by Anna Jackson
Why don’t more people read poetry? I’ve always felt, as a voracious reader, that poetry has the habit of deliberately disconnecting us from itself, as if there’s more merit in being cleverer than the reader, to bamboozle us, to confuse us and though these are, sometimes, worthy goals in themselves, there needs to be a connection. Poetry struggles to connect with people who have little in the way of literary education.
Honest acknowledgment first. This is my first review and I was intimidated by the educational achievements of the poet and thought seriously about not even attempting to review her work but after the panic faded, I realised the poet is the most capable person to analyse and critique her own work with a view to literary merit. She’s asking me to review it solely as a reader, an everyday person. So that’s what this is. I won’t mention each poem, only those that had a strong impact positively or not.
Part One: ‘I had a dream I was a ghost’: six sequences
The first part of this book had me reaching for the nearest research tool, Professor Google. For example: Who is/was Mayakovsky? I spent most of Part One finding references to the named writers, some I knew only by name, some as a reader of their works, but every time I was confronted by the unfamiliar, I researched, came back and had to try and rediscover the flow. I wasn’t captivated enough to go back and re-read so up to page 41 the poetry merely happened with the occasional connection. I loved the first stanza, The sun performs the introduction, for example, and gave myself a pat on the back for recognising the deliberate misquote of Oscar Wilde –
Now we are all flying in the gutter
though some of us are looking at the cars.
Also loved the first stanza under I am reacquainted with the furry fish of fraud. Little else remained though.
As I move through the pages I am only an audience member. I’m not taken inside and rarely travel with the writer. I am watching, sometimes in the same room, sometimes through a window and once or twice the window was firmly shut. There are moments of sudden, startling clarity. Page 21 – ‘They weren’t kids’, the General replied. And after the deliberate, understated domesticity and ordinariness of place this slap of cruelty and aggression was poignant, and hurt.
Poet: I loved the last two lines so much I went back and re-read this poem. It became one of my favourites. Bomber Star seemed so closed off in its referencing that I was completely excluded. This was a firmly shut window. Party: I enjoyed the playful, girlish naughtiness.
The Gas Leak intrigued and interested me. Nice, wide open window here, letting in light and a warmth lacking from other offerings.
From I, Clodia: The rhythm, the imagery, so much to enjoy here. A stand-out from Like a flock of birds the laughter which has lingered with me –
I would not ever wish to see my daughter
stand as I have stood, still
as if stitched into/a pose of despair.
I find myself wishing the poet had begun the book with these poems because it was from Page 42 that I felt she was writing to share.
Part Two: ‘Time to hold on to the leash.’
Lots to enjoy, moments to re-read and consider. I mention the ones I enjoyed and got the most out of: Micky the fox terrier at the zoo. Zina at the zoo. Takahe. The fish and I. It was an honour, John. Wondering how to see it. Amanda in the mirror. Roland on the outskirts – a favourite. Sylvia in the supermarket – the bitterness a sharp and lovely taste with a nicely weighted regretful, sad finish.
Part three: ‘From just behind her eyes’ New poems.
The cooking show. Office pastoral. Le Corbusier. To my hen-flock. Read and re-read this one. I think I like it? And I enjoy the question mark of that consideration the most. Reading Horace and thinking about Susan Sontag. A favourite. Late swim. Nothing is too wonderful to be true. Unspoken, at breakfast. Eleanor, on the beach. Radishes.
As I close the final page, having read the endnotes and acknowledgements I am asking myself that first question: ‘Why don’t more people read poetry?’ This book kind of answers that for me. I wish it had been put together differently so the poet’s humanity, warmth and insight were on view first, not her literary endeavour. If I’d picked this book up in a shop and read those first few pages, I‘d have replaced it and would therefore have missed out on the poetry from page 42. And that would have been a pity.
Overall, a classy, elegant offering of New Zealand poetry.
Author: Anna Jackson
Publisher: Auckland University Press