I fall with the rhythm of rowing
into long narrow light
bridges sigh like single oars
from ‘last supper in Venice’
Rabbit Rabbit Kerrin P Sharpe , Victoria University Press, 2016
Victoria University Press is publishing a heavenly suite of poetry books this year (actually all the presses are!). So many good poetry books I think I need a poetry book club where we can talk about poetry to our heart’s content with coffee and sweet little cakes. A once a month indulgence!
Kerrin P Sharpe is a very fine poet whose previous books hooked me with their agility, their lightness of touch, their grounding. She is currently the Writer-in-Residence at St Andrews College in Christchurch. In 2008, she was awarded the NZ Post Creative Writing Teacher’s Award by the International Institute of Modern Letters. She is a terrific mentor for young writers.
Kerrin’s latest book is an utter treat in the way things condense to the near point of evaporation and then unfold with such grace you get goosebumps. Bare threads shiver and shimmer as speech-bubble anecdotes hover above and below. There is necessary tenderness. Sometimes it is like looking into the mysterious dark of family archives where things or photographs or memories twitch in the patchy shadows. You move from smoky dream to real life to near fable.
If you think of poem writing as hitting the whirr and pace on a bike so the whole world feels perfect, then Kerrin is hitting that perfect whirr and pace as she writes. There is a honeyed fluency that is downright enviable (enhanced by the lack of capitals and full stops).
So many poems stand out, but I keep returning to the mother poems: the pitch of the line, the tilted head of the daughter looking, the inventive tropes, the extraordinary stories that resist mother frames. These poems belong in an anthology of mother poems because they are surprising in where they take you, the way they move you and the presence of things that do little cartwheels on the page.
I loved the way the mother’s Astrakhan coat prompts mystery that meets strange fable that meets down-to-earth pathos in ‘when a crayfish could feed 6 men‘:
yet though the coat
cracked the small change
it was when my mother’s money
stretched beyond the frontier towns
that she no longer wore
what after her funeral seemed
little more than a fleece
There is a glorious and daring alignment of the mother’s belly and the ship she builds in ‘The mary blanche in situ.’ All poem borders slip and slide. Where does mother begin and ship end? Where does trope set sail and real life intrude? Entering the poem is like entering a show, both magical and wondrous, and you just want to get another ticket and go through again.
my mother built her own ship
because she hated
the idea of drowning
In ‘the morning of my mother’s funeral her cup is sober minded,’ a single tea pot pours, in a little stream, like stream-of-conscious English Breakfast,the grief and thoughts of a key life moment. The poem catches the unrealness of losing a loved one; of life not stopping its circular routines and paying attention with you.
two plumbers install a shower
my mother will never use
they eat her peanut rockies
in the coronation tin
A delicious inventiveness drives the collection as a whole, as though reality is strained through kaleidoscopic filters to refurbish ordinary things with off kilter tints. There is the train that keeps a son breathing, there is the mouth of the sky that opens and drops bodies, the daughter that decides the bee sting is a butterfly kiss. In ‘a language goes silent,’ a Chinese fruit shop uses the bare threads, the strange tilts to move you:
Amy and Harry
lived in the fruit
of their shop
like mango stones
I adore this book. It shows just what things can do when you let them loose in a poem. Wonderful!