Poetry Shelf Occasional Review: Jan FitzGerald’s A Question Bigger than a Hawk

A Question Bigger than a Hawk, Jan FitzGerald, The Cuba Press, 2022

Jan FitzGerald’s fourth poetry collection, A Question Bigger than a Hawk, is a terrific read. It’s an excursion into past and present, a sojourn among myriad stepping stones: you move from a photo a memory, a storm a blackbird, a bee a death. Poetry becomes bridge crossings to the past. A moment may be hooked, and then is rendered visible with piquant detail. This is poetry of the heart and of the eye. It is poetry to be felt and it is rich in physical detail.

Things change as I read. I keep stepping back into the poet’s childhood, into how a child makes sense of the world, into how things change and stay the same for a reflecting adult. I fill with questions, I am drawn to the gap, I am moved by accumulating admissions. A single poem is an alcove in which to linger. Take ‘Mushrooms’. Begin with gathering mushrooms, move to Japan’s nuclear bomb tragedy, shift to mispronouncing shitake so ‘mushroom’ becomes’ underwear’, step from laughter to weeping.

I am gathering clues to the missing story, the missed story, the admitted story. In ‘Family Photos’, grandparents are retrieved from the past, yet there is mystery, the building questions: ‘The first tiny flag raised.’ I am wrestling with what to tell you without spoiling the way Jan brings things into view, the way events have shaped who she is, what she feels, how she is. Certain poems pierce your reading equilibrium: ‘Personal effects’, ‘Natural mother’, ‘Too far gone’.

You move amidst storm, rain, chill, sun, wind. The rhythm is the connective device, so sweetly crafted, so fluid for the ear. It carries us through the ranging subject matter. A tree that watches over the speaker when she is near death at Queen Mary Hospital. Umbrellas that slam into the walking poet. The moon shining like the torch of a child reading under blankets. The poet baking bread while a high-vis jacket flaps on a billboard, a prompt for people disappearing everywhere.

Reading A Question Bigger than a Hawk, is a sublime retreat into intricacy, wonder and observation. There is light and there is dark. There is the spoken and the withheld. Death and life. Presence and absence. It is a book to take into a quiet nook and let it slowly unfold as you read it in one sweet sitting. Glorious.

Jan FitzGerald is a full-time artist and poet who lives in Napier. She is the author of three previous poetry collections, the most recent being Wayfinder (Steele Roberts, 2017), and she has been shortlisted twice in the Bridport Prize poetry competition.

The Cuba Press page

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