Back in Level Three lockdown, but this time I can read, despite the wide awake nights. Rata Gordon’s debut poetry collection Second Person is mesmerising. It held me in the grip of poetry from first page until last. Yes! I devoured this collection in one sitting and then went back to dawdle on the poems that pulled me back in.
I have been musing on the way poetry can offer the reader a chain reaction of poem joy (among many other things of course). But joy seems like a good thing to imbibe at the moment.
Reading Second Person filled me with poetry joy.
This is a book of birth, babies, death, the universe, love, motherhood, water, sky, wildlife. It is a book that celebrates the present tense, the way we can inhabit the now of being. My first joy is visual as the poems are brocaded with hues and gleams. It is as though an artist has animated poems with their colour palette: ‘I painted sonnets on the wallpaper’. I adore the way a smattering of colour words spike the poems to gorgeous new levels. It fills me with joy.
I’m dressed in yellow leaking
gorse seeds out my pockets like
crumbs I am dressed in white skin
drinking from the spout of a
from ‘The pregnant pioneer looks over her shoulder’
The second joy is the joy of sound. Many of the lines are short, the rhythm breathy with ample white space at the end of the line. These poems flow like a honey current. Again I am filled me with joy. At times it is the rhythm of walking. At time is is the rhythm of lying on the couch and looking out a wide window and breathing in and out, in and out. You inhale the poem.
As much as there is the physicality and a sensual present, there are also signposts to behind-the-scenes, to what is hinted at but not detailed. A taste from this poem for example:
In Delhi the dust
gets up your nose and into
your veins it swims
through the insides
of your bones
In April you want to hurt
yourself in the hotel room
but you don’t becuase a mango
will make it better
You walk through the streets
in the second person as if
watching yourself from behind
your backpack and your hands
are limp but your heart is
This is all you have
to look forward to
your heartbeat and a
everything else has dissolved:
There is an unspoken story signposted here, and it may be real or fictional. It is the mood of the speaker, the state of mind, that holds as you read. The speaker becomes second person, alive, that beating heart, that mango luminous. I am musing on the way, as we write poems, as we insert ourselves above, between, behind and in the lines, we always become second person, whether past present future. I am filled with joy at this thought: the peering into the self inserted into the poem that is close at hand and walking away. Ah.
A third joy is the poetry stitching that shows through at times. Little windows open onto the writing of a poem, its making doesn’t just appear out of thin air, but is something altogether more mysterious, complicated, self-sustaining. I especially love ‘I find slaters’ with its surprising curves and bridges. Here is the middle bit:
I am rifling through this poem
trying to find
its hidden meaning.
If I rifle through fallen leaves
I find slaters.
The leaves are being digested.
How much twiddling do trees do?
Do they doodle on the sky?
Do they do a little spiral?
Second Person is fresh, layered and utterly captivating. Just the ticket when you want to lie back on the couch and nestle into a welcome and very satisfying poetry retreat. I love this book.
Rata’s poetry has appeared in a number of Aotearoa journals. She works in the arts and mental health.
Victoria University Press page.