The Lobster’s Tale, Chris Price and Bruce Foster, Massey University Press, 2021
Lloyd Jones’ Kōrero series invites a collaboration between ‘two different kinds of artist intelligence’ on a specific topic. The first two books were a triumph of image, text and design: Lloyd Jones and Euan Macleod (High Wire); Paula Morris and Haru Sameshima (Shining Land). The third book The Lobster’s Tale brings together photographer Bruce Foster and writer Chris Price. A sentence threads along the bottom of the page, there are Bruce’s photographs and there is Chris’s text. The photographs track sky water land, imprints of existence. The paragraphs draw upon multiple voices that also navigate questions of being. The final and fascinating leg of the journey is the conversation that emanates from photographs, text and sentence thread.
The sentence thread running along the bottom of the pages, is described by Chris as a paragraph, a ribbon. A paragraph ribbon that is a poetic and fascinating accretion. An at-times borrowed thread that draws upon the words of Ursula LeGuin and William Beebe. As you turn the page, the paper rustle breaks into the stream of reading, a tiny rupture, visually and aurally. Which is how I read the book as a whole. Ideas arrive and I pause. The thread is an itinerary, full of pit stops and bridges and, as with any voyage, I can only hold it in pieces. I grasp the damaged earth, weather, diverse terrain, the air we breathe, definable time, indefinable time.
I travel with the paragraphs next, and each paragraph, reminiscent of poetry, expands in generous frames of white space. The writing is both intricate and plain. Complex issues of ‘being’ come to the foreground. ‘Being’ becomes notated existence, whether lobster or human, whether voyage or longing, repleteness or hunger, plunder or plenitude. Suicide is a linking echo. Albert Camus, Tupaia, Jonathan Franzan, Ursula Le Guin, David Foster Wallace, among others, make appearances. Yes, lobster is a starting point, from which reading and research radiate. Fascinating lobster facts and anecdotes reside alongside philosophical nuggets. I am attracted to these nuggets gleaming in the oceanic dark, like landmarks on my voyage into the unknown. The writing is both of and beyond the lobster. The writing is a means of becoming. ‘A profound thought,’ says Camus, ‘is in a constant state of becoming’.
The photographs register as loading bays for contemplation: secret-holders, blurred, still, even stiller, shimmering, creased and folded, abstract, political, sequences of trails, debris, impacts, light, land, water. The photograph is a means of breathing in the light. Facing our fragile future. The sequence itself offers its own haunting itinerary, a voyage that is more about the getting there than the destination. I join the other spectators, my back to the lens, gazing spellbound at the horizon, the infinite pull of water.
And then I pivot, and view the sentence thread and the paragraphs also as creased and folded, as shimmering talk, as sequences of trails and debris.
To read The Lobster Tale in the time of Covid is to refresh the voyage. It becomes imperative, in the face of difficulty and uncertainty, to acknowledge that everything is intensely personal, elusive and far away. Writing reviews is tough. I need voyage. I need anchors. And I need books, so lovingly crafted as this one has been, books that matter. I look forward to the next collaboration/conversation in the Kōrero series.
Chris Price reads an extract ‘below-the-waterline’ text from The Lobster’s Tale
Chris Price is the author of three poetry collections and the hybrid ‘biographical dictionary’ Brief Lives. She has also collaborated with NZ physicists (in Are Angels Ok?), and with German poets (in the bilingual anthology Transit of Venus | Venustransit). Chris convenes the MA Workshop in Poetry and Creative Nonfiction at the International Institute of Modern Letters.
Bruce Foster’s current photographs consider the impacts on nature of political decisions and corporate actions. Recent touring exhibitions that include his work are: the ‘Kermadec Project: Lines Across the Ocean’, an initiative articulating the issues facing one of the few pristine ocean sites left on the planet; ‘Wai, the Water Project’, an exploration of the cultural, conceptual and imaginative aspects of waterways and the existential threats they face; and ‘Toitū Te Whenua – The Land Will Always Remain’.
The photographs in this book were made between 1996 and 2020. For more information
Massey University Press page
RNZ Saturday Morning interview interview
Ian Wedde review Academy of NZ Literature
Bruce Foster and Chris Price in conversation Read NZ