Poetry Shelf review: Nadia Reid’s Canons: Complete Lyrics 2015 – 2020

Nadia Reid Canons: Complete Lyrics 2015 – 2020 (Slow Time Publishing)

You are

The best thing

That I have ever had

I broke my leg on that hill

I remember it so

We were looking for arrows

Looking for something

Closer to the edge of all that I am

You are wanting

Something more

For your life

And for our life

Nadia Reid from ‘Best Thing’ Out of My Province

Each time Nadia Reid releases a new album I have it on repeat for days, and then keep returning. Her songs offer a sweet partnership between melody and lyric, transporting me to both the edges and centre of living, smooth and sharp. With her multi-timbred voice embracing shadows and light, I just can’t stop listening. Her latest album Out of My Province (2020) was my go-to album during Level 4 and 3.

In Wild Honey I claimed Nadia, along with Aldous Harding, Lorde and Chelsea Jade as poets, four women shortlisted for the 2017 APRA Silver Scolls. So many wonderful songwriters in Aotearoa to add to this list: Hollie Fullbrook, Bic Runga, Reb Fountain, Moana Maniopoto, Anika Moa, Don McGlashan for a start. Put an album on and you get the song. The word and musical choices are inseparable, the one feeding the other. But you can also focus on the lyrics, because the word is a musical choice as much as it carries stories, feelings, ideas, connections and truths, along with similes, metaphors, omission, repetition and rhyme.

Reading Canons I am celebrating Nadia’s lyrics as poetry. I can replay them in her voice or mine, stripped back bare so the word is a musical note. The syllables and the white space establish rhythm and, in that heavenly combination, build mood and presence.

Rather than placing the lyrics in chronological order of the albums – Listen to Formation, Look for the Signs (2015), Preservation (2017), Out of My Province (2020) – the collection moves though shifting moods and experience. There is loneliness, emptiness and sharpness. There is heart, love and relations. Above all there are seasons. There is LIFE!

Reading the lyrics, with their exquisite effects, Nadia’s words make music, while also scoring and underscoring personal experience, intimate stories. I am wondering if this is a case of writing into a way of knowing. Of setting down anchors, and of liberating self. Each song draws upon multiple preservations, formations and signs. A moment in time, an experience, a recognition. Poetry can be a matter of writing out of one’s place and of testing a way of being. This is what haunts in Canons.

Individual lines stick:

          ‘Closer to the edge of all that I am’

          ‘I threw out my winter coat

          I cut the sleeves off all I’d known’

          ‘I am making friends with who I used to be’

          ‘All my undoing

          Will become a lonely life’

        ‘We see things in a different light

          I’m looking outward into the night’

Read the lyrics and you hear the economy, the roominess, the unspoken, the unsung that resonates on the albums. Glorious!

There is also an introduction by the very articulate music critic and author Nick Bollinger (check out his music reviews on The Sampler and Music 101 at RNZ National or his memoir Goneville).

I love Canons – it’s fabulous in its own right, but it also leads me back to the breathtaking albums. This is a time, in the midst of pandemic and global upheavals, when music can deliver the utmost comfort, get your skin prickling, your heart and limbs moving, your mind stilled or on the move, and you feel all the better for having listened.

You can order the book from Nadia’s website, and she will sign it for you and add a dedication upon request.

Afterthought: I would welcome a series of lyric books showcasing the fabulous songwriters of Aotearoa.

‘These lyrics can be read alongside the songs, or not; they can be taken any which way. I feel privileged to document the lyrics of my first three albums and to be able to share the hard and the dark and also the joy and elation of my life so far.

I hope that all song, poetry and music can be the guiding light in your life as it is in mine.’

Nadia Reid ‘Author’s Note’

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