AUP New Poets 5: Carolyn DeCarlo, Sophie van Waardenberg, Rebecca Hawkes, edited by Anna Jackson, Auckland University Press
Auckland University Press’s New Poets collections began in 1999 and, after an eight-year hiatus, has relaunched the series. Anna Jackson, who appeared in the debut issue, has edited volume 5 and written the foreword. The series serves as welcome launchpad for emerging poets and has, for example, included the work of Chris Tse, Sarah Quigley, Sonja Yelich, Erin Scudder and Reihana Robinson in previous volumes.
The recent launch at Unity Books (Wellington) was packed with an attentive audience – the reading highlighted three distinctive voices linked by poetic charisma: Carolyn DeCarlo, Sophie van Waardenberg and Rebecca Hawkes.
Carolyn DeCarlo, originally from USA, has read at various literary events including Welington’s LitCrawl, and runs the literary reading series Food Court. Her writing delivers mesmerising physicality, detail that illuminates the present tense, a moment that might be hyperreal in ways that startle or soothe or move you.
The opening poem ‘Spy Valley’ is a sumptuous rendition of a scene to the point it glows with heat and crackling light: it’s sensual, surprising, moreish. Every word is pitch perfect and every word adds to a building physicality that clings to you as you read.
(…) Their calls cleave the
valley like lightning, crackling in the air,
striking the dirt beneath your toes,
and when the drops of rain hit your face
thick as bread you’re unafraid,
you open wide, you spread your arms
and soak your skin in sanguine heat,
its spongy hug lulling you to sleep.
Carolyn offers textured poetry – almost as though you can brush your fingers over the surface of a poem and feel grains of feeling, its physicality, its movement. The poems often bridge the hyperreal and an everyday real, relishing the slow occupation of a moment, a place, a state of being. In ‘Fields of Glass’ the speaker stands musing on a glass hill – there is a building (sometimes sad and green, sometimes uncomfortable) driving the movement of the poem, the thoughts of the muser. Everything is slightly mysterious, anchorless, as though each stanza is a shortcut to censored feeling, reserved circumstances. Again the reading effect is addictive.
Another time, we danced
on the floor. Do you remember that?
Our socks bunched up
around our ankles
then our ankles around our knees
and so on.
I am eating tomatoes and crying,
if you sit beside me
I will let you carry the juice,
I am carrying the rain.
Much thought has been given to the order of the poems – water and rain ripple through, along with birds, trees, piquant colour. In the middle the speaker is anchored in the land, their body made visible, and anxiety appears like little body fractures, the physicality of the writing potent. This from ‘The Year I Let My Heart Go Asunder’:
I am crouched down on the bank of Wellington Harbour
and I am huge as the hills.
I am squatting with my bottom on Khandallah,
my feet in the harbour and the water barely splashing my ankles.
I love Carolyn’s selection of poems (Winter Swimmers) so much: it’s beautifully crafted, aurally satisfying, surprising in turn and revelation. There are a number of poems named ‘Winter Swimmers’; like a swelling and shifting contemplation that keeps changing hue and effect, yet never losing sight of the water, the swim stroke, the breath necessary for living, for writing, for reading. This selection is like a pair of lungs inside me, expanding and dilating, expanding and dilating. Glorious.
At the time of publication Sophie van Waardenberg was working at the Open Book in Ponsonby. She has completed a BA at the University of Auckland and is now undertaking an MFA in poetry at Syracuse University, New York State. Her poetry has appeared in a number of journals.
Sophie’s selection of poems – does a potato have a heart? – navigates learning the world in all its brittleness and wonder, especially through the glints and sharp edges of love.
In ‘Unhatched egg/two girls at easter’, a precious bird’s egg is discovered, wrapped and held close to the girl’s belly. The egg’s potential life is in razor contrast to the felled trees, the scarred landscape, but then life delivers the little blow with the cracked egg, the cracked future.
in the morning we two bury the fresh-cut shell by the river
where her parents had their honeymoon
and at hot noon with downy arms we swim there
under trees our failure has grown for us so quickly.
Love is a constant infusion, whether of a particular person close or at a distant. In ‘schön’ a woman (a beloved one) appears in a lyrical list poem like a chant; the love portrait builds sweetness and good feeling, along with topple and enigma:
my girl becomes a calendar and I curl up inside her
my girl becomes a tongue twister and I curl up inside her
my girl lets the spring in through her hands
she puts her hands over my ears and I remember how it feels
it is nice and nice and nice
One poem – ‘all the friendship bracelet makers have retreated’ – hooked me with its evocation of yearning and ache: of missing someone, missing home, of negotiating elsewhere and of being apart. The writing is confessional, yet prismatic in its different slants. Dislocation tempers location, location tempers mascara-smudged cheeks. The middle stanza is the exquisite heart of confession, the simile potent in meaning:
I want to be far away but I want to be home.
breath by breath I want these things.
let me show you how little I want to know:
make a fist and let no air in.
I want to make the world as tight around me
as I make my single duvet cover in winter.
On the adjacent page, ‘to keep all the bees out’ signals love’s potential pain and potential joy. The poem, with intricate and surprising detail, layers what ‘we’ do. Sophie is refreshing the scope and dimensions of confessional poetry; not everything is visible, not everything is stable, not everything is knowable. The hills they climb together ‘are eaten by their own edges’. Such a striking image of mist and uncertainty heightens the final stanza:
and the right ventricle of the human heart
does not have doors heavy enough
to keep all the bees out, and their stings
Sophie’s selection of poetry haunts me; it is an atlas of love, experience and feeling, with pronouns shifting to accommodate you and you and we and I, and poems that keep drawing you back. It feels fresh and original, and I love it.
Rebecca Hawkes grew up on a high-country farm near Methven. She graduated in media studies and then completed an MA in creative non-fiction at Victoria University.
As the title suggests Softcore coldsores is an audible kaleidoscopic rendition of life: startling, a sonic explosion in your ear, acutely visual, utterly satisfying. The poems move from milking cows to trying to go vegetarian, sexual fumblings, all manner of hungers and yearnings. ‘Gremlin in sundress’ is an intense and captivating blast of sound that catches an intensity of living and craving for life. I have heard Rebecca read live several times and it is an addictive experience – the sonic rewards find new traction in the air / ear. Here is the middle bit of the free-flowing, page-long ‘Gremlin in sundress’:
gimme something pretty but with brains
I can crack open gimme salt’n’pepper
tentacle dredged from the abyss and deep
fried gimme hot cephalopod gimme yer cold
shoulder gimme drunkenness gimme the vomitorium
next door to the buffet gimme mortal clay
with tingle and baby fat to live in
gimme glory gimme eternity gimme your likings
There are many paths through Rebecca’s poetry but every reading path is an intricate interplay of the visual and the aural. I keep rereading a poem to savour the music and and the visual impact. Maybe it makes a difference that Rebecca is a painter with a richly-hued palette and eye for massed and sensual detail. She takes me to the edge of vertigo at times, even squeamishness, in both her art and her poetry. Reading her poetry becomes a whole body experience (as it so often is) and I find myself unable to move onto the next thing, the next book, the next chore, the next outing. Perhaps at the core is the notion want: I am thinking of its varied meanings as Rebecca’s poetry pivots upon desire and upon lack.
With her high-country childhood it is not surprising the back blocks feature in some poems. The magnificent and utterly surprising ‘Dairy queen’ begins in the milking shed with an image of a shedhand:
you’re the other shedhand on the early morning shift
and you work shirtless
under your heavy rubber apron
which I appreciate from behind –
muscles moving under your tan
perspiring glossy as a cold can of golden pash
unfortunately the overall effect is ruined
by your bleach-blonde dreadlocks Grinch fingers
dyed greenish by weeks of cowpat splashback
Lust makes way for private musings on love and sadness, on loving people for their sadness and equally resenting a desire to be loved despite internal sadness. I am out of the cowshed into the secret moment, the little confession on the power of trust and tenderness: ‘all summer / I’ve been skittish and gentle like a puppy / saying hello by resting my whole mouth around your hand but not biting’. This sweet piquant moment is like a eyecatching flash before we return to the cowshed, the sexual pulls, and an image of the speaker in a water trough, bathed in barley seed and molasses.
I am also entranced (held in the grip of) by ‘Add penetrant to preferred broadleaf herbicide & devastate the wildflowers’. The poem brings the rabbit-infested, lupin-covered Mackenzie Country into sight by interweaving opposing views, both opinion and what you frame in your camera lens. Driving through the beauty in this poem is to drive through the Mackenzie basin with reactivated eyes:
as the lupins bloom out the summer in their splendid blushing colonies
both the planters of lupins & their weedkiller neighbours insists
that nature should take its course
but they can’t agree on what nature means:
conserving shrivelled unpalatable tussock or letting slip
the lupine war on the landscape
Rebecca’s poetry has such potency the poems stick to your skin and you carry them all day, reflecting back on the twisty turns, the compounding rhythms that act as both torrent and ripple, the bits that make little bites which get you thinking and feeling. For a small cluster of poems to do this is astonishing.
A welcome return, AUP New Poets 5 delivers three poets who fit together beautifully. Their writing is complex, unafraid of feeling, physical, invigorated and invigorating. Yet each poet offers a distinctive voice that is highly addictive; it is like getting to swim in three very different locations with three very different impacts on your body as you move. I can’t wait for the next volume (it’s in the pipeline) and I can’t wait for debut collections from these three fresh voices.