The Rope Walk: hand stitched with perfect seasoning

Maria McMillan The Rope Walk (Seraph Press, 2013)  A limited edition of 150

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With a Scottish grandmother, and many occasions cycling through the back roads of Scotland, Maria’s debut collection was always going to strike a chord with me.

This is a slim volume that opens out into so much more. The reason I sent my manuscript of The Baker’s Thumbprint to Seraph Press is because I have loved the way Helen Rickerby produces gorgeous poetry books from Vivienne Plumb’s The Cheese and Onion Sandwich and Other New Zealand Icons to Vana Manasiadis’s Ithaca Island Bay Leaves: A Mythistorima to Helen Lehndorf’s  The Comforter.

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The Rope Walk is wrapped in brown paper with a peep hole (like a boat’s porthole) revealing a linocut by Joe Buchanan. The book is hand stitched, the paper stock lovely and an inner design that enhances the poetry.

The poems are observant, musical, reflective and measured. The collection signals the craft and joy of small poems, words that are gathered together in a minor key where time stalls and you relish a moment. Maria knows how to write with the perfect degree of emotional seasoning and revelation (I will tell you this, but I will not tell you that). There was a sense of hide and seek for me as I read (and indeed there is a poem called ‘Hide and seek’).

The book is like a fictional family album with members of the family telling their individual stories — from a factory rope worker to a best friend to a mother on an immigrant ship to a brother running (the family has emigrated to New Zealand). Poetry instead of photographs or postcards. The voices shift and change, held together by the blood twines, reflecting love, loss, epiphany.

The rope has various resonant functions and meanings throughout the collection: as an anchor, a lifeline, a binding, a tether.  Her poem, ‘Rope,’ is a luminous reading experience. The poem takes as its starting point an aerial performer, but without knowing that fact on my first reading, the poem was a miniature philosophical puzzle. Instead of aligning with the grip of hand on high rope — the tremble and swoop of courage — I found myself in the tremble and swoop of movement, existence, actuality, stillness, thought, stasis.

The collection is enriched immeasurably by the Scottish inflections: the deft detail of place and event, the dialect, the handed-down memory. The last poem, ‘Nothing happened and I wasn’t there’ is a terrific note on which to end the book. This standout poem makes an ordinary scene hum deliciously with its liberal use of Scottish dialect. The words stretch towards nonsense (like a nonsense poem creates its own meaning, you almost know what these words mean, like navigating a foreign language and getting the gist). Yet, for me, it heightened the way the wind and the waves and the land and the sheep and the cows can seem so utterly foreign when you stand elsewhere. The musical notes of the poem getting deep into my memory, the musical notes of the collection haunting and alive.

It was difficult to pick which poem to post, but Helen and Maria have kindly give permission to post ‘Nothing happened and I wasn’t there.’

I love this collection. I love the grace, the phrasings, the syntax — the flecks of life and the speckles of fiction that move you out of routine into the sheer pleasure of poetry.

Helen Rickerby has kindly provided a copy as a giveaway. I will select a random follower of Poetry Shelf on Friday August 30th.

Nothing happened and I wasn’t there

Moon-broch. Morning mun.

Pleeping in the morning blink.

The Catcher’s pleck-pleck.

The moor duck plashes.

Far off the day’s first moo-maein.

One cow then all the cows

moo-maein. The wind

gets cracking. The waves

widenin’ & heightenin’

All day nothing but waves

till evening lay. Lay and lowen.

Then, somewhere the trissle,

thrummle of thistle finch,

a cat’s thrum.

©Maria McMillan The Rope Walk Seraph Press, 2013

3 thoughts on “The Rope Walk: hand stitched with perfect seasoning

  1. Richard Langston

    I heard maria read on Sunday – very good indeed – and she explained the background to the poems – not the poems themselves – very well. It really helped attune the ear to them. The Scots have a bloody great line of poets – and they’d be delighted to hear Maria’s voice carrying the echo of kin out here in the Pacific.


  2. Pingback: Poetry Shelf interviews Maria McMillan on Tree Space and other things. ‘Maybe there’s a new Poem space for every poem’ | NZ Poetry Shelf

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