Listening In Lynley Edmeades, Otago University Press, 2019
Most of the time things slip
The seed on your plate slides
in the mess of leftover dressing
the hum of three street lights
making bright for no one
But every now and then
it feels as if things might hold
like here in this room
with its air and its airlight
from ‘Blue Planet Sky’
This is my summer holiday: reading gardening cooking walking on the wind-whipped beach. Trying to get better at sour dough. Most of all it is reading. Most of all it is reading novels. But some Aotearoa poetry books I dipped into in 2019 have been tugging at me, diverting me from the glorious satisfactions of fiction. I would hate to be a book-award judge this year as my shortlist of astonishing NZ poetry reads is Waikato-River long!
Here is another one is one to add to my list: Lynley Edmeades’s Listening In.
I adore this book. I adore the the extraordinary scope of writing.
The playful title evokes the reader bending into the frequencies of the poems but also underlines the attentiveness of the poet as she ‘listens in’ to her life, her preoccupations, the way words sing, misbehave, connect, disconnect, soothe, challenge. The linguistic play is breathtaking. You get different rhythms: from stammering staccato to sweet fluency, wayward full stops that introduce breathlessness, pause, discomfort, further pause. Verbs are signed posted (as is Lynley’s debut book As the Verb Tenses), as though each poem is a movement, as though each thing made visible is movement. A poem becomes a matter of being and doing in the now of the present tense.
The day unravels in the precarious throws of verb.
It’s everywhere we look: kitchen, bathroom, garden.
Even the floor waits in its doingness.
from ‘Things to Do With Verbs’
This is poetry as the flux of life where things are in place and out of place, where a great swell of language repeats and sidetracks and repeats again. You get to laugh and you get to feel. If we had all day, sitting together in a cafe or atop the dunes, I would tell you about the delights of each poem because there is such variation, such diverse impact as you read. ‘The Way’ is a knife-in-the-heart love poem and you have no idea the knife is coming and the love heat makes way for heartbreak. ‘Where Would You Like to Sit’ is an anxiety poem where questions pose as statements in a therapist’s chair.
You have to read the poems to see how they gather inside you. How the language gathers inside. How you can’t stop feeling the poems: the wit, the music, the originality.
Lynley takes three politicians as poem starting points. ‘Speetch’ is a transliteration of ex Prime Minister John Key’s valedictory speech in parliament. ‘Again America Great Make’ quantifies Donald Trump’s inauguration speech. ‘Ask a Woman’ juxtaposes Margaret Thatcher quotes that Lynley found online. All three poems are quite disconcerting!
(..) But long
before Wall Shtreet my political views hid been shaped by my Aushtrian Jewish
mutha Ruth, who single handedly raised me and my sisstas in now the infimiss
state house at nineteen Hollyfird Av Christchurch. My mutha wazza no nonsense
womin who refused to take no in answer. She wuddun accept fayure.
On other occasions a single word (stone, because) prompts a poem like an ode to a word that shadows an ode to experience. ‘Poem (Frank O’Hara Has Collapsed)’ spins on the word ‘collapse’ like a free wheeling stream of consciousness unsettling whirlpool. I adore these poems. ‘Islands of Stone’ leads from physical stones to language play. A quote from Viktor Shklovsky heads the poem and it is how I feel about the book: ‘Art exists that one may recover the sensation of life, it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony.’
Then there are the poems that glow. That fill you with poetry warmth. I am thinking of ‘Constellations’, a in which Chloe tells us ‘we draw stars/ around the adjectives/ to identify them’. She is writing a story about friends and lunchtime at school and whether friends are kind or nice.
It has little shadows
of very and kinda
that reach out
towards the stars.
Perhaps another way to view Listening In is as translation. A small poem ‘The Order of Things’ makes multiple appearances (it originally appeared in As the Verb Tenses) as half-translations and iterations. I am thinking each book we write is enmeshed in the books that we wrote before, and the books we write foreshadow the books to come. Lynley is translating the world (life) with an exuberance of words, out-of-step syntax (a nod to Gertrude Stein), repeating motifs, word chords, word cunning and delicious humour. She tests what a poem can do by testing what words can do and the effect is awe-inspiring. It makes me want to write. It makes me want to put the book in your hand. Because. Because. Because. Life is here out in the open and hiding in the crevices. Because. Because. Because. Her words open up like little explosions inside you and you know poems can do anything. I have barely touched upon what this poetry does. I love love love this book.
Otago University Press author page
Lynley Edmeades is a poet, essayist and scholar. Her debut collection As the Verb Tenses (2016) was longlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Award for Poetry and was a finalist in the UNESCO Bridges of Struga Best First Book of Poetry. She has a PhD in avant-garde poetics, and lives in Dunedin with her partner.