My partner’s bicycle has been rusting away under the house ever since we moved to a hill in Wellington. For a while I’ve been thinking about converting it to a hybrid – a frankenmachine of electric and pedal power. This involves, I think, strapping a battery on the down tube, putting an electric motor inside the wheel and connecting it all to a little trigger on the handlebar. After that she’ll be able to pedal when she wants to and then pull the trigger when going up the hill or when she wants a burst of speed. I haven’t done this yet but I have worked out the new paint job it will need, blue and white, and the new name we will paint on the side, ‘The Dream Camel.’
Hybrids are all the rage at the moment; cars, animals, bicycles, vegetables, language and, yes, even poetry. New Zealand poets like Rachel O’Neill, Hera Lindsay Bird and Hinemoana Baker combine traditional poetics with something unexpected, arguably not quite poetry but not quite the other thing either. This is, well, a hybrid.
Rachel O’Neill is almost exclusively a prose poet. ‘It was worth something to somebody’ is the story of someone who visits a supermarket that was formerly their family home. There are leaps in logic and setting and then a classic rhyme pulls the story to a close – not really a story with a beginning, middle and end; and not a traditional poem either.
‘It was worth something to somebody, my childhood, and I was offered a lot of money for it. They let me keep certain things on the surface. The dogs, the funny shed with spare doors in it and the disco ball. They eventually built a supermarket on the site. I went inside once and walked the aisles. ‘
from ‘It was worth something to somebody’ full poem at Cordite
Hera Lindsay Bird combines the extravagance of a romantic poet with the rant of an internet blogger. ‘Children are the orgasm of the world’ critiques an insipid metaphor seen on a bus and then proceeds to throw in some outlandish metaphors of her own.
‘This morning on the bus there was this woman carrying a bag with inspirational sayings and positive affirmations all over it which I was reading because I’m a fan of inspirational sayings and positive affirmations. I also like clothing that gives you advice. What’s kinder than the glittered baseball cap of a stranger telling you what to strive for? It’s like living in a world of endless mothers.’
from ‘Children are the orgasm of the world’ full poem at Compound Press
Hinemoana Baker’s poem ‘Home Birth’ combines the technical language of a sound engineer with the experience of supporting a friend through childbirth. This is also a bit of a railing against romanticism and achieves this not by revelling in it, but by looking beyond traditional poetic language to describe something that would usually be dripping in cliche.
‘A wide band of granular streaming sound
which contains no sudden onset
but emerges and is continuous.
It is dense and continuous
with occasional movement
but appears predominantly
from‘Home Birth’ full poem at Turbine
There are many others in New Zealand who dabble in hybrid poems. The distrust of tradition and the willingness to risk new forms and language seems to be a feature of New Zealand poetry and is what keeps it exciting and fresh I think. I look forward to seeing the next wave in hybrid poetry.
I fear my own hybrid project may never eventuate. I’ve got too many other things to do, like writing poems for example, and my partner will probably never ride it anyway [she’s read this since and is adamant that she will ride it!]. But mainly, we had our first child six months ago.
Since then we’ve found that grandparents and friends love to spot similarities – when he’s concentrating he looks like me, when he erupts into laughter he sounds like his mother, etcetera, etcetera. I’m not sure about any of this but I do know he’s turned out to be the real Dream Camel; at least half me and at least half her, and a little bit something completely new.
©Bill Nelson 2017
Bill Nelson lives in Wellington. He studied at the IIML where he was awarded the Biggs Family Prize in poetry. His first book of poetry, Memorandum of Understanding, was published in 2016.