Nina Powles, Girls of the Drift Seraph Press 2014
Nina Powles was the Books Editor for Salient last year, has an Hons Degree in English Literature and Chinese from Victoria University and is about to commence an MA in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters.
Nina’s debut chapbook is handbound and in striking pink with owls peering off the cover. Eye-catching. Exquisite. Borrowed from a poem in the book, the title, too, is eye-catching. It takes its name from a pamphlet Jessie Mackay wrote and published in 1928 on the social and moral responsibilities of young women (Girl of the Drift). Nina’s endnote discusses the passion that Jesse and fellow poet Blanche Baughan felt for social justice. Nina’s poems also seem to be sparked by a passion for writing, living and navigating the world beyond the doorstep, that is paradoxically the doorstep itself.
This is a collection of poems that engages with the lives of women, fictional or otherwise. Holding this book, I am reassured we write out of the women (and men for different reasons) who paved the way for us, not just in the pioneering poems and stories they wrote, but in the lives lived that stepped out of the norm (the first female lighthouse keeper for example). Nina also acknowledges her ENGL422 Modern Poetry class of 2014 run by Anna Jackson and the Alexander Turnbull Library with its storehouse of letters and documents. While the poems feel light and refined on the page, you also get a sense of the wider world — a world of books, thinking, discussions. A bit like what Blanche and Jessie engaged in.
I love the richness of context of the poems (Katherine Mansfield and her characters, a ghost at an old school, real things and invented things, a history of the poet’s reading), but I also love the way lines turn a corner and surprise you.
from Pencarrow Lighthouse
The wind spins dead things in circles.
Collect up the wintertime, won’t you,
crack it on a rock,
drop it from a height.
The glint of detail is so mouthwatering, it is as though the poems become miniature packages of story — of this place and that woman, of this weather and that ocean. The detail, so good at animating poetry, augments the life of the poem, visually, aurally, emotionally.
[ … ] I keep
pieces of the volcano on my
windowsill, next to the honey
jars, so they don’t forget.
Nina’s collection stretches with the agility of a wordsmith who knows just where to break a line, shift a point of view or the pitch of a phrase. The poems take flight from the reading and research that a university offers, and the experience and insight you bring to that reading. I loved this collection and to celebrate its arrival I am posting a poem from it, with notes by both Nina and me, as my first Poem Friday of 2015 on February 27th.
Seraph Press page