Tag Archives: Michele Amas

Poetry Shelf picks from new books: Michele Amas’s ‘The Documentary’

 

The Documentary

A grandson takes a stone
from a southern Pacific coast
carries it in his wallet
across the world
to place on a grave

His fingers feel for distant music
above this limestone pit
this morbid formation
Wearing a borrowed yarmulke
his hand sweeps the soil
his head is full of old notes
the blood maps of history

We are no relation
but every relation
here amongst this baby bowl
pelvis, these anonymous thigh bones
removed of salt, more beach wood
than bone, these splinters and knuckles of pumice
you might find floating at the sea’s edge
this scattered ancestry

Bone is what bone is
a composition of elements
like air, like music
but once we were naked
at gunpoint
and I was a wife who lost her memory

Maybe you are my grandson
but I forget
Beside me a man
who clutched a satchel
of Stravinsky and Debussy
to cover his nakedness
A musician like you
that was his transport
clutched to his lungs
that was his oxygen

Hear our chorus
our bony percussion
our grandson, our grandson’s sons
hear us claim his future
and our escape
Do not be caught unarmed
bring your film, your press, your theatre
your manuscript, your piano, your pencils
bring your keepsake gift, your promise
bring your stone

 

Michele Amas from Walking Home, Victoria University Press, 2020

 

 

Michele Amas (1961 – 2016) was a poet and actor. In 2005 she completed an MA in Creative Writing at IIML and was awarded the Adam Prize. Her debut collection After the Dance appeared the following year and was shortlisted for the Jessie Mackay Best First Book of Poetry Award. Ken Duncum has edited a posthumous collection, Walking Home selecting poems from across the decade, including the final poem she wrote.

 

Victoria University Press author page

Poetry Shelf review of Walking Home

 

Paula: I am completely in the grip of this poem. Phrases roll about in my head – it is in debt to the private circumstances of the poet, but it is snug in this world-wobbly moment. The poem resembles a fable designed to keep both writer and reader going. It is song and it is anchor and it is ache. It is family. I am thinking – in these uncertain and unsettling days – of pinning the the final stanza to my wall, maybe my heart, because there is so much we can bring and create and connect with. It’s strange, but this poem both fills me with joy and makes me cry. Read the book – it is breathtakingly good.

 

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Poetry Shelf review: Michele Amas’s Walking Home

 

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Michele Amas Walking Home Victoria University Press 2020

 

 

Hold your own hand

Not the idea of it

or the theory of it

Hold your own hand

with your own hand

Hold it

See how confident

how knowing it feels

how held it feels

It will cross the road

with you

It will be your older brother

sister it will be your parent your lover

It says I’ve got you

relax now

 

from ‘Walking Home’

 

 

Michele Amas (1961 – 2016) was a poet and actor. In 2005 she completed an MA in Creative Writing at IIML and was awarded the Adam Prize. Her debut collection After the Dance appeared the following year and was shortlisted for the Jessie Mackay Best First Book of Poetry Award. Ken Duncum has edited a posthumous collection, Walking Home selecting poems from across the decade, including the final poem she wrote. In his introduction he writes:

Michele jotted down fragments, phrases, verses, anywhere and everywhere – it was how she did her thinking and feeling about things, herself, the world – and this effort to feel and understand was never more pressing than in the last two years of her life. Most of the poems in this book were written without thought of publication, but those in the last sequence, ‘Walking Home’, are particularly like bulletins from Michele’s soul, naked, without artistic pretence, reminder notes to live (in all senses of the word).

There is something immensely appealing about writing for the sake of writing, without publication or public attention, just as there is something enormously moving when a writer faces their own mortality. We approach the need to be published and to garner attention in so many different ways. Our relationship to writing, when faced with life-threatening illness, is unpredictable. I am deeply curious about writing as a way of warding off death, as a way of achieving equilibrium, and making connections in the most difficult circumstances. I found the final collections of Sarah Broom and Rachel Bush deeply gripping because they created poetry, at the edge of death, that is  luminescent with life. I am equally moved by Walking Home.

Reading Michele’s collection reminds me that reviewing can be so much more than a recap that reduces the magic of an unfolding book or critical judgement in terms of both success and failure. I am interested in the effect a book has upon me as reader, upon how it makes me think and feel, on how it affects relationships with the past and the present, with both the world at large and more intimate settings, with my private circumstances. The capability of poetry is vast. Yet what happens when we are reading work that the author never really intended for the public domain? In my extensive research for Wild Honey, I so often came across women who wrote for the sake of creating, and were disinclined to name it poetry / poems. I feel close to these issues, and agonise over what to put in a review of this book. I take this book personally. I write reviews as a form of intimate engagement with what I read.

The opening poem ‘The Documentary’ resonates sweetly with gaps and loops. It is both rich and economical, and the perfect entrance into a collection of such exquisite layering. The  poem becomes talisman.

 

A grandson takes a stone

from a southern Pacific coast

carries it in his wallet

across the world

to place on a grave

 

Poetry is also something we might carry. Here I am at the start of the book, brimming with both sadness and delight. We might carry the poem and the stone as solace, as keepsake, to mark the graves of those we lose, to hold when we are close to death. This feels like the hardest review I have ever written, and so yes, I will call it an engagement. The mark of a poem that catches is when you keep reading it over and over (like when you play an album or song over and over as only that will do). I keep playing this poem over and over, marveling at the scene. Here is the end of the poem:

 

Hear our chorus

our bony percussion

our grandson, our grandson’s sons

hear us claim our future

and our escape

Do not be caught unarmed

bring your film, your press, your theatre

your manuscript, your piano, your pencils

bring your keepsake gift, your promise

bring your stone

 

And so through the gate, into a collection that offers vignettes of prismatic life, from the way it is not easy to be happy to the story of an actress whose baby is taken because the courts decide an actress is less stable.  Perhaps by choosing to write for the sake of writing as opposed to the sake of publishing, you can eyeball dark and light without filter or expectation. Writing as a form of liberation.  ‘This Is About You – Isn’t It?’ is a poem of deliberate mishearings and imaginings, and accruing feeling.

 

He’d build things for you

like lakes

for your swans.

 

I wanted you to be married

so that I could be married –

I guess it’s as simple as that.

 

Many poems in Walking Home are written out of the flaws and complexities of living and loving as mother and lover. I adore the three ‘Tender Years’ poems, where mother addresses daughter, and exposes hurts, dislikes, yearnings, wisdom, epiphanies, experience. Poems cut through just diverse and distinctive experiences, often changing key memorably. Hanging out the everyday washing in ‘Separate Lines’, the two neighbours don’t discuss war or religion, but the poem takes us beyond ‘safe ground’:

 

Tonight at six we watch the war

think of the washing out

of mud, of blood, both sides

will dress from a laundry pile

a fence between them

two separate lines

 

Ah. I just want you to read this book. This multi-toned glorious book with every note pitch perfect, with roving subject matter and delving points of view. I have thunder and storm outside as I read, and a threatened national border, toxic political point scoring, and I am reading poems that fill me with joy and melancholy, and then more joy. Mostly joy. Transcendental. Transporting. I once read a review of Sarah Broom’s final collection Gleam that incensed me to the moon and back because the reviewer suggested the book’s relationship with near death would always affect the reader, and that was far more potent than the poems themselves. The reviewer had missed or eclipsed the exquisite poetic effects. Walking Home offers a equally breathtaking reading experience.

I get to the last poem, ‘Walking Home’, and this is broadcast from serious illness, drawing us to the way illness ripples out to affect those close by, to the way the poet learns to hold her own hand. The poet confesses she reads a poem backwards, but the poem is long, which means things are topsy turvey with answers arriving before questions, and admits she wants ‘to read this disease backwards’. The unease, the uncertainty is there in the fragments: the what to do and how to be, the entreaty to her daughter, the fear, the ‘age’ disappearing at arm’s length, the pain and lack of appetite, the writing, the writing of pieces that may or may not be called poetry, in the eye of the poet. What matters is the love of writing in these gleaming self exposures (to borrow Sarah’s title), and now, as I hold this book close in the storm, the love of reading matters. I adore this poem so much.

 

The idea being

we walk each other home

 

so let me

 

The idea being

there’s no physical address

it’s a concept, right

 

so let me

 

 

This is an astonishing book. Quiet, raw, physical, getting deep into the truth of things. Astonishing. I take this book personally and I will carry the poems with me and I am utterly grateful Ken Duncum and Victoria University Press have risked its publication.

 

Victoria University Press author page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RIP Michele Amas (1961 -2016): a little poetry sampler

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This is sad news. After a long battle with cancer, Michele Amas died on Boxing Day. A poet and actor, her first collection of poetry, After the Dance, was published in 2006 and was nominated for best first book of poetry in the Montana New Zealand Book Awards.

Her poetry is an exquisite meeting point for domestic experience, self and flickering shards of the wider world. Each poem satisfies, so very much, with images that surprise, juxtapositions that spark and a delicious clarity of line. There is a tenderness, a maternal chord that feeds the poems and ignites every mother cell in your body as you read.

My thoughts go out to friends and family.

 

 

A sample from After the Dance (Victoria University Press, 2006):

 

from ‘One way to read her’:

 

Above her, look for the angle

of clouds,

deliberate, weather stretched

 

 

from ‘Daughter’:

 

Get off my back

daughter

this is not dancing

you have sharpened your spurs.

 

 

from ‘Golden Delicious’:

 

She is sunny

She is sunny side up, my girl

running to meet me.

 

 

from ‘Reasons for ladders’:

 

I climb on Gaudi’s shoulders

to a windowsill overlooking

Barcelona, but still I see

the daughter from the corner

of my eye.

 

 

from Temporary beds’:

 

I will bring an umbrella ceiling

to hold over you at night

to keep the dark from falling.

 

 

from ‘The Caversham Project (ii)’:

 

I never liked the srtory

Edna told me of her wedding day,

how Charles took her aside

after their vows

making her promise

never to contradict him.

 

 

 

from ‘After the dance’:

 

After the dance

a quiet love

settles, sleeps

in collars, in clothes

thrown over a chair.

The house is dreaming.

 

 

from ‘The Caversham Project (iii)’:

 

Why do her only two regrets –

never learning

to ride a bike

never spending a night

in a tent –

shake me.

 

 

from ‘Repair’:

 

I am taking all the women

in this family to Japan.

Dead and alive we will

travel by bus

up the archpelago

to sit under the cherry blossom.