Bob Orr, One Hundred Poems and a Year Steele Roberts, 2018
Consider this book of mine
as if it were a rucksack
containing what you might need
if you were to step outside your door.
There are poems heavily knitted
as fisherman’s jerseys
in case you should find yourself
all at sea. (…)
Bob Orr was born in the Waikato. He worked as a seafarer on Waitematā Harbour for 38 years and now lives in a cottage on the Thames Coast. In 2016 he received the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for Poetry and in 2017 was the Writer in Residence at the University of Waikato where he wrote most of One Hundred Poems and a Year, his ninth collection.
The book looks gorgeous – beautiful cover design with an oxygenated font and layout inside. Everything has room to breathe. Barry Lett’s exquisite drawing of ‘Blue Flowers’ on the cover is revisited in a poem.
Because sometimes you
remind me of a Catalan fisherman
these are the blue flowers of the Mediterranean
With a felt-tip pen
bought in a supermarket
one day you created myriad blue stems
from ‘A vase of blue flowers’ for Barry Lett
The poems are equally full of air and verve. The opening poem, ‘Rucksack’, is a perfect entry point as it likens the collection to a rucksack you might take with you for the day. We can expect poems we might shower with; that favour the casualness of jandals, the toughness of tramping boots, bare feet. The poem’s final image flipped me. Bob’s poetry moves through the air, out in the complicated, beautiful world and then underlines human vulnerability with the final line’s ‘bare feet’:
I wrote them while walking down a road with bare feet.
The collection is steeped in the sea: you will find boats, sea birds, ocean harvests and harbours as Bob travels by land and by ocean. He travels in the present time and he travels back through the past, gathering in friends and places, other poets, beginnings and endings. Poetry, the writing and reading of it, is ever present as the world becomes a page, a script to be read, a poem to be crafted.
I mention the containers
of the Maersk Hamburg Sud or P&O Line
if only because my autobiography
or even this poem
and the cargo it must carry
would be incomplete without them.
There is death and endings; there is marriage and beginnings.
This evening I fly back
a delta-winged moth
my sadness like moondust
my night vision glowing like an infra-red camera
a stranger to these parts
gliding between the bittersweet shadows of apartments
to enter again if only I could find them
the strawberry fields that were said to be forever.
How many times and for what purpose
did we have to break
from ‘A woman in red slacks’
I missed this book when it came out last year – and it is such a treasure. The fluid lines at times feel like the arc of a bird drifting across the sky and at other times draw upon the ebb and flow of the sea – always beautifully measured. Poetry has so many effects upon us – reading this book the effects are both multiple and satisfying. It comes down to music, intimacy and exquisite reflection, and an engagement with the world that matters. I love this book.
Steele Roberts author page