much in the present. They navigate birthdays, love, death and growth. The terrific sequence of garden poems is like a memoir or diary in the form of a garden narrative; the flowers, the vegetables, the family, the generations, the life cycles are hued with tenderness, vulnerability, strength, humour, wisdom. The love that the poet feels for his partner, Reina, is a poetic drumbeat –essential, moving, steady. These poems come out of quietness, contemplation, experience. Our poetic elder has delivered a masterpiece.

Emma Neale The Truth Garden Otago University Press 2012

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Emma Neale’s collection, The Truth Garden, deservedly won the Kathleen Grattan Award for Poetry in 2011. The book features an exquisite cover image by Kathryn Madill, but I found the small, tight font didn’t do justice to the poems. If Neale’s poetry were a tapestry it would be cast in rich threads – luminous phrases catch your eye repeatedly and make you linger. Poems carry you through family, rivers, cycling, time, night, dreams and musings with tenderness, attentiveness and imagination (‘Night, and the study window burns/ not like a beacon, but as if to warn/ late travellers from some hidden reef/ of thought’). Or ‘how to stockpile time, how hoard its shine/ when time is the very stuff that seeps inside us.’ There is a magnificent sestina on fidelity that, with its repeating rhymes, echoes the tidal flux of trust and love.

Kerrin P Sharpe Three Days in a Wishing Well Victoria University Press 2012

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Kerrin P Sharpe was awarded the New Zealand Post Creative Writing Teacher’s Award in 2008, and now this Christchurch-based writer has released her first poetry collection, Three Days in a Wishing Well. It was one of my top debuts for 2012. Sharpe brings a raft of poetic tools into marvellous play: economy, rhyme, omission, mystery. Reality corkscrews in a fairytale like manner; subjects range wide from hats to monks, from mother to father, from lighthouse keeper to sewing needles. Each poem is utterly flavoursome as it combines music, anecdote and emotional lift: ‘to hug my father was/ to know the sky: the/ voices of soldiers the/ families that squeezed/ him inside.’ Stunning.

Ashleigh Young Magnificent Moon Victoria University Press 2012

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Ashleigh Young, winner of the Landfall Essay Competition, also has a debut collection out (Magnificent Moon). Her poems bring together anecdote, an everyday that is off beat, stretching metaphors, gorgeous rhyme, swooping anecdote and the best found poem I have read in awhile (Buttons). For me it is a vibrant collection, and enough poems stand out to make it stick and flag this writer as one to watch.

James Brown Warm Auditorium Victoria University Press 2012

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James Brown lets you into his workspace in his new collection (Warm Auditorium). It’s a great title that stands in for poetry if not life — his auditorium is packed with people, ideas, talk, wit, confession, story, aphorisms, provocations, warmth, sidetracks, playfulness. Brown likes to make things up, break rules, move you, challenge you, divert you. His poetry is so good you want to linger in the dark reading space and lean in towards the light and lift of his lines. As he says: ‘poetry/was running round my head like marbles over linoleum.’

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman Shaken Down 6.3 Canterbury University Press 2012

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Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, like Fiona Farrell, has responded to Christchurch’s earthquakes in writing. His thoughtful endnote considers whether poems have any worth in the aftermath of catastrophe. He suggests that ‘a poem can send us back out into this troubled and marvellous world prepared to live more fully.’ A big claim, but his new collection, Shaken Down 6.3, does just that. These fine, troubling, beautiful poems are a window for us all. The photographs are a bonus.

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