My pick is Emma Neale’s Tender Machines (OUP). Emma’s poetry is resonant on many levels and repays close reading. In her supple, expert language, she takes a loving look at the human condition in a collection which has depth, wisdom and insight.
Mostly I read poetry and non-fiction, and a lot of the latter is to to do with environmental issues in an effort to understand and do something about the disgusting rate at which we’re destroying the place. Recently I read Michael McCarthy‘s The Moth Snowstorm, which Helen Macdonald termed ‘a deeply affecting memoir and a heartbreaking account of ecological impoverishment’. I concur. Much of what McCarthy writes about mirrors what’s happened and continues to here, in NZ, and elsewhere.
Three of the volumes of poetry that I’ve read and liked most in the past year are Robin Robertson‘s The Wrecking Light, Vincent O’Sullivan‘s Being Here, and Emma Neale‘s Tender Machines. Robertson doesn’t pussy-foot around, covers a lot of ground, can be caustic, blunt, wry and shattering. O’Sullivan ranges widely both in tone and content. Apart from the wry and sly ways he approaches things I like the ways in which he highlights human absurdities. As I hear him, it’s not as if we’re too much troubled by human absurdity, it’s that we’re not troubled enough. In Emma Neale’s Tender Machines she grapples with long-standing human predicaments, the difficulties we have personally keeping a lot of the ‘ongoing human symphony’ playing while trying to work out how to silence our dreadful ‘inner racket’.
I’d like to be able to buy and read far more NZ poetry than I do these days. Back in the 1960s, when I began trying to write poems, it was possible to be familiar with nearly all of the volumes of poems by NZ writers. Not now; the result is great gaps in one’s reading. Does it matter? I don’t know.