Bad Things, Louise Wallace, Victoria University Press, 2017
Some poetry collections depend upon a thread of similarity; connective subject matter, recurring motifs, a cohesion of form, tone and voice. Other collections resemble mosaics made of infinitely varied pieces that come together in surprising and satisfying ways. Louise Wallace’s new book, Bad Taste, exemplifies the latter. Turn the page and you have no idea what to expect – yet everything fits in the same animated package. There is a freshness and a daring at work here, because the poetry seems beholden only to its own choreography. I love that. I can’t think of another book quite like it. The cover, with the little patch of flame in the dark, and the boat waiting with its strange mix of birds, is the perfect entry into the poems.
Sometimes the poems relate little stories; condensed in prose paragraphs or strung with slashes to read in a single outbreath. Certain poems stop you in your tracks when you get to the last line and then tip you off the tracks of reading. ‘The hunt’ begins with a woman needing silence, yet it’s impossible to find when her voice rings out ‘like bells in the library’. She needs ‘to go church to pray’, but the poem does the twist and tilt and the ending becomes uneasy:
and without the silence she can’t pray / and if she doesn’t pray she will starve
Images also keep you on your reading toes: they might be strange, brightly-lit, smudged. There is, for example, a depiction of terrible things, ‘bad things’, that might fill a head:
They grow there—
a forest of tiny umbrellas.
a crown of terrible heads.
from ‘Bad things’
Or the sight and sound of a woman in a dump shop; ‘I’m amazed, she says’ over and over (‘Trash Palace’).
Or the sight and sound of a woman packing her husband and various assorted characters, including ‘the owner of the local chip shop’, into a row boat:
though it was extremely cramped
and they rowed
out to the open ocean
and sat quiet
from ‘The body began to balance itself’
One poem may be densely packed and prose-like, while the next might offer short snappy lines that extend a poetic spine down the page:
fingers to forehead
hand to cheek
Strange poems, that may be hyper-real or surreal, hook with the element of surprise crouching somewhere:
7. You cannot take off the backpack.
8. You cannot just take off either.
9. You try to escape your own skin.
from ‘Right of return’
Sometimes it is a matter of taking three or four things (a man in a bus, the downhill, the light and the safety) and seeing what happens:
the light bounces
off the hill blindingly
bright and he’s saying
and he’s right, and all
through the bus
there is light.
from ‘Safety first’
Politics hue the mosaic pieces and slip in different directions, whether gender or ecological. Famous people glint the surface because their very presence is out-of-the-ordinary in the day-to-day ordinariness of what goes on. I especially like Meryl Streep, (but you also get Robert Redford and Reese Witherspoon): ‘Meryl Streep went nuts at me in the breakfast room, because I’d taken her table by mistake.’ I also like the arrival of Reeese, in ‘There are lots of ladies who have survived the desert’. The protagonist is walking in the desert, parched and desperate, when she hears wailing: ‘Reese Witherspoon emerges from behind a shrub, holding a plastic bowl full of oats and water.’ She cannot get her primus to work. Again Louise delivers the twist and tilt at the end of the poem, as though a shadow voice whispers to us to find perspective when we read of her neighbour: ‘Janet’s husband came home drunk one night and smashed a chair across her back.’
To understand the ability of the collection to travel and arc and shuffle, you need to juxtapose the offbeat with the achingly real. ‘Helping my father remember’ is the white hot searing heart of the collection. Communication is impaired: ‘Except something’s/ gone wrong with the wiring/ and he didn’t teach me/ how to fix it.’ The poem delivers such an emotional hit because of the way it lays little details alongside each other; the fact that the daughter is most like her father and his mother, and that sound might reactivate memory or that she is following him ‘through/ tall grasses, as high/ as my head.’ This time the ending is not a strange tilt but a poignant dive deeper below the poem’s surface:
to the river.
You find Nana,
and I’ll find you.
We won’t be lost
if we’re together.
If Louise’s new collection pulls you into a mosaic of dream, confession, anecdote or troublesome issues, it does so with a deft and darting accumulation of line. The overall effect works upon your ear, eye, heart and mind. There is stillness and movement, gaps and prickling images. I couldn’t ask for more – it’s a terrific read.
Louise Wallace is a poet and the founder and editor of The Starling, a literary journal for young NZ writers. She has published two previous collections: Since June (2009) and Enough(2013) . She was the 2015 Robert Burns Literary Fellow at Otago University.
Victoria University page
‘Reminders for December’ plus author note posted on Poetry Shelf
Louise in conversation with Pip Adam on Bad Things at Better Off Read
The Starling an online literary journal for young NZ writers
Reminders for December
Author’s note: The words and title of this poem were taken from a tatty book I bought from a second hand fair called The Vegetable Garden Displayed, published in 1949. I like the instructional quality of the words when re-applying them from gardening to something like loss or heartbreak – as though it can be that simple to recover! The off-piste quality for me is the amount of blank space. The poem appears in my new book Bad Things, where each word stands alone on a separate page, which is a little dramatic – I’m grateful to have an understanding publisher who will go along with my vision! I liked how all that space cushioning each word, isolates and intensifies the emotions they may contain.
Louise Wallace‘s third collection of poems, Bad Things, will be published in August by Victoria University Press. In 2015 she was the Robert Burns Fellow at the University of Otago, Dunedin. In 2016 she represented New Zealand at the Mexico City Poetry Festival. She is the founder and editor of Starling, an online journal publishing the work of young New Zealand writers.
Louise’s new book will be launched on Thursday 10th August. Details here plus details for Writers on Mondays this Monday because Louise is with Hannah Mettner, Maria McMillan & Airini Beautrais. Unmissable!
From Paula: For Poetry Shelf’s Winter Season, I invited 12 poets to pick one of their own poems that marks a shift in direction, that is outside the usual tracks of their poetry, that moves out of character, that nudges comfort zones of writing. It might be subject matter, style, form, approach, tone, effect, motivation, borrowings, revelation, invention, experimentation, exclusions, inclusions, melody …. anything!
Victoria University Press warmly invites you to the launch of
by Louise Wallace
With readings from Lynley Edmeades, Bill Manhire, Tayi Tibble and Chris Tse. All welcome.
6pm–7.30pm on Thursday 10 August,
at Vic Books, Rutherford House, Pipitea
27 Lambton Quay, Wellington
Books by all authors available for purchase on the night, along with prints of the cover illustration by Kimberly Andrews.
WRITERS ON MONDAYS
Poetry Quartet: Louise Wallace, Hannah Mettner, Maria McMillan & Airini Beautrais
These poets write works of boldness and acute observation. Louise Wallace’s Bad Things, Hannah Mettner’s Fully Clothed and So Forgetful, Maria McMillan’s The Ski Flier and Flow by Airini Beautrais are diverse and exciting books of poetry. Each writer engages with language in innovative ways to explore and reimagine history, commerce, science, love and the things people do. Come and hear the latest New Zealand poetry in a reading and discussion chaired by poet and novelist Anna Smaill.
DATE: Monday 7 August
VENUE: Te Papa Marae
Sad to miss this event! Glad I get to read to the book!
Book launch for BAD THINGS: a new book of poems by Louise Wallace. With readings from Lynley Edmeades, Bill Manhire, Tayi Tibble and Chris Tse. All welcome.
Books by all authors available for purchase on the night, along with limited edition cover art prints by Kimberly Andrews.
Drink, nibble, get your books signed and be merry.
POETRY | CHOCOLATE
The taste of poetry, the sound of chocolate and the sense of books. We’ve matched medieval humours with contemporary New Zealand poets and some of the best chocolate you’ll find, ever.
Join us at Ekor Bookshop for a multi-sensual, medieval-medicine-inspired poetry reading and chocolate tasting.
Featuring: Nick Ascroft, Hannah Mettner, Louise Wallace, and Freya Daly Sadgrove.
Chocolate curated and introduced by Luke Owen Smith (The Chocolate Bar).
Chocolate (and poetry) included in ticket price.