Category Archives: nz poetry review

Reading Cilla McQueen’s sumptuous Poeta: selected and new poems

 

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Cilla McQueen  Poeta: selected and new poems Otago University Press 2018

 

Cilla McQueen’s new collection of poems is a treasure. The publisher has acknowledged Cilla’s standing as a poet by producing the most beautiful edition of poems out this year: hard back, gorgeous cover, exquisitely designed.

 

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The poems are arranged in ‘rooms’ or preoccupations that form a thematic span and are largely chronological.  The South Island landscape, cities and people are strong feature along with riddles, seasons, time, friendships, hens and the kitchen table. Some of my favourite poems by Cilla are here along with some delightful new discoveries. I have always admired her poetry with its deft musical chords, attention to detail and intimate moods. She has the ability to re-catch a moment or place that matters to her and allow it to shine for the reader.

 

Here again.

Dark’s falling. Stand

on the corner of the verandah

in the glass cold clear

night, looking out

to emerald and ruby harbour

lights

 

from ‘Homing In’ (1982)

 

This is the power of this anthology. It takes you to places and you become embedded in the scene.

 

thin waterskin over underfoot cockles here and there old timber

and iron orange and purple barnacled crab shells snails green

karengo small holes

 

from ‘Low Tide, Aramoana’   (1982)

 

You are also transported into the heart of friendships in poems that generate warmth and intimacy.

 

I visit my friend’s kitchen.

There are roses on the floor

 

and a table with pears.

Her face is bare in the light.

 

from ‘Joanna’  (2005)

 

I find these friendship poems moving as as though just in the moment of reading I am invited into a life.

 

Dear Hone, by your Matua Tokotoko

sacred in my awkward arms,

its cool black mocking

my shallow grasp

 

I was

utterly blown away

 

from ‘Letter to Hone’  (2010)

 

Cilla’s language is always on the move: pirouetting, linking, breaking, repeating, echoing, circling, defying gravity. Her poem ‘Anti Gravity’ takes me to self seeking bearings but also to a poem both establishing and defying them.

 

touch fingertips and out into

blue suede fields clear coloured with

dew sparkling prisms in sunlight

how fast the changes are

like balancing on a big beach ball

in bare feet running backwards

burnout she said aagh I thought burnout

sounds like a rocket stage falling away

 

from ‘Anti Gravity’  (1984)

 

I often read the ultra agile ‘Dog Wobble when I visit schools and the children are instantly alive with the possibility of words. Here she is being equally playful – the lines in the second stanza run in reverse order:

 

Poem a poem

the inside poem

the words other in

inside drawn eyeless

toe to top fingered

light, gnostic

valiant, innocent

fruit and rind.

 

from ‘Poem’  (2010)

 

There are also sections from Cilla’s terrific poetic memoir In a Slant Light published in 2016. I wrote a rave review about this book on my blog and wanted it win book awards and find a zillion readers.

 

Soup simmering on the coal range.

I’ve brought a loaf of bread. He pours red wine,

holds the glass up to the light.

Shades of red.

In harmony.

 

from In a Slant Light   (2016)

 

There are so many rewarding routes through Cilla’s poetry ; I love the way she surprises then holds me as in ‘City Notes’ from 2017:

 

How much does the city weigh?

The earth beneath it shudders.

 

Thunderstorm kicking around.

They go on making concrete.

 

A recent poem invites us into her writing space which includes a study, a lounge and a kitchen, a view and the wind outside.

 

Sun bleached poetry spines. On the arm-rest of my chair lies a grey and white

baby possum’s skin, extremely soft to stroke.

 

Downstairs, etched on the glass door between the lounge and the kitchen, art

deco style, a slender dancing nymph.

 

The kitchen looks over the front lawn, low fence, footpath and the

road, a young cabbage tree beside the wooden letterbox.

 

from ‘Writing Place’  (2017)

 

This is a book to treasure. Cilla has won the NZ Book Award for Poetry three times, she has received an Hon. Litt. D. from the University of Otago and the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry, and she was the New Zealand Poet Laureate 2009 -11. She lives in the southern port of Motupōhue near Bluff.

I love this book.

 

Otago University Press page

Reading CK Stead’s That Derrida Whom I Derided Died: Poems 2013 – 2017

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CK Stead, That Derrida Whom I Derided Died  Auckland University Press  2018

 

 

Frank and Allen, Robin, Ron and Rex

rode the North Shore ferries, while Rangitoto

pictured itself sunk in a stone composure.

Eeven the Golden Weather would have to end

where a small room with large windows disclosed

geraniums wild in the wet and a gannet impacting.

 

from ‘That summer cento sonnet, 1950s’

 

In September I listened uncomfortably as Steve Braunias questioned CK Stead and Charlotte Grimshaw about the truth of happy childhoods in the Stead family. Steve insisted but Karl and Charlotte sidestepped with tact and grace. I have since read and loved Charlotte’s novel Mazarine – I was caught up in both the momentum of a thriller and entranced by the interior struggles of the main character. I savoured the novel for the novel’s sake rather than muse upon autobiographical tracings. In this world on edge the novel felt vulnerable, driven, humane. It was writing I felt as much as I thought.

Here I am writing about the daughter when I have just read the father (his novel waits me).

When I first picked up Karl’s new poetry collection, That Derrida Whom I Derided Died, the title catapulted me back into the gated community of literary theory.  I wanted to open the book and travel lightly but I was carrying the Going West session into the collection; that tension between what you write and what you live. I can’t think of a New Zealand literary figure who has courted greater controversy, maintained lifelong enemies along with lifelong friendships, and who has irked so many writing peers. I scarcely know the details of these relations or want to but I have had a long history of reading and admiring Karl’s poetry and fiction. Really I wanted to banish all this external hubbub from my reading and engage with the poetry on its own terms.

 

In the dark

of the 15th floor

Bill Manhire woke

thinking the building

had turned over in sleep

and groaned

or ground its teeth

 

from ‘Apprehension’ in ‘Christchurch Word Festival, 2016’

 

Karl’s collection is deeply personal; the poetry is a meeting ground for dream, memory, retrieval, old age. It is a book of friendships with the living, with ghosts of the past and with writers that attract such as Catallus. He obliquely and briefly returns to arguments and enmities that persisted but for me it is the love of poetry that is the greatest fuel.

The poetry is deftly crafted – like honey at perfect consumption – with shifting forms, syllabics, subject matter. You move from the exquisite opening poem ‘An Horatian ode to Fleur Adcock at eighty’ to the challenge of writing war poems to the final poem written at ‘ten to midnight’.

The 80 plus poems almost match Karl’s age (86) – and maybe that changes things for me as a reader. I am brought closer to death as I am reading, not because death is a protagonist, but because the long-ago past is returned to the frame. And I have had close shaves. What do we want to bring close and find poetic ways to make present? I am asking myself this as I read. Mysterious, dreamlike, moving; yet there is an intensity about these replayed moments. Perhaps luminosity is a better word for these poems that make things utterly present.

 

She was, she tells me

the one without a partner

until I came

with a bottle of bubbly and two plastic cups

and a small box of rose petals.

‘You realise my age?’ I ask

(uncertain what it is).

‘Of course,’ she says.

‘This was half a century ago.’

So we danced and danced

until just before midnight

when I walked out

into the Bavarian dark.

‘I’ve never forgiven you,’she says.

‘Where did you go? Where have you been?’

 

from ‘Ten minutes to midnight’

 

In one poem, ‘By the back door’, Karl responds to Damien Wilkin’s review that suggests Karl’s writing suffers from a glut of lucidity and that his novels yearn to be poems. I can’t say I have ever felt that but Karl suggests in his endnote he wrote this as a semi farewell to fiction. Ah the way we get thrown off kilter. This is what I mean by deeply personal. We are being brought in close to the man writing, the man living, the man and his little and larger anxieties, the man and his little and larger fascinations. And how this might shift and resettle at ten to midnight. In a footnote Karl tells us that he ended up writing at least one novel (The Necessary Angel – it’s on my pile) but maybe two (Risk) after writing the poem.

As I move through the book, lingering over poems with admiration and feeling uncomfortable at others, the outside stories come clamouring. But I hold them at arm’s length. Even when Karl is doing the signposting. Instead I relish the dreamlike moment that the writer, on this occasion, in this instant of almost urgent return, renders lucid, gleaming. This is a book to be celebrated.

 

I was the one who believed in poetry –

that it could capture the gull in flight

and the opening flower

and in the blink of an eye

a knock on the door of death.

I believed with Shakespeare

there was a trick that unlocked

the mystery of

the named stars.

 

from ‘I was the one …’

 

 

Auckland University Press page

CK Stead is an award-winning poet, literary critic, novelist, essayist and Emeritus Professor at The University of Auckland. He was the New Zealand Poet Laureate (2015 -2017), has received the Prime Minster’s Award for Literary Achievement in Fiction and is a member of the Order of New Zealand, the highest possible honour in New Zealand.

 

 

 

 

Landfall Review Online offers bilingual review of Tātai Whetū

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‘The ‘stars’ of Tātai Whetū, a collection of seven poems by seven Māori women poets, take the reader on a wistful journey that traverses the boundaries of the spiritual and physical realms. The poets who composed these poems will inevitably pass on from this physical world – he tātai whetū ki te whenua, ngaro noa – but their words and thoughts are hung in the metaphysical space of the heavens above as guiding lights never to be extinguished – he tātai whetū ki te rangi, tū tonu.

A highly charged current of feminine strength underlies the poems in this collection. Māori history is rich with narratives featuring strong female figures who defy the odds and are a powerful force to be reckoned with: ‘I heard their karanga, the dawn voice, centuries of women rising up in a vocal wiri from the motu …’ Anahera Gildea reminds us that we are a continuation of those who have gone before us and our karanga will add to the resounding echoes of quivering voices that will be heard for generations to come.’

 

‘Ko ngā whetū o te pukapuka nei, Tātai whetū, he kohikohinga o ngā rotarota e whitu kua tuhia e ngā kaiwhakairo kupu wahine Māori tokowhitu. Ka kawea te kaipānui e ā rātou kupu i tētahi haerenga whēnakonako e whakawhiti ana i te ao wairua me te ao kikokiko nei. Tāria te wā, ka matemate haere ngā kaiwhakairo kupu nei – he tātai whetū ki te whenua, ngaro noa – engari ka whakairia ō rātou whakaaro, ā rātou kupu ki te rangi hei tohutohu i a tātou mō ake tonu – he tātai whetū ki te rangi, tū tonu.

He roma mana wahine e rere ana hei pūtaketanga o ia rotarota i tēnei kohikohinga. E hia kē nei ngā kōrero pūrākau a te Māori e whakanui ana i te mana o te wahine, i tō rātou kaha, i tō rātou ūpoko mārōtanga i tā rātou i kōkiri ai. ‘… I heard their karanga, the dawn voice, centuries of women rising up in a vocal wiri from the motu …’ Ka whakamaumaharatia tātou e Anahera Gildea, he uri whakaheke tātou nō rātou kua mene atu ki te pō. Ka āpitihia ā tātou karanga ki ā rātou karanga e whakapaorotia ai i ngā reanga e haere ake nei.’

 

Full review here

 

 

 

 

 

 

A gorgeous trio of poetry reviews by Anahera Gildea at Landfall Review Online

‘He waka eke noa: we’re all in this together’

 

Go here to read 3 divinely crafted reviews of new poetry collections from

Tayi Tibble, Sam Duckor-Jones and Jan Fitzgerald.  Best review treat in an age.

 

A taste of Sam’s review:

If the waka analogy holds, then Duckor-Jones’s waka is his tribe, his allied kinship group, and in this case his golems. ‘Bloodwork’ is easily the most arresting piece. It’s a sequence of 20 poems that speak to the ‘making of a man’. Throughout his work, the poet evokes tropes of masculinity like lovers: dandies, brutes, pools boys, dudes, blokes, Jeff and more. These crowd his pages, but it’s the hoard of clay men that affix in my mind, along with the keen instructions on creation:

to wield the tools

to make an eight-foot man

to make him look like he’d sweat

 

 

 

 

 

In the hammock: Mary McCallum’s XYZ of Happiness

 

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XYZ of Happiness by Mary McCallum (Mākaro Press, 2018)

 

 

She’s an open window with curtains flapping

whatever the season, one eye always on the outside

from ‘Quick’

 

Mary McCallum is a novelist, poet and songwriter; her novel, The Blue, won the NZ Book Award in 2007 and she won the inaugural Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize. Her children’s book, Dappled Annie and the Tigrish, is an exquisite read and one of my favourite NZ novels for children. In 2013 she established Mākaro Press with its annual Hoopla Poetry series and Submarine imprint. She lives in Wellington.

Mary’s debut collection is like an alphabet of moods that draw upon the weather, love, life, death and family. She writes with an inviting mix of warmth and attentiveness, acute observations of the physical world and an ear tuned to the musicality of the line. I am pulled into feeling her world from the poem that faces the death of Hat (Harriet) and her engagements with life (‘C) to a poem that navigates a drowning with sublime fluidity (‘Vessels’) to the everyday presence of food and domestic gestures, sky and space.

 

Snapping off the ends of beans is like lips

popping, a pork cookbook is the best place

to find that picture of you and your mum

at Taupō one summer, a turkey too late

in the oven can make a grandmother

cry with hunger (…)

from ‘Things they don’t tell you on Food TV’

 

There is a steady momentum in the reading, a slow-paced rhythm that grows upon you, yet individual poems are varied in key and style. ‘Sycamore Tree’ is missing vowels as though life becomes hiccupy and fragmented.  ‘Returning’ is a lyrical feast with potent physical detail. ‘Quick’ pulsates with love and image. ‘Things they don’t tell you on Food TV’ is a sensual autobiography.

 

I know you’re watching

from your house by th path

with a desk by th window

today we’ve stopped

right n front f you

but I can’t move th childrn on

not while they’re spnning

like littl propellers              like

lttl worlds

from ‘Sycamore Tree’

 

This slim collection might so easily be missed, with its quietness, its loveliness, its pitch to the way we are, but it is a book that holds you immeasurably with both feeling and fluency.

 

Here it is that we are,

a breath outwards

returning—the gate

on a slant, paint

pulling from the wood,

closes—let it,

let go of the road,

the run of fences, the tin-cut

tilting hills, the world’s

rim—let the dog out

and drive, windows

wound down, the pink

evening light, lavender,

olive trees, cypress.

from ‘Returning’

 

Mākaro Press page

Read ‘C’ here