Poetry Shelf review: Rata Gordon’s Second Person

 

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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

teapot (…)

 

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

beating

 

This is all you have

to look forward to

your heartbeat and a

mango

everything else has dissolved:

your family

your intentions

 

from ‘Mango’

 

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.

Her website.

Victoria University Press page.

 

 

 

 

 

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