Poetry Shelf review: Carolyn McCurdie’s Bones in the Octogon – this is a gem of a book that relishes the mundane as much as it sets clouds dancing

Bones-in-the-octagon-front-cover-copy1   Bones-in-the-octagon-front-cover-copy1

Carolyn McCurdie Bones in the Octagon  Mākaro Press 2015


Reading Carolyn’s debut poetry collection is akin to opening a picnic hamper that is full of surprises. You sit back under a leafy tree and inhale a moment perfectly caught. You taste flavours both familiar and less so. You shut your eyes and absorb little anecdotes. You look at the clouds and let imagination drift in the form of story. You bite into little memories.

The poems that stand out for me are full of grace, canny detail, measured presence and a musical lift plucked on the line.

I particularly love the mysterious little stories that are in debt to myth or fable or an imagination wandering. The first poem, ‘Inside a story,’ takes you from a market stall with ‘fruit in brown paper bags’ to seashells (‘this is why we went under the sea’). The gaps are exquisite, the slow pace compelling. I loved, too, the inventive kick of ‘Making up the spare beds for the Brothers Grimm’ — not so much in the light of skewing form but in the kinetic detail:


What can she offer them? Not true love, though she’s heard

that a young man looking for love was given

a bowl of milk, a chunk of white bread

and a freshly minted coin that sparkled.

She has kneaded the bread, set it in the hot oven.


The poems that track paths from the plenitude of things are also a delight. In one poem, the poet imagines in luminous detail an existence as ‘hut’: ‘If I come back as a building/ it will be as a tramping hut.’ Detail meets economy so beautifully in ‘Dormant,’ a poem that liberates a baking hot cat on the page (‘on the red satin cushion’): ‘where she might ignite/ flare/ collapse into ash.’ A poem about potatoes, ‘A potato sonnet: Jersey Bennes for Christmas,’ celebrates the vegetable plucked from ‘the black/ crumbled earth’ but casts a warm glow that keyholes family as much as it does nourishment (I posted the whole poem here):


This is old, wondrous

as moonrise,



as the maternal voice


that calls, come in

to the table


More than anything, I love the way certain poems harness a moment and let it glint and reflect as you stall. ‘Memories of long grass’ invests in a moment and as you embrace that moment, poetic loveliness abounds: ‘The grass held us cupped; the sky bent down/ and sipped us up’. There is often loveliness and that loveliness sometimes couples with strangeness, sometimes personal revelation, sometimes a stockpot of detail. In ‘Invitation to dance,’ the poet takes a backward gaze to a younger self. The poem exudes tenderness, boldness, love.


While you wait, give her all that you have:

a largeness, the swirl of a cape or a skirt,

and balance at speed. Stand by her

as she pulls on her boots.


Not all poems held my attention, but this is a gem of a book that relishes the mundane as much as it sets clouds dancing. I enjoyed it very much indeed.


Carolyn McCurdie is a Dunedin writer who has worked as a teacher and librarian. She has won both The New Zealand Poetry Society’s International Poetry Competition and the Lilian Ida Smith Award. She is a member of the Octagon Poets Collective.

The book is one of the three books in Mākaro Press’s Hoopla series 2015. The other books were Jennifer Compton’s Mr Clean & the Junkie (currently longlisted for the NZ Book Awards and reviewed by me) and Bryan Walpert’s Native Bird (reviewed by me). Hoopla books are published annually in April in sets of three.


Mākaro Press page






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