Poetry Shelf review – Craig Foltz’s Locals Only: An outsider’s insider perspective on Aotearoa

 

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Craig Foltz Locals Only: An outsider’s insider perspective on Aotearoa

Compound Press, 2020

 

 

 

 

You could think of Craig Foltz’s poetry collection Locals Only as a guidebook to place, unlike any other guidebook you have read, that takes sustenance in small and large pieces, in continuity and fragmentation. In steps and stones, and in stepping stones to here and elsewhere.

 

Each poem in this book responds to a specific area or regionally significant feature—filtered through the imagined lenses of the people who would be most familiar with it. Mountain passes, rocky outcrops & headlands. Pathways that have been drawn & erased by multiple civilisations. In other words, exactly those things that are unable to be located in the drivers atlas.

 

The title of each poem is broken in half, half at the start and half at the end, like a broken shell revealing its interior, like a broken journey – as though any movement through place will involve an accumulation of random engagements, never seamless, rich in fascination.

The poet of this collection is both traveller and self-proclaimed outsider. Craig moved here from the States over fifteen years ago, and this book has been slow in the making. No fleeting road trip. I also see the poet as philosopher. The travelling songbird. The cartographer. The cataloguer. The memoirist. The inventor.

How fitting – when we are living with new travel limits – to take a poetry road trip through Aotearoa, north to south, east to north, west to south, coastline to plains. On the left hand side the little map, on the right hand side the poem.

How fitting in these uncomfortable times to pick a place and go travelling.

Sometimes the poet’s sentences are discrete appearances, like the flash of bird out of the corner of one’s eye, like a jumpidity mind settling on this and that when you are away from home.

The silence of language is not necessarily lemony.

 

At other times there is a little flurry of bouncy links whether alliteration, assonance or theme:

 

The vocabulary love is the vocabulary of hardware

supplies. Cotter pins. Rub screws. Tube

cutters. Soft bamboo fencing. There is a pancake

house where one cannot order pancakes. Moreover,

there is spiritual degradation & forward momentum,

but no purchase with the ground. It rains,

 

from ‘Wave—’

 

Things are porous: the landscape as blotting paper, the sentence as sponge, the eye as fickle hoarder, the maps wide open.

Pronouns are equally mobile. I love the way ‘you’ is on the move, and I feel like I’m invited to step into the active pronoun, and getting imagining and contributing. Not just a passive back-seat passenger.

 

(…) One of the volcanoes has

the tendency to explode unexpectedly. Whenever it does

we walk down to the harbour & join the rest of the city in

celebration. What is one to do? The poem calls for

a cheerful input at that point, so we trudge along. The sieve

of my dreams has opened up again revealing itself in pink

salts & home recording studio devices. If there is one lasting

image this is it. Snapper patrol the shores while kowhai

are in bloom. Imagine yourself floating in the water alongside

the bloated corpses of your neighbours, jabbing their torsos

to see how much elasticity the tissue of their skin retains.

 

from ‘Sugar—’

 

I love the way reading this collection mimics travel. Many of the poems host a triptych of words: three words alliterating like a picnic spot in the poem (‘Tendon. Tender. Tendrils.’). This is staccato reading. I keep stalling to peer through the windows of a poem. I gather echoes and the jumpstart my own connections. I am in the Hokianga breathing in the salty air, the hefty dunes, the deep-set spirituality.

 

Italo Calvino’s groundbreaking Invisible Cities is anywhere and everywhere in its openness, but it is also specifically Venezia (not that we know that as we read). I mention this, because Anna Gurton-Wachter mentions Italo’s novel and its anywhereness in her endorsement of Locals Only. Craig manages both to open up specific places for us to claim for our own personal roadmaps and also to offer physical anchors that make place a definite point on the map.

Nikki-Lee Birdsey, Ellie Ga and Alison Glenny have also written striking endorsements for the collection. As Nikki-Lee says, Locals Only suggests ‘the act of expression is still an act of hope’. As with any travel, there is wonder, awe, reflection that is as much about language as it is about geography.

Questions arise. They always do on road trips. What does ‘outsider’ status preclude? Who becomes insider? Is travel weighted towards the imagined? Does the act of expression also signpost place as threatened, built on generational narratives as much as valleys and bush?

I am reminded of the dense-thicket poetry of Lisa Samuels that demands an equal if somewhat different series of travel routes.  Lyrical. Connection rich. Fractured. Complex. Self confessional. Self reserved. Visually potent. Language loving. Intellectually textured. Endlessly diverting as any good road trip ought to be. I am picturing diversion signs, because I pick up the collection and started reading, and am diverted off route, and find myself daydreaming.

 

 

Craig Foltz (US/NZ) is an artist and writer who has lived in Auckland for almost two decades. He has previously released two books on Ugly Duckling Presse.

His website is divided into parts of speech.

Compound Press page

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