Jess Holly Bates’s Real Fake White Dirt — The poems overlap and interlace with a vibrant cutting bite

Jess Bates book cover   Jess_author_photo_lo-res

Jess Holly Bates is a Pākehā poet, particularly a spoken-word poet, and has studied English and Chemistry at The University of Auckland. Her Masters Thesis (she gained First Class Honours) is entitled ‘Revolting Others; Disgusted Bodies as a Function of Colonial Continuity in Aotearoa NZ and the Pacific.’ She did a Rising-Voices workshop which spurred her desire to write spoken word poetry. Her first piece, ‘P.I.P: Pakeha Identity Poetry’ was performed at the Rising Voices Slam in 2011. Since then she has performed in various places; most notably, REAL FAKE WHITE DIRT, which was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (with a four-star review).

Anahera Press (publisher is Kiri Piahana Wong)  published REAL FAKE WHITE DIRT in 2014 and it is a terrific debut. It is the first Pākehā poet that this press has published and I can see why Jessie was chosen. The poems overlap and interlace with a vibrant cutting bite. This is wide open, loud politics that navigates identity issues face on. Tough. Uncompromising. Edgy. I loved the urgent challenging punch of ideas but I also love the way the words on the page split and weave into poetry. There is glorious word play at work. On the page, phrases flit and float. You have to keep your eyes roving as this is not conventional poetic forms/form (although not exactly unconventional  as you can trace back examples of this for decades). I see it as poetry misbehaviour. There is enviable rhyme (taxes/ masses, bleached/ keen, schtict/ poetic). There is leapfrogging assonance and the aural allure of repetition. Repeated things gain flesh in shifting contexts. Sound enacts political punctual marks. Everything comes back to the white-hot core that this is poetry from the heart and that vital ideas percolate above the surface. Wonderful!

PS: It is a gorgeous production with a striking black cover and a fake patch of grass that in the manner of poetry could equally be something else.

Anahera press page here

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