Cilla McQueen Poeta: selected and new poems Otago University Press 2018
Cilla McQueen’s new collection of poems is a treasure. The publisher has acknowledged Cilla’s standing as a poet by producing the most beautiful edition of poems out this year: hard back, gorgeous cover, exquisitely designed.
The poems are arranged in ‘rooms’ or preoccupations that form a thematic span and are largely chronological. The South Island landscape, cities and people are strong feature along with riddles, seasons, time, friendships, hens and the kitchen table. Some of my favourite poems by Cilla are here along with some delightful new discoveries. I have always admired her poetry with its deft musical chords, attention to detail and intimate moods. She has the ability to re-catch a moment or place that matters to her and allow it to shine for the reader.
Dark’s falling. Stand
on the corner of the verandah
in the glass cold clear
night, looking out
to emerald and ruby harbour
from ‘Homing In’ (1982)
This is the power of this anthology. It takes you to places and you become embedded in the scene.
thin waterskin over underfoot cockles here and there old timber
and iron orange and purple barnacled crab shells snails green
karengo small holes
from ‘Low Tide, Aramoana’ (1982)
You are also transported into the heart of friendships in poems that generate warmth and intimacy.
I visit my friend’s kitchen.
There are roses on the floor
and a table with pears.
Her face is bare in the light.
from ‘Joanna’ (2005)
I find these friendship poems moving as as though just in the moment of reading I am invited into a life.
Dear Hone, by your Matua Tokotoko
sacred in my awkward arms,
its cool black mocking
my shallow grasp
utterly blown away
from ‘Letter to Hone’ (2010)
Cilla’s language is always on the move: pirouetting, linking, breaking, repeating, echoing, circling, defying gravity. Her poem ‘Anti Gravity’ takes me to self seeking bearings but also to a poem both establishing and defying them.
touch fingertips and out into
blue suede fields clear coloured with
dew sparkling prisms in sunlight
how fast the changes are
like balancing on a big beach ball
in bare feet running backwards
burnout she said aagh I thought burnout
sounds like a rocket stage falling away
from ‘Anti Gravity’ (1984)
I often read the ultra agile ‘Dog Wobble when I visit schools and the children are instantly alive with the possibility of words. Here she is being equally playful – the lines in the second stanza run in reverse order:
Poem a poem
the inside poem
the words other in
inside drawn eyeless
toe to top fingered
fruit and rind.
from ‘Poem’ (2010)
There are also sections from Cilla’s terrific poetic memoir In a Slant Light published in 2016. I wrote a rave review about this book on my blog and wanted it win book awards and find a zillion readers.
Soup simmering on the coal range.
I’ve brought a loaf of bread. He pours red wine,
holds the glass up to the light.
Shades of red.
from In a Slant Light (2016)
There are so many rewarding routes through Cilla’s poetry ; I love the way she surprises then holds me as in ‘City Notes’ from 2017:
How much does the city weigh?
The earth beneath it shudders.
Thunderstorm kicking around.
They go on making concrete.
A recent poem invites us into her writing space which includes a study, a lounge and a kitchen, a view and the wind outside.
Sun bleached poetry spines. On the arm-rest of my chair lies a grey and white
baby possum’s skin, extremely soft to stroke.
Downstairs, etched on the glass door between the lounge and the kitchen, art
deco style, a slender dancing nymph.
The kitchen looks over the front lawn, low fence, footpath and the
road, a young cabbage tree beside the wooden letterbox.
from ‘Writing Place’ (2017)
This is a book to treasure. Cilla has won the NZ Book Award for Poetry three times, she has received an Hon. Litt. D. from the University of Otago and the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry, and she was the New Zealand Poet Laureate 2009 -11. She lives in the southern port of Motupōhue near Bluff.
I love this book.
Otago University Press page