by Ian Wedde
This handsome collection represents a very small part of Ian Wedde’s poetry career, a career which began in 1971. He doesn’t say exactly what prompted this collection at this time, but his remarks in the introduction give us a good idea:
“Not a few poems have been written about the passing of time and it’s good that they can make sense of that craziness, but often it’s better when they refuse to. I like it when language messes up the orderly sequentiality of time passing, the trustworthiness of grammar’s timetables, the reliability of rational thought – and especially the self as centred meaning-maker.” He continues: “I enjoy the ways in which language can be our co-conspirator in subverting the too-predictable meeting of the sign with its meaning or referent – can encourage our scepticism of the over-confident mot juste and its denial of the carnivalesque.” [p x]
Given this for starters, it’s no surprise that the collection ranges over many poetic styles and registers. The long “Letter to Peter McLeavey” cites Basho for style and plays with labels, as might well be appropriate for an art gallery mindset:
The ‘Sahara’, the ‘Oasis’,
the ‘Chateau Suisse’
and the ‘Tasty Thai’. [p 235]
Earlier, the “Commonplace Odes” sequence greets the muse, absent friends, dogs, and the poet’s own mirror in a distant hotel room – Horace channelling Allen Ginsberg [sic, since time is weird]:
How gravely my weight wants to go to earth,
Tagged down by good living, by love,
And by spiteful tiredness brought on by the knuckle-
Cracking Cotton Mathers of cultural bureaucracy. [p 189]
This series of odes is the centre of the book. It calls upon a range of people, inspirations, episodes in the poet’s life – and, above all, the classical tradition which influences so many of the poems included here.
Poems published in his 2013 collection “The Lifeguard” seem to celebrate individuals, personalities, who have made a difference to Wedde, people who matter(ed). He begins the sequence “You have to start somewhere/in these morose times,” (p 278). Then he invokes Theocritus, Ovid, “my great-grandfather Heinrich August”, Helen Schofield, veterinarian, Geoff Park, ecologist, Bill Culbert, artist – all building up to the final “Shadow stands up”. The earlier poems mention individuals, but I get the feeling they are there to serve a purpose, not to be celebrated in their own right.
The collection has a wide range of styles and formats – no limericks or terza rima epics, but just about everything in between. It’s a fine introduction to the poetry of a New Zealand writer.
Author: Ian Wedde
Publisher: Auckland University Press
ISBN: 978 1 86940 859 6