Tag Archives: poetry review

Poetry Shelf Book Review: Steven Toussaint’s The Bellfounder – It is an exquisite read



Steven Toussaint The bellfounder  The Cultural Study Society, 201B



Steven Toussaint was born in Chicago in 1986. He is the author of the chapbook Fiddlehead (Compound Press, 2014). He lives on the side of a volcano in Auckland, New Zealand.

Steven’s new poetry collection, The Bellfounder, is an exquisite read. The epigraph stands as a dedication to Eleanor Catton: ‘For you I have emptied the meaning/ leaving the song’. The ‘you’ widens to gift song to the reader as music is both first and last reading effect. A lexicon of musical terms amass: melody, pitch, chord, counterpoint, harmony, rhythm. I wanted to shut my eyes and absorb the musicality through the pores of my skin.

Each word chimes like a musical note, but the reward is in the aural connections – surprising, comforting, hair shivery – that produce the lift and skip of melody (‘brine seamed, milked at alpine view’). Your ear flutters to and fro along the track of the line catching sounds that twitch and oscillate and gel (‘alive as white aster, as stars’). There is both musical playfulness and musical craft. The little shift from ‘aster’ to ‘as stars’ sends gossamer threads to Gertrude Stein, Michele Leggott, Susan Howe. Melody is made more endearing by syntax that sidesteps, elides, eludes (‘hoove the ground/ each order othering’). Words hum on the ends of lines like a secret sidebone poem (whole formative cloud downgrowth longing parades embankments view is left stars ground othering bellow). (quotations are from ‘The Ground’)

At times, the language is demanding (I love this), when the words are obscure, not in everyday use, deliciously coined, twisted and shifting. At times, there is a sweet economy that counterbalances a governing richness. Always, at every crest and turn, phrases that cling to the ear (‘ore poured/ through ode// and hissed forth/ dread’ from ‘Analogion’).


What of meaning abandoned? After the initial joy of melody (song), I savoured the visual tussock; the way image is both ephemeral and grounded. Again I was reminded of Gertrude, Michele and Susan – and the playful energy of an image held in the mind. A point of contemplation. Transcendental, almost. At first, there is the allure of the image (‘quiet tangle/ of birchbark’ ‘Down along/ the frost encased// river little/ stinging reeds’). The images are little anchors in the overall mist of the poems. Yet that grounding enables the folds and creases of connection, personal associations and drifting thought (how to build that ice-cold river in mind’s eye?). Motifs, like the musical wordnotes, echo. The images tilt you. They act as little keys to drifting notions. Now and then, I felt like I was walking into sumptuous strata of Dante’s Inferno or the wet, kaleidoscopic thrill of a Tarkovsky film. I could almost hear Dante’s voice.

For me, the reading drift is the drift of a hiker locked into the rhythm of walking, where the natural world becomes music, music tethers image and image untethers thinking. Then thinking becomes still and still becomes raucous. Glorious. I love the way implanted image builds train of thought. The reading drift becomes a musing on poetry. On the possibilities of poetry. Take the poem, ‘Measure’: beautiful, enigmatic, poised, entrancing. The birchbark and river detail are the physical measure of melody, of viewing the world. Yet there is more, always more. Poetry becomes more than meaning, yet you are never left groundless. It is the mysterious movement that is travel and location and the laying of here and the layering of there.


Enormous funnels

of pitch a people


press on, tamp

the thicket’s


thickset quiet out

as if a current


of flame rouses

deep under boats



to carry them over.


(from ‘Measure’)



This collection is one of my favourite reads of the year. It transports you to the milky mists of nowhere and then feeds you the sublime ‘pitch’ and ‘drip’ of a somewhere that matters to you on a level both conscious and subconscious. Breathtakingly good.


Available in NZ from Timeout Book Store, or elsewhere via Small Press Distribution

Steven’s blog

Plainsong‘ on Poem Friday on Poetry Shelf

An excerpt from ‘Aevum Measures‘ on The Spinoff



Landfall 227 Vital Signs Autumn 2014 I really appreciate picking up a journal that places critical thinking alongside the telling of tales and the musical lift and surprise of poems.

9781877578465     9781877578465     9781877578465


Landfall 227 Vital Signs Autumn 2014

The latest issue of Landfall does indeed celebrate vital signs of life in our writing communities. This is a writing smorgasbord that not only offers tremendous fiction and poetry but that also presents writing that defies genre. There is writing here that sits in the non-fiction category but that veers in other directions. I really appreciate picking up a journal that places critical thinking alongside the telling of tales and the musical lift and surprise of poems. And that that critical thinking is full of welcome signs as opposed to the by-products of gated cul-de-sacs.

There were few poems that couldn’t hold my attention, some of the very best writing was near the back, and my accumulation of standout poems just grew and grew. Bouncing off the title, clichés abounded; New Zealand poetry is in good and diverse heart, there is vital blood pumping through our poetic veins. Ahh! I loved the way this selection made links to past and present, mainstream and offbeat, familiar and unfamiliar, and satellite poetry endeavours.


Here is a wee tour of my stallings:

Morgan Bach’s eye-catching moment in ‘Postcards,’ provides a sweet, melodic lull, vibrant detail and a catchy miniature narrative.

The delicious, nostalgic drive of Philip Armstrong’s ‘Portolan’ takes you right back to ‘when.’

There is the heady dislocation in a heritage library courtesy of Airini Beautrais’s ‘Finding the Dead.’

In Annalyse Gelman’s ‘My Legacy’ I loved the syncopated pattern of long and short lines.

Murray Edmond’s ‘Solomon’s Throw: Memoir of a Name’ is an inventive and agile response to the stunning tie between the West Indies and Australian cricket terms in 1960. Murray bounces from Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ to the childhood Solomon-Grundy chant to ‘The Song of Solomon’ in his surprising musings.

One of a number of poignant poems in the issue, Angela Andrews’s ‘Grandfather reacts to the way death and almost death are great prompters of story, of roads back into the past. Her detail is acute.

Each poem Sarah Jane Barnett writes just gets better and better. In ‘Relief,’ each line is nimble, the story fablesque, the poem rich in direction.

Carin Smeaton’s ‘Wishing Bone’ is like dialect in short snappy lines, with urban edge, getting into the head and ache of a woman/mother dispossessed.

Peter Black’s photographs, ‘Simple Beauty,’ are luminous poems.

Gregory O’Brien and Robin Kearns converse in ‘A Weekend on the Chathams’ (a geographer and a poet reflect back). Gregory’s poem-paintings (or painting-poems) are one response to how poet and geographer found it difficult to find ‘a voice to inhabit the elusive and often contested reality of the Chathams.’ Both looking for ‘crossed circuits, connections, conversations, rhymes and assonances.’ This lightness of touch from Gregory:


If there is

a moon

it is carved into

a dark tree. If

there is

a tree. But

there is always

an ocean.


Lynley Edmeades’s ‘Faute de Mieux’ offers musicality of detail and momentum.

Some of my favourite poems were sheltering near the back. Bernadette Hall’s piece, an extract from ‘Maukatere: Floating Mountain’ defies compartments. It is like a floating memoir that hooks imagination as much as recollection. It is poetry, and in that poetry, promotes curiosity. I want to read more!

I stalled on the moving twinges, revelations and contours of Vivienne Plumb’s ‘Nothing Trivial.’

I have already sung the praises of Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle’s Autobiography of a Margurite (there is an extract) here.

Alice Miller shows she is an exquisite wordsmith in ‘Observatory.’ Here is a taste:


Night comes for the ten thousandth time, sky growing

muddy with cloud, light squeezed out.

Are you there, a man says into his phone.

A storm is coming.


At the back are the results of The Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize 2014. Sue Wootton’s comments include ‘eight [terrific] ways to make a poem that proved robust enough for my shortlist.’ Her final comment on the winning poem is equally astute: ‘[it] goes on giving up a little something new no matter how many times it’s read.’ I read Brian Turner’s winning ‘Mulching’ and I totally agreed. It quietly keeps creeping up on you. Runner-up was Annalyse Gelman’s ‘Auden.’


Submissions for Landfall 228 now closed. Due November 2014.

Submissions for Landfall 229 close January 10th 2015 (there is no theme). Due May 2015.




to the magazine! Sport 42 ‘long times spent sitting/ looking at the view so long’

42_cover_front__63802.1392602823.220.220   42_cover_front__63802.1392602823.220.220   42_cover_front__63802.1392602823.220.220

I love Sport‘s cover photograph snapped by Damien Wilkins at the Royal Albatross Colony in Dunedin. It features a sign indicating the direction ‘to the magazine.’ There is a delicious ripple of irony as the editor and publisher of Sport, Fergus Barrowman, had last year announced the journal’s demise due to a lack of funding from Creative New Zealand.  Sport had momentarily lost its way, much to the consternation of readers throughout the country. But as the journal secured funding from elsewhere, we now have a terrific issue to savour over the coming year. Yeeha!

This issue, along with the usual mix of fiction and poetry, includes four essays. I would love to see more of this (sounding a bit Rick Steinish in the face of both good food and endangered species!) How stimulating to read Mark Williams’ lively and inventive approach to New Zealand poetry in ‘When You’re Dead You Go on Television: Sex, Death, and Household Objects in Some New Zealand Poetry.’ It was the sort of essay that got you thinking about other poems in relation to his three themes and the fertile possibilities of exploring these three themes in the one critical space.

I haven’t finished reading Sport 42 yet, because I like to dip and delve over months rather than weeks, and I am not going to comment on the fiction (which I haven’t even started upon) other than to say I spotted some must-read names: Lawrence Patchett, Pip Adam, Tina Makereti, Breton Dukes and Charlotte Simmonds along with a cluster of those new to me.

There is an equally tempting list of poets that range from some beloved landmarks on our poetry landscape (Bill Manhire, Geoff Cochrane, Elizabeth Smither, James Brown, Chris Price) to the recently emerged (Sarah Jane Barnett, Amy Brown, Kerrin P Sharpe). There are about 39 poets and a number of these are brand new sparkling voices!

Here is a tasting plate of what has struck a poetic chord so far:

Amy Brown has a sequence of poems that take her into temporal elsewhere, and that highlight the power of an object to take you in multiple semantic and nostalgic directions (as though the poem is a little like a pocket memory theatre). I particularly ‘Names’—a poem that is evocative, tender and vibrant, and that embodies loss in aching detail.

Chris Price‘s poem, ‘The also-ran,’ reminded me how much I like her poetry. Here the disgruntled ‘runner’ is a misfit on the hunt for the elusive or the grass-that-is-greener or self recognition. Price relishes musical fluency as her miniature narrative is punctured into stanzas (broken breath) with sweet enjambment that connects, keeping both runner and reader on track.

Lynn Davidson‘s ‘Kapiti Island Welcomes Back the Girl and Her Mother,’ is steered by the deft hand of both storyteller and musician: (‘They cut through weed and current/ flicker and fin to get in’ and ‘to make words make/ this wind that howls/ make the frequencies for language’). AAhhh!

Sarah Jane Barnett‘s long poem, ‘Running with My Father,’ also adopts the rhythm of running, but her poem strengthens in its shifting style. The early morning run absorbs the father figure in memory flashes, the way the puff and pant of lungs and heart working hard draw in different images and insights. This is a glorious poem that pulls you in closer to thoughts of death and of life.

Frances Samuel is not a poet that I am familiar with, but I was struck by her poems and was delighted to see VUP will publish her debut collection later this year. Her poems have serenity, simplicity, a meditative quality, an offset quirkiness running through them that is utterly alluring. One poem begins: ‘There are so many ways to write about dying.’ Another start: ‘In the very earliest time/ autumn trees stretched to the sky/ raking the reds and pinks of the sunset.’

I found myself half singing Bill Manhire‘s selection then wanted Hannah Griffin to take over— her heavenly voice igniting ‘Rikkitikkitavi/ you’re so charming/Rikkitikkitavi/ oh my darling.’ Is this a bad thing? You get Bill’s cheeky wit on the page, the sweet pull of repetition and rhyme, and then you want to sit in a dimly lit room and hear these poems sung.

And I loved Damien Wilkin‘s found poem —the titles of books Bill Manhire left behind on his shelf.

Next up the rewards of James Brown and Elizabeth Smither ….





Michele Leggott’s book launch– Heartland drew us in close

cp-heartland  cp-heartland

Michele Leggott, Heartland, Auckland University Press, 2014

It was a feisty storm in Auckland but a good crowd turned out to help Michele Leggot launch her new collection, Heartland, at Auckland Central Library last Thursday.

John Newton took us on a tour of the shapes of Michele’s books and reminded us how they have shifted from landscape to portrait, and how that physical shift also saw a shift in other ways. The poems have become more transparent, have embraced narrative to a greater degree and have employed a less fragmented syntax. John also suggested, and I think this is the case for many poets, that Michele’s body of work is like one long poem in installments (perhaps the landscape poem and now the portrait poem).

As John was talking, I went off on a train of thought. I feel that Mirabile Dictu and now Heartland have opened themselves wider to the words and narratives in the world that is close at hand. These books draw in family in way that is close, intimate and touching in both semantic and linguistic choices. And then it is as though these books are held open for family, so these loved ones may gain entry as readers.

Michele read three short poems using her listening device rather than the book. It was just wonderful to hear her voice lift the words from the page. I was particularly taken with this comment: ‘Every book should have a way of stepping out of it—by stepping into what’s coming next.’ In this case the Matapouri poem in the book. I am fascinated by the way certain geographical locations have white-hot resonance. Having grown up in Whangarei and spent most summers on the Tutakaka coast (and still do) that physical landscape triggers all kinds of poetic responses in my secret writing life. I can’t wait to see where Michele is heading next.

photo photo 1 photo 2 photo 1


Caoilinn Hughes’ Gathering Evidence: To read this book is to step out of an itinerary of expectation



Caoilinn Hughes, Gathering Evidence, Victoria University Press, 2014


Victoria University Press recently launched Gathering Evidence, the debut collection of Caoilinn Hughes (it is also being published by Carcanet Press in the UK). It is a debut collection, but Caoilinn has a significant track record to date. She graduated from Queen’s University in Belfast with a BA and a MA, and after doing various things (including writing novels at the weekends and working for Google), she enrolled in a PhD at Victoria University. The poems, too, have a fine pedigree—some won the 2012 Patrick Kavanagh Award and others the 2013 Cúirt New Writing Prize. She then won the 2012 STA Travel Writing Prize and the 2013 Trócaire/Poetry Ireland Competition. The book itself comes with a terrific endorsement by Bill Manhire on the back.


Caoilinn’s collection draws upon the richness of the world—her poetic tentacles reaching out in all directions to take hold of snippets of information, dialogue, recollection, facts, insight. Her lexicon is vibrant, challenging, eclectic as she shifts from scientific jargon to Spanish to Italian to plain language to language that sings and shines. There is a density on the page in terms of both meaning and accumulating detail and phrases—and it is as though you are within a sumptuous painting on the cusp of the Baroque and of the Renaissance. Not that this writing belongs in another time, it is most definitely, most gloriously, of our times.


The collection, more than anything, delights in the scientific. Caoilinn exhibits a penchant for scientific thought (how to translate and inscribe within poetic form); the alchemical link, the chemical reaction, the physical dance, the scientific anecdote. At times she stands in the shoes of other scientists not only to explore science itself, but also to invent and reproduce miniature, historical narratives. In ‘Rational Dress,’ Marie Curie is seen as much in the light of her clothing as she is in view of her prize-winning discoveries:

She wore her dark blue wedding dress for years on end

in the shed laboratory – once medical dissecting room –

at l’École Supérieure, filling its pockets with painstaking findings.


[and a little later in the poem]


On this, society would insist. Pierre had to speak on her behalf

at the Royal Institution, as she sat, hands knotted in the encumbrance

of her skirt. So off the record was she that the Nobel Committee

needed reminding of her work. Was it physics, chemistry or both?


Such a focus upon attire, makes the poem even more poignant.


In ‘Pacific Rim,’ the poet has her ear to the earth’s tremors, and again she renders a scene vivid through her concatenation of phrasing and detail (this is a poet of fertility rather than economy). The final verse resonates in the aching juxtaposition of children, cathedrals and split earth:


Children lose their footing, crying: ‘Pop goes the ceiling’,

cathedrals spill their bricks of hymn upon their neighbours;

flags drop to their knees; gardens split like freshly baked loaves.

The thundering ground, fissuring walls, the sound of history’s footfalls.


So many poems stand out, but unlike many collections I read, every last line sent me back to the first (without exception), to read the poem again in order to absorb and relish the layers of sound and thought, revelation and curvature. Even pocket narratives, such as ‘Catechism,’ dazzle with each next detail, connection or trope:


My aunt cried ‘Up the Reds!’ between Hail Marys

and was sent to bed. It might have been half-deliberate


when she snagged the sacrament, launching Glory Bes

into the gluey hives and trenches of her head


What I loved about the book is the contoured reading experience—these poems take you from Bolivia to Peru to Ireland to New Zealand. They take you from the cusp of womanhood in the terrific ‘Dublin Can Be Heaven’ (the mother sneaking her daughters on an illicit train ride instead of school) to electric connections between time and love in two Roundelets. There is the inventive exploration of ‘The sound that precedes the writing of poems’ in ‘Is It A Kind Of Bell Toll.’ There is the reading of Waiting for Godot (it can’t be reduced to the gist!) with dressing gown, goosebumps and love:


You point to the window, where the curtain is parted like a sideways eyelid,

pretending to be asleep. Our neighbour is watching us: the meaning of life laid bare.

The gown has come undone and goosepimples are everywhere. I curtsey.


Caoilinn bucks the trend and offers no endnotes, copious or otherwise (and there are plenty of occasions to expand upon the context and scientific references), but these poems get to stand on their own feet and I rather like that.


To read this book is to step out of an itinerary of expectation and take flight within the imagination and intellect, the warmth and the gut feelings, the precision and the clarity, of a mind that roves in startling directions. It is a voyage you want to reserve and rebook. Wonderful!


Thanks to Victoria University Press, I have a copy of the book for someone who likes or comments on this post.

Rachel O’Neill’s One Human in Height: Sent me searching for a new word to signal the kind of writing that takes flight


Rachel O’Neill, One Human in Height, Hue & Cry Press, 2013

Rachel O’Neill‘s debut poetry collection sent me searching for a new word to signal the kind of writing that takes flight within its pages. Yes, this is poetry that finds life in sentences, so you fall upon little prose poems (like embroidered pocket handkerchiefs on the page), but that seems barely adequate. Yes, these exquisite sentences have toes in the surreal, but again that falls short of the way each piece pivots upon an axis of the real. I think I have opted for poetry prisms.

OneHumanInHeight_cover   OneHumanInHeight_cover  OneHumanInHeight_cover

I was reminded of an extraordinary mix of things as I read: Anne Kennedy’s debut novel, 101 Traditional Smiles, Lyn Hejinian’s sentences, Fanny Howe’s sentences, Richard Brautigan, Gertrude Stein, Gregory O’Brien’s early poetic slants with magical drops, Gianni Celati’s Narratori delle pianure (for a start).

These poems are poetry prisms because they are shape-shifters (not on the page as they maintain the uniformity of squares and rectangles). They are kaleidescopic, anecdotal, twisty, askew, stream-of-consciousness-like, uncanny, colourful, incantatory, shiny. Each poem shifted in the light as I read, so the anecdotal world became less settled, more surprising, yet never loosing its anchorage in the real.

One of the first poems, ‘Waking early in the marigolds,’ is the perfect entry into the book. The poet takes an idea and then playfully jams with it in slightly off-beat ways (the poem is about waking up in surprising places — ‘I came into the world with nothing bar a capacity for waking in unexpected places.’). It is almost (oh, at a stretch!) a metaphor for how these poems work; as perhaps these poems awake in surprising places, a little to the left of right of expectation. I loved the ending, where the poet yearns to be lying in bed ‘with some authority despite being out of my depth.’

The collection’s subject matter seems to be driven by both real life and the imagination, by a poet who is mindful of the world about her, but who is willingly to filter that world through imaginative excursions. Thus, you get transported from behind the eyelids of a man to what you tell and don’t people to someone arriving at a family reunion by parachute to a compass that is dropped and multiplied 200 million times.

Rachel’s sentences have a pitch perfect economy (‘The sea’s pale back’) that generate musical tones. The quirkiness, the off-beatness, the flashes of the surreal, however, are not embedded in skewed syntax or word choices but in the anecdotal revelations (fictional or otherwise). For me, Rachel’s graceful language heightens the narrative twists and turns.

Endings can be the ruination of a poem, but Rachel has a light touch, a surprising touch. She concludes ‘My father’s memories’ with this: ‘He shunted past me muttering, “My father’s memories,” as if every year he bore them on that stretcher down to the water.’ Rachel’s beginnings are equally nimble and fresh: ‘She sits down at the kitchen table to wait out the remainder of April.’

This is a glorious debut. These poems show the way you can hold any occasion, object, person or place in your mind and, like a prism, watch it shimmer and shine with little stories that hook tufts of truth and fabrication, self and knowing, illusions and strange kinks, and everyday bric-a-brac. I am in love with this book.

Thanks to Hue & Cry I have a copy of this book to give to someone who likes or comments on this post.


LisaSamuelsAntiM   LisaSamuelsAntiM

Lisa Samuels, Anti M, Chax Press, 2013

Lisa Samuels teaches Creative Writing, Literature and Theory at The University of Auckland. Born in Boston, she has also lived in the Middle East and Europe. She has a PhD from the University of Virginia and has published seven poetry collections and a recording of Tomorrowland with soundscapes (2012).

Lisa’s new book, Anti M, is presented as anti-memoir or omitted prose. Pick up the book, start reading, and you can use those labels as you will. For me, the writing wittingly or unwittingly navigates poetry as much as it does narrative, and yes, there is the governing rule of omission or erasure at work. You enter a realm of heightened or exaggerated selectiveness (bearing in mind an author is always selective), exclusion and perhaps even interference with memory. As you read questions arise, images surface and story and poetry produce electric connections. If the writer takes away, for example, what does she create?

Three terrific quotations provide gateways into the writing. I especially loved Bernard of Clairvaux (1140): ‘what keen edge can both clean my memory and keep it intact? Only the living and effective Word which is sharper than a two-edged sword …’

Holding the book, with that quotation ringing so beautifully in my ears, and flicking through the pages where the words float dreamlike, scattered, suspended, I am struck that the gap, the pause, the lure of silence will be a key part of my reading. Numerous other poets spring to mind: Michele Leggott, Susan Howe, Kathleen Fraser, Lisa Robertson, Lyn Hejinian, Gertrude Stein, the erasure art of Mary Ruefle.

Firstly, the gap or the pause. The opening lines of the book: ‘today we walk an outer ring/ around the borrowed house.’  A fitting entry into writing that is in so many ways (subversive or otherwise) an autobiographical passage. The ‘we,’ ambiguous at the outset, may be the poet, the reader, the narrator-I, Daisy, family. The book is divided into nine parts like nine concentric circles, but the passage is interrupted. There are syntactical  gaps, gaps of information or recollection. At times it is like a movie jump cut (‘the music makes people adult veil’), but for me it was as though I were listening to a story being told where the teller is reserved, circumspect or bumping up against pockets of amnesia. At times it is like poetry of the pause where an interruption (or withholding) in the narrative flow elbows room for the reader to stop and meditate (to fill in the narrative gap, to make personal connections, to tinker with the syntax, to sidetrack and daydream). For example: ‘The train robbery      in a balloon/ language before I could swear something fretted over.’ The omitted text also keeps altering the course of narration as though the circumspect narrator cannot maintain a single thread but keeps swerving from a single word or phrase to elsewhere. The gaps skew grammar, verb agreements go awry. Phrases are left dangling in mid air and questions  come to the surface. Is this a matter of concealment, shyness, artistry, craft, deferral, sidetracking? Is it a case where the writer re-enacts the inability of words to represent a life (a memoir) adequately? Would the book be better or worse (more comforting, more estranging) with the gaps filled in?

It might seem like this is a vertiginous book to read as you navigate cliffs and gullies, but it reminded me of standing in front of a patchy fresco in Italy. So much missing but somehow, in that prolonged moment of looking, you experience something coming together, gloriously, surprisingly. The reading isn’t disorienting, it doesn’t leave you bereft of anchor, it embeds you in a world that absorbs and moves. Lisa leaves gem-like clues to the writing that haunt and puzzle, such as ‘narrative order as/ the paint thinner of consciousness.’ Or ‘sometimes when one is unifying reality/ the patchwork humming outside the air/ communicates/ the bed contains.’ The word ‘patchwork’ leads to that Italian mosaic or patchy fresco, and signals the centuries-old ambition of unifying miniature pieces. What to do with these pieces? The word ‘humming’ leads us to the power of the musical note to work on the body and the heart. Another clue to the methodology of the writer: ‘a    little/assemble band/ which lyrics    blanked/ of independent words.’ And this, which suggests the process is not methodical but steered by intuition and gut feelings: ‘Tripping a little on the stairs of relation.’ ‘Relation’ makes a faint line to family connection but more importantly exposes an image of the making of story — in steps and stages with leaps and bounds and stumbles and falls (ah, the risk of reading and writing).

What is visible upon the page matters. You leapfrog the words. You manage the pauses. There is an attentiveness to sound (as there is with the other poets I listed), a sustained lyricism that might be intuitive or might be deliberately composed. There are shifting aural links, delicious and subtle shifts in sound that create harmonious chords. This is pleasurable — to read from ‘shock’ to ‘corral.’ There is sweet, compounding alliteration: ‘The shiny summer window sentences / stands to think.’ Or the way this ‘sound’ is caught in an aural fishnet with that ‘sound’: ‘swishing     looking with a     room/ the wall/ by day, and glistening.’ Phrases leap out at you and stick (whether musically or semantically): ‘People are the whole house.’ Words echo, again in semantic and musical ripples. For example, red. You move from red pills to red-like coals to red mouth to red dates.

Daisy is like a cypher, a puzzle. Is she the buried girl of the poet, the narrating-I? Or a white board to absorb memory in all its frailty and strength?

At intervals, there are luminous photographs that seem lifted from the past. Deep-set, colour images with a tangible sheen like lush memory pockets. They serve as a perfect metaphor for the writing. Lisa has served memory with a tangible sheen that attains poignancy, momentum, and audible lyricism. I can’t think of a single ‘anti’ word that suits my reading of this astonishing book. The final photograph (now black and white) is a baby on hands and knees looking at him or herself in a mirror. The surprise. The puzzlement. The mystery. The magic. The self discovery that is never complete, distorted yet vital.

In this book (however you choose to define it will depend upon your passage as a reader), the words are indeed keen. No cutting edge here though — instead a liveliness, an attentiveness to shades of change, a quickness. This luminous book represents the swoop and soar of memory through noise, silence, presence, absence, nostalgia, joy, interruption, love, longing, forgetting. The key undercurrent, and the one that keeps you attached to each line, is that this poet writes out of an unflagging and infectious love of words. For me, the gap (the omission, the white space, the ringing silence) transforms interrupted narrative into poetry.

Chax Press page

Rob McLennan’s interview

Spain Journey at ka mate ka ora

Shearsman Books page

epc at Buffalo page

nzepc Tapa Notebook page