XYZ of Happiness by Mary McCallum (Mākaro Press, 2018)
She’s an open window with curtains flapping
whatever the season, one eye always on the outside
Mary McCallum is a novelist, poet and songwriter; her novel, The Blue, won the NZ Book Award in 2007 and she won the inaugural Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize. Her children’s book, Dappled Annie and the Tigrish, is an exquisite read and one of my favourite NZ novels for children. In 2013 she established Mākaro Press with its annual Hoopla Poetry series and Submarine imprint. She lives in Wellington.
Mary’s debut collection is like an alphabet of moods that draw upon the weather, love, life, death and family. She writes with an inviting mix of warmth and attentiveness, acute observations of the physical world and an ear tuned to the musicality of the line. I am pulled into feeling her world from the poem that faces the death of Hat (Harriet) and her engagements with life (‘C) to a poem that navigates a drowning with sublime fluidity (‘Vessels’) to the everyday presence of food and domestic gestures, sky and space.
Snapping off the ends of beans is like lips
popping, a pork cookbook is the best place
to find that picture of you and your mum
at Taupō one summer, a turkey too late
in the oven can make a grandmother
cry with hunger (…)
from ‘Things they don’t tell you on Food TV’
There is a steady momentum in the reading, a slow-paced rhythm that grows upon you, yet individual poems are varied in key and style. ‘Sycamore Tree’ is missing vowels as though life becomes hiccupy and fragmented. ‘Returning’ is a lyrical feast with potent physical detail. ‘Quick’ pulsates with love and image. ‘Things they don’t tell you on Food TV’ is a sensual autobiography.
I know you’re watching
from your house by th path
with a desk by th window
today we’ve stopped
right n front f you
but I can’t move th childrn on
not while they’re spnning
like littl propellers like
from ‘Sycamore Tree’
This slim collection might so easily be missed, with its quietness, its loveliness, its pitch to the way we are, but it is a book that holds you immeasurably with both feeling and fluency.
Here it is that we are,
a breath outwards
on a slant, paint
pulling from the wood,
let go of the road,
the run of fences, the tin-cut
tilting hills, the world’s
rim—let the dog out
and drive, windows
wound down, the pink
evening light, lavender,
olive trees, cypress.
Mākaro Press page
Read ‘C’ here