AUP New Poets 7
by Rhys Feeney, Ria Masae, Claudia Jardine
Anna Jackson (ed)
AUP have done it again, and well done: tonight’s concert, ably conducted by Anna Jackson, begins with Rhys Feeney’s ‘soy boy’, an active and energetic word explosion on being awake in the world. Ria Masae’s ‘What She Seees from Atop the Mauga’ is more internal, going back and forth from Aotearoa to Samoa. Claudia Jardine’s ‘The Temple of Your Girl’ builds on classical references, giving us a wide-ranging group of personalities.
Rhys Feeney goes from extreme to extreme, carrying on his back a huge (but not rejected) weight of awareness and the possibility of awareness, using wonderful images:
be a good patriot & eat a kilo of cheese with weet-bix
drink milk from a deforested plantation in brazil
or cowmilk from a waikato farm that runs right into the river
while the CEO of fonterra gets a salary of $1.95 million
put a chicken in the oven
where they have the most space they’ve had in their entire life
get on the bus to go to work
thank the driver think they look tired
‘the world is at least fifty percent terrible’ (p3)
He uses quite a few weight images throughout the selections here, many in ‘brutalism’ (p19):
… every year we pour
enough concrete to/ cover every maunga and fill in every
awa in the north island/ and that after water it is the most used
substance in the world …
Throughout the heaviness and the awareness, there is a huge and (in the poems) endless reservoir of vitality that Feeney is speaking out of; I am glad to see that someone who looks at the world like this is a schoolteacher.
Ria Masae makes it clear from the very beginning who she is talking about and who she is talking to: her voice is powerful, describing people but certainly not expecting anyone else to enter into the conversation. ‘Saipipi, Savai‘i, Samoa’ – the first poem in ‘What She Sees from Atop the Mauga’ – starts out:
Nana Se’ela asked me once
‘E ke mana’o fai sau malu?’
i turned to her, my makas widening in shock
i gazed down at the jellyfish, seagulls and crosses
under the stars
tattooed around her thighs
in my Samoglish I questioned
‘me? Aa ā Mum?’ …
and answers the question in a way that makes sense to the two of them, with no concession to the reader, who is either already in the in-group or is simply an outsider.
i tilted my face up to the stars
that were more familiar to me
than the ones on Samoan thighs,
without turning to her, i answered
‘Leai fa‘afetai, Nana.’ (p29)
The streets of Auckland, evil lodestar of the Pacific, are crowded with the downcast and the damned. The powerful ‘SkyCity Scraps’ (pp40-41) speaks of one ‘nomad, a no-man’ who thought he was ‘still in cruise control’ – but now, he
has become one of the nameless.
He is but one rusted nail amongst thousands
on that discarded cross.
The setting sun colours the road ahead
a deep shade of sorrow.
Claudia Jardine speaks in a variety of voices. ‘The Flower Crown of Sulpicia’ is a retranslation of six short Latin poems by a first-century BCE poet who has recently been rediscovered. Each poem comes from a different mood: kick-ass triumph, petulant adolescent, “be nice to me, I’m suffering”, or regret. Jardine then assigns a contemporary voice to each:
Love has come such Love such Love
more shame in stashing blushes
than being famous for getting naked
put in my pocket
‘Sulpicia 3.13 – Etta James’ (p63)
Or on an unwelcome birthday jaunt:
why was I even born?
to be spent in abusive country
trite in its lack of Cerinthus
(“Sulpicia 3.14 – Stevie Nicks’)
Jardine’s ear for sounds and her vivid imagery are evident throughout the selections. ‘High Functioning’ (p71):
I’m being eaten by my feelings
face down in the mud
like a farmer with a brain aneurysm
surrounded by piglets
face down in the mud
nudged and kneaded
hither! the scoffing piglets
fat pheasant flushed from the thicket
nudged and kneaded
tossed mid-air between kārearea
flat present smushed under a winglet ...
Her Orpheus poem, ‘Eurydice & the No/ or How Eurydice Died of Negligence and a Phonetic Misunderstanding’ (pp84-86) shows us ‘Something to know about the Grecian language,/ and the fauna of the mainland’, a lot more action and interest than the bare bones of the myth generally show us.
So there’s Auckland University Poets 7 – and what’s not to like? Roll on, volume 8...
Author: Rhys Feeney, Ria Masae, Claudia Jardine. Anna Jackson 9ed)
Publisher: Auckland University Press
ISBN: 978 1 86940 921 0