01 October 2014

Paradise Pasifika

David Eggleton
Waha: Mouth, by Hinemoana Baker (Victoria University Press, 2014), 64 pp., $25; Dark Sparring, by Selina Tusitala Marsh (Auckland University Press, 2013), 98 pp. (with CD), $28; The Art of Excavation, by Leilani Tamu (Anahera Press, 2014), 80 pp., $25; The Bond of Time: An Epic Love Poem, by John Puhiatau Pule (Canterbury University Press, 2014), 88 pp., $25

The South Pacific is not one thing; it’s pluralistic, multi-layered, a site where ideologies intersect and cultures clash. For those who inhabit its archipelagoes, it’s a matrix of specific memories, genealogies and responsibilities. Four New Zealand poets of Polynesian heritage in their most recent poetry books write about the South Pacific as central to their identity; and though they write in individual styles and convey personal insights and perceptions, they share many motifs, drawn from mythology, history, the beach, island flora and fauna, voyaging and ocean currents. And all refer either directly or obliquely to ‘Oceania’ – the concept proposed in the mid-1990s by the Tongan writer and teacher Epeli Hau‘ofa, advocating an ‘oceanic identity’ for Pasifika peoples, who have always been joined by rather than separated by the sea. Belonging to ‘a sea of islands’ creates a contemporary regional identity that begins as an ancient myth of origin and generates a world of metaphor.

Sleuthing Through The Layers

versions cover image
Jan Kemp
Versions and Translations, by Bill Direen, (Kilmog Press, 2014), edition of 53 numbered copies, unpaginated, $35

Bill Direen gives us no hints as to the reasons for his eclectic (you might say ‘motley’ in the best sense of the word) selection/collection of ‘incomparable originals’ of the ‘highly charged short poem from classical times to the present’, except that he was ‘greatly taken’ by translations of European language poetry in his youth. We must assume then, that these chosen for his own ‘responses, mirror versions in [his] native (New Zealand) English’ are among his favourites. Grouping them, what might we then learn about Direen’s own poetic style? 


cloudboy cover
James Norcliffe
Cloudboy, by Siobhan Harvey, (Otago University Press, 2014), 80 pp., $25

Cloudboy comes with excellent references. It won the 2013 Kathleen Grattan Award and some of the poems were runners up in the 2012 Meanjin Dorothy Porter Poetry Prize and the 2012 Kevin Ireland Poetry Competition.
It is not difficult to see why. Cloudboy is a sustained and passionate account of the stresses, frustrations and more occasionally rewards of an autistic child’s developing interaction with the world, especially with the world of early education.
The poems together give a mosaic of this process by invoking the extended metaphor – perhaps the term should be pataphor – of cloud in its various manifestations for her son and his situation. (A pataphor is defined as an extended metaphor that goes well beyond mere ornamentation to take on a life of its own. The concept derives from the ideas of the French symbolist Alfred Jarry).

Impressions of Ireland in Consecutive Days of Rain

Siobhan Harvey
Gathering Evidence, by Caoilinn Hughes (Victoria University Press, 2014), 60 pp., $28;
Page Stone Leaf, by Dinah Hawken (Holloway Press, 2013), 36 pp., $350

Like any form of narrative, a poem is a journey: of ideas, form, shape, language and music. In the same manner that a novel might take us back into history to refresh and reanimate the peoples and times, so too a poem. Just as a nonfiction work examines the social, historic, personal, familial and emotional impact of booze upon our lives, so too a poem. We live in a time when our Literature has deepened in its voices, its output, the number of its practitioners and its geographical reach, not to mention its success in scooping major international awards. For too long we have been told that Poetry is the weak relative, the black sheep of the book world, though audience attendance at literary festival events flourishes and collections regularly appear on the Top 10 New Zealand Booksellers charts. A new collection, Gathering Evidence by Caoilinn Hughes, recently announced as a finalist in the Poetry Category of the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards, and a fresh book, Page Stone Leaf, by well-established poet Dinah Hawken, not only prove the vitality of contemporary New Zealand poetry but also how verse in Aotearoa can take the reader on an excursion just as fulfilling as any of our novels or our nonfiction books.  

The Great Tongue of the Pacific

citizen of santiago cover
Denys Trussell
Citizen of Santiago, by Gregory O’Brien with photographs by Bruce Foster, (Trapeze, Wellington, 2013), 40 pp., $20; Ruby Duby Du, by Elizabeth Smither, (Cold Hub Press, Lyttelton 2014), 40 pp., $19.50; The Speak House, by David Howard, (Cold Hub Press, Lyttelton 2014), 44 pp., $19.50.

Another country. It’s our nearest mainland neighbour to the east. Chile. One with which we share marked geographical and botanical affinities. It is now regaining a civil society, the wounds of the Pinochet regime slowly healing. Two New Zealanders are in Santiago with an exhibition from Te Papa about the ecology of the Kermadec Islands. One, the photographer Bruce Foster, is drawing a bead on the visible Chile, but reaching well below the surface of the image. The other, poet-curator Gregory O’Brien, is writing the social text.

That’s My Big Brother You’re Talking About

The families cover
Michael Morrissey
The Families, by Vincent O’Sullivan, (Victoria University Press, 2014), 251 pp., $35

Vincent O’Sullivan is arguably our most versatile literary writer. He is one of our most gifted and reliable poets and in recognition of his poetic prowess, he is the current poet laureate. He may well be our finest short story writer after Owen Marshall; he is also author of the notable play Shuriken and one of our major editors of various literary collections. Active as a novelist and critic, he has also written a biography of John Mulgan. That only leaves librettos for opera. And flash fiction – not, one suspects, for the not-so-flashy O’Sullivan. In an age which is increasingly addicted to shallow forms of writing such as social media and the shamelessly chatty blogs that read like the diary entries of fame-smitten teenagers, not to mention the sub-literate telegraphese of blog comments – contemporary modes that in my view ask little of our acumen – an O’Sullivan story requires alertness and concentration to engage with its richness.

A Quick Spray of Rescue Remedy

the demolition of the century cover
Tasha Haines
The Demolition of the Century, by Duncan Sarkies (Penguin, 2013), 408 pp., $30

Tom Spotswood (a.k.a. William McGinty) is an insurance investigator who has lost his socks, his suitcase, his career, his ex-wife and, most importantly, his son, Frank.
He is being followed by Robert Valentine, the mysterious owner of the horse with no sperm; Alastair Shook and his van of teenage guards; and Spud, a demolition man who is using his wrecking ball to bring down the most beautiful movie theatre in town, the Century.
To find his son Tom will have to come to terms with his past – a past he ran away from. But first he will have to find those socks.

… So goes the blurb on the back cover of The Demolition of the Century by Duncan Sarkies, and after reading that blurb, you might expect a lot of laugh-out-loud material and a rather concise and snappy wee comedic romp – I did. 

Great Lost Moments

I believe you are a star cover
James Dignan
I Believe You Are a Star, by Peter McLennan, (Dunbar Noon Publishing, 2013), 202 pp., $19.95

Magazine interviews have power and poignancy. The power comes from their immediacy; articles are read soon after being written, and interviewees express their thoughts of the moment, uncluttered by the weight of future events. The poignancy comes from their ephemerality; articles are written, presented, and then lost – often forever – and events roll on to consign the interviewees’ hopes and fears to dust.
It shows the respect to which New Zealand rock music is quickly becoming accustomed that there are authors willing to perform the cultural archaeology necessary to preserve these articles. Yet there’s a problem: any book that collects such interviews reverses both their immediacy and ephemerality. A book is permanent, and any words expressed may become no longer relevant. It thus becomes a snapshot in time, both of the subject and of the interviewer.