Poetry Shelf review: Kirsten Warner’s Mitochondrial Eve

 

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Kirsten Warner, Mitochondrial Eve, Compound Press, 2018

 

Kirsten’s Warner is a writer, poet, journalist and musician and former chair of the Auckland Society of Authors. She graduated with an MA in Creative Writing with Distinction from AUT and won the Landfall essay competition in 2008. She performs as a musician with partner Bernie Griffen in the folk-blues band Bernie Griffen and The Thin Men. Makāro Press published her debut novel The Sound of Breaking Glass in 2018. Her poetry has appeared in a number of journals and  anthologies. Her debut chapbook Mitochondrial Eve also came out in 2018. This slender collection is the kind of book you can spend ages with. I read it on the plane to Wellington and once I got to the end of the book I returned to the beginning and read it again. Goodness knows what the passengers either side of me thought. They wouldn’t have known I was poetry rich with a stack of books waiting to be read in my bag.

The six poem titles resemble a narrative framing device: beginning with heartbreak, then moving through dailiness and despair, to a degree of release:

 

The Location of Heartbreak

Plant a Red Hibiscus

Channel Surfing

S. O. S.

In a Nutshell

Off the Leash

 

Each poem is exquisitely layered as things are held at arm’s length, obstacles loom, the real world intrudes bright and harmonic, words are lithe on the line. Here is the first stanza of the first poem that pulls you into threat and challenge through the rhythm of walking with its pauses and asides:

 

I surface dismantled

heart-sore here in the area of the left breast,

certain the most meaningful part of life

is lived while dreaming

and that to awake is to fail to fall

into an abyss of light.

 

from ‘The Location of Heartbreak’

 

The heart-threatened core (of the poem, of self), unsettling and hard to reach, is like an insistent pulse that keeps me reading:

 

I step over cracks so I won’t marry a Jack

resist walking out into traffic

we don’t have a bath and I’d have to find blades

and it’s an end I want not intensification

someone to find me before I drift away.

 

The second poem, ‘Plant a Red Hibiscus’, returns to the rhythm of ‘feet on the pavement’, but changes pace as the speaker takes charge of a bulldozer. Always the incandescent  core, like a burning wound, enigmatic, exposing; the poet never still. Here is the musing speaker at the bulldozer’s helm; I am holding my breath as I read:

 

Things that also might be worth living for are

small dark orphan babies who need arms to hold them

I would sit for hours.

Gathering fallen leaves,

we are all compost exchanging molecules and air.

Plant a red hibiscus.

 

Spread good dark soil, pick up dry leaves, hold a baby.

 

I don’t make assumptions about the speaker in the six poems. She might be the ‘Egyptian Goddess stalking the town!’ She might be part poet, part invention, part delight in different voices. The poem ‘In a Nutshell’ samples role hopping from Eve with mitochondrial disorder (misbehaving cells that can’t burn food and convert oxygen to energy) to Katherine Mansfield in her German pension, Suzie Wong getting STDs, Carmen Miranda breaking into song, Mata Hari watching time flying over rooftops, until the final glorious, puzzling stanza that hooks the stitches of everyday into the whip and pain of existence:

 

When I eat nuts

I am Nut

the whole shebang

born of ululation

moisture and fire crackers.

I have no consort

he’s outside

drinking

fagging

shooting up

hocking my starry dress

trying to get back up me.

I bear down

without drugs

swallow the night

virgin again

every morning

to make school lunches

and hold up the sky.

 

This hallucinogenic, rollercoaster, gut punch of book runs through me like fire. I love it.

 

 

Kirsten Warner WordPress page

1 thought on “Poetry Shelf review: Kirsten Warner’s Mitochondrial Eve

  1. Pingback: Mitochondrial Eve – Kirsten Warner

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