Poetry Shelf, Poet’s Shelf: Holly Painter makes some picks


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I revisited Emma Neale’s Spark (Wellington: Steele Roberts, 2008) as a new parent, and found even more to love. It still renders the mundane brilliant, seizes the poetic and humorous opportunities afforded by the development of speech and language, and puts front and center the child’s and the poet’s confrontations with realities pleasant and not. This time, I also noticed more particularly the small ways in which the collection places family life and writing life side-by-side. It’s a hopeful book for a reader whose mind is muddied by sleeplessness.

At the other end of the life cycle, in Harbouring (Singapore: Math Paper Press, 2015), poet S. C. Gordon processes the death of her partner less than a year into the relationship. It is painful, cathartic, honest, and tender, and despite what the title might suggest, neither seeks nor offers easy emotional solace, preferring to do it the hard and lasting way.

This year, I also enjoyed Spider Boys (Auckland: Penguin NZ and William Morrow, 1995), by Singapore-born New Zealander Ming Cher. The unaffected bare-bones storytelling, in combination with the fleeting setting of rough, pre-developed 1950s Singapore and historically specific Singlish, left me tantalized. Fortunately, Cher has just put out a sequel, Big Mole (Singapore: Epigram, 2015), which I look forward to reading.

Finally, I’ve come around to podcasts as a literary genre (and reinvention of 1930s radio drama?) via Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink’s warmly dystopian Welcome to Night Vale. Purportedly a community radio broadcast from an American desert town, the fortnightly short stories are bizarre, addictive, and delightfully seeded with the most unexpected literary allusions.


Holly Painter

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