Poetry Shelf: Aidan-B. Howard reviews This Twilight Menagerie

This Twilight Menagerie is a poetry anthology of a special importance and a special calibre. Forty years ago, Poetry Live! was launched in Auckland as a weekly meeting of poets and poetry lovers, driven initially by the late David Mitchell, himself a poet of some national and international renown. Over the following years, the diverse team that runs this event has released occasional ‘annuals’ (in the loosest sense of the word). This year, however, is something even beyond this.

  To mark the 40th anniversary of this gathering, a significant 218-page anthology has been released, containing works from 79 poets, past and present, most still alive, but a few gone to that great typewriter in the sky. Many of these contributors have endured most of that entire 40 years on the local scene; some used to attend in the earlier days, but have subsequently moved on; others are fresh and enjoying the new opportunities that a local, public platform affords them. But in all cases, these poets have offered us something that they have considered to be of some quality and of some respect to the long Poetry Live! tradition.

  And it is from here that we see again that “special calibre”. Because the editors this year have been able to choose from so many artists and so many works that were offered for consideration, that selection has ended up being one of the finest collections that we could hope to find, one that would sit with pride next to the various yearbooks or the larger, more famous anthologies. It has poets laureate and literary award winners alongside retired teachers, plumbers and architecture students, all with one thing in common – their love of poetry. Aotearoa New Zealand already holds, and for a long time has held, the record as the country that publishes more poetry books, per capita, than any other, and so what we have here, really, is a tradition within a tradition, a ‘commonwealth’ of the two.

  Having been an arts and literary reviewer since the early 1980s, I have come across the good, the bad and the indifferent, as we find throughout the creative world. But for the first time in countless years, we have a collection in which there is nothing half-hearted, nothing disrespectfully casual. Covering every topic from the love of one’s father to the love of our grandmothers, from the pride in one’s mana to the fascination in the moon or in an octopus, to statues, to music, from the outrageous death of twin babies to the conflicted death of a junkie. The reader, any reader, will find something for themselves, a poem, a verse, a line, maybe a mere word or phrase, that means much to them and invokes an image, a memory or an intrigue… and maybe even a desire to put pen to paper and write themselves.

     I want to give words to you.

          Words to caress your face,

          To run across your lips, and around your eyes.

     …

     I want to give you words

          That you will keep on your bookshelf,

          In your record case, and behind the door in your loo.

     Words that are ideas

          So that you can build sandcastles with them.

          And then I’ll give you words

          To hold back the flowing tide.

                         [Roger Hicks, Words (excerpt)]

Aidan-B. Howard

This Twilight Menagerie, Jamie Trower & Sam Clements Editors, $20 plus p&p, orderable by email at poetryanthology40@gmail.com 219pp 210x150mm

Aidan Howard was the chief arts reviewer on Craccum for 13 of the years from 1980 to 2000, including 7 years as the arts editor and one as the editor.

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