Wednesday, April 15, 2015


In the small collection of poetry books on my shelves is Dear Heart, a book of 150 New Zealand poems by many poets about the things that love is, and some of the ways that we can know it. They date from the 1930s to the present and while some are romantic, none can be called mushy. Like the song says, love is all around. It takes many shapes, comes in many moods. It can be fleeting and ephemeral or constant and reliable. It can overwhelm the unwary, ebb away unnoticed, grow and change like the seasons.

There are poems to make you linger, and poems to skim through and, unexpectedly, return to because they have stirred a memory or an insight. The New Zealand landscape is here, as the light in the background, or nudging forward as the focal point, demanding to be noticed. There is beauty of course, and the prosaic, like Sam Hunt's Letter Home: "row out and catch the tide, / our blue dinghy stacked with beer; / ride the drift whichever way / as long as that long tide and half / the cold brown bottles last; / don't fear you'll ever be lost."

Some are deceptively simple, as though any one of us could have written them, given a shaft of sunlight or a glimpse of a swan on water. But of course we couldn't have, it only looks easy.  Some are almost narratives, like Fiona Kidman's The Ngaio Tree, which begins: "So here come the kids, skidding their school bags / across the floor, blazers flung awry on the chairs ..." and takes us back with the old ngaio tree to those who played in its branches or gathered beneath it.

Others seem like fragments, only a couple of lines but perfectly formed. There are poems that make me smile, like Harry Ricketts' Free Fall, recalling a telephone conversation that ends with an unexpected intergenerational about-turn. There are one or two that puzzled me, even when explained, but that's alright, poems should make us think, and these do. Some are almost jolly, like the tumpety-tum of Kevin Ireland's The Wish: "She asked me what / I might desire / her flesh, her mind / her eyes of fire?" while others bury their rhythms in lyrical lines that look like prose.

The New Zealand voice is clear as a bellbird throughout this book, as in Diana Bridge's Life Eternal, here in its entirety, with the cheery down-home Kiwi-ness of the last line:  "the silver of / his whistling / her singing / from the kitchen / Schubert's Impromptu / though neither / knew it /  life eternal / good as."

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