Emily Dobson, The Lonely Nude Victoria University Press, 2014
Emily Dobson’s debut collection, A Box of Bees, gathered much critical praise and was named as one of The New Zealand Herald’s Books of the Year in 2005. That same year she took up the Glen Schaeffer Fellowship in Iowa.
Emily’s new collection, The Lonely Nude, is a collection to read as a whole as much as it is a collection to read in pieces. Like a symphony in parts, or a poetic memoir that doesn’t reside solely in self-confession, experience or anecdote. The collection allows the imagination to corkscrew slightly, leaving the poem ajar for other things. Connections, disconnections, vulnerabilities, epiphanies, fantasies. It is as though the poet’s pen is driven by the real and outsidethereal. Musings, sidetracks, daydreams, anxieties. The seven sections establish thematic clusters as the titles suggest: ‘Prehistory,’ ‘The Lonely Nude,’ ‘A Holiday in Mexico,’ ‘Fall in America,’ ‘Winter,’ ‘Spring,’ ‘Going Home.’ These titles suggest an arc of living and travelling, yet the book title underlines the fragility of movement. Yes, the poet has posed as a life model (and there are poems on this topic), but there are various other nudities rippling through the lines. Scandalous gossip stolen from a women’s magazine in ‘Rude Jude goes nude.’ Or the nightmarish scenario of a house being blown away while showering in ‘Unfamiliar weather.’ (‘Foreignness is just things we’ve forgotten/ ways we could have been.’)
These new poems share the restraint and elegance of a Jenny Bornholdt poem. The line breaks are exquisite as though the poems are breathless. As though the poet has slowed the reading right down to snail’s pace so we can stall and ponder. This is nowhere more evident than in the perfect little poem, ‘Hotel Mexico.’
The bedspread is red
in the room
with small breezes
and a few small drops
of rain are falling
on the dust
on the concrete
in our lips
These new poems shift and settle on the page in myriad ways, with or without punctuation, with or without hesitancy. At times there is a spark of humour. Often there are lines that Emily acknowledges as ‘stolen’ in her detailed footnotes. These poems emerge out of reading the world and merge into a world of reading. There is an anchor in daily life, yet the poems float and fly like a poet’s mind on the move without limitation. Lyricism is the ink in the pen. So too are the shifting forms. The ability to catch just the right modicum of detail to make a moment shine. As James Brown said of Emily’s first book, these poems are a joy to read.
I want to end with another poem that caught me:
The house faces south
and we are couched in the dark side of a hill.
The grass is long and always wet.
We envy the hill opposite: we long for its sun.
There are holes in it, tunnels,
like a pencil has been poked through.
The two pines are always black as pitch.
A guitar in the corner keeps creaking.
At night the little train all lit up inside
rattles briefly around the hill,
in and out of the tunnels.
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