There have been many wonderful new books about this year. But isn’t it always the way? You come to the point of saying, this is my pick, and they all come flooding along saying pick me. So, as it’s been a sensational year for South Island poets, perhaps I will make them my point of reference.
I had the privilege of launching Vincent O’Sullivan‘s Being here:Selected Poems (Victoria University Press). The beautiful hardback satisfies at every level, both from the aesthetic point of view of book production to the selection of poems which is never random, but designed to carry the reader from one place to another, as if all the poems are brand new, and speaking to each other. It includes one of my all time favourite O’Sullivan poems, ”Waikato-Taniwha-Rau” (originally from ‘The Rose Ballroom’ 1982). It begins:
We have a fiction that we live by; it is the river
that steps down, always down, from the pale lake
to the open jaws of land where the sea receives it
I had equal pleasure from Sweeping the Courtyard, the selected poems of Michael Harlow (Cold Hub Press) (and yes, yes, I grant that I am responsible for some cover comments, but they come from the heart). The music of language has long been a preoccupation of Michael Harlow, and his poems invite the reader to share nocturnes, harmonies and song. Thus,
“Song for two players” commences with the lines:
Are you by any chance a piano key?
she asked, reminding me
in our heart to hand affair, that not
all is black and white –
Fracking and Hawk by Pat White (Frontiers Press) is an elegant little book with a powerful voice. White is not afraid to address political issues without losing the tone of a poetic voice. The beauty of the hawk is reflected in the title poem, but also reminds us that time is running out for the earth.
Emma Neale‘s new collection has already attracted so much comment that there is little left to say, except that I, too, love Tender Machines, (Otago University Press). Her eloquent plangent voice just gets stronger with time.
And, just to move outside this, admittedly, rather artificial boundary for a moment, there is a poet whose work has carried me through six decades of reading poetry. She is the late American writer, Louise Bogan. The Blue Estuary Poems 1923 -1968 collects her finest work. Her poems are about yearning,the lives of women, survival. I read her every year, her work never far from the bedside table.