©Anne Kennedy, The Darling North, Anne Kennedy, Auckland University Press, 2012.
Bernadette Hall comments on the poem:
I first read these lines in 2012. Anne Kennedy’s book had just come out. I read the lines and I fell in love with them. I held onto the poem that held onto them as if it was a life-raft. Every time I read that poem, Hello Kitty, Goodbye Piccadilly, (and I read it often) I have the same feeling of home-coming. The thinking is within the same territory I’m fixated on: the tension between the dream places, the places of beginning, of origin, the places that arise from myth. And the materiality of here and now, the stuff that arises from star dust just as our world does and everything including us within it.
On the one hand there’s the ancient dreaming, the naming and the renaming of myth and ritual. Of religion and philosophy. The stuff of the mind, the soul and the imagination. The stuff of desire. And then there’s the solid ground beneath our feet. There’s a collision here surely. How are we to shape a language that it is capacious and mobile and courageous enough to handle collision and complexity?
It’s an ancient curiosity, this, to ask the existential questions : unde? whence? quo? whither? cur? why? Philosophers and theologians are the professionals. But so often their thinking has been disembodied. Maybe it was up to poets to explore the connective tissue between concrete and abstract, to make new alliances between thought and matter. The body, the mind, the heart, the soul. How serviceable the old language was. But how are we to reveal ourselves to ourselves today?
The framework of Hello KittyGoodbye Picadilly is the shift from New Zealand with its theatre of memories to Hawai’i. It’s a move north, away from the cold wind – ‘you wish you had gathered it up / and kept it in a suitcase’ – to a Pacific ‘Paradise’. The kind of place the French sailors with Marion du Fresne thought they’d found in Tahiti. But then they went on and found a Pacific ‘Hell’ when they landed in the Bay of Islands in 1772. (I’m fresh from reading Joanna Orwin’s marvellous novel ‘Collision’ that explores these things with spectacular success.)
What I love about the poem is that it arises out of uncertainty, out of questioning. Out of a sense of what’s missing.
There are those repeated lines, the repeated negatives : ‘I don’t have Hawai’iki’ ‘I don’t have Heaven’. Isn’t this the Socratic method, using negatives to slash away the debris and then see what’s left standing? ‘In Paradise you will sit for a long time / looking at everything as if for the first time / and you will understand.’ So we’re back to the very beginning, in need of language, in need of thinking. But then ‘You wonder in passing / about your body, its whereabouts’. And there’s the female body, the human body, the body, not as something corruptible but as an equal.
Maybe memory is the cache where everything holds together, where everything lasts:
Almost at the very end of the poem there’s a recounting of losses:
And my heart turns over. I guess these lines just get richer as I age. As the whole question of getting up and leaving the room becomes more present. How is this to be done?
There’s a scene in J. M Coetzee’s novel ‘ Elizabeth Costello’ where the aged academic finds herself at the gates of what we might call heaven. She has to face judges there, she has to answer difficult questions. Her life as a writer, a life spent of making up things, is under scrutiny.
‘Is childhood on the Dulgannon another of your stories, Mrs Costello? Along with the frogs and the rain from heaven?’
‘The river exists. The frogs exist. I exist. What more do you want?’
The final move in the poem is from loss to uplift. Once again it’s repetition that’s the key turning in the lock, multiplying the ways to enter the text:
I love this kind of thing. The depth and the nourishment I find here. The way Anne Kennedy’s writing, like that of Coetzee, opens up new rooms in my head and in my heart.
Bernadette Hall lives at Amberley Beach in the Hurunui, North Canterbury. She has published 10 collections of poetry, the most recent being Life & Customs VUP 2013 and Maukatere, floating mountain, Seraph Press, 2016. The latter includes drawings by the Wellington artist, Rachel O’Neill. In 2015, Bernadette received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Poetry. And in 2017, she was invested as a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her Services to Literature.