Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 126 in 2011.
new new zealand poetry
Edited by Mark Pirie
(The Night Press, Wellington, New Zealand)
Review by Anna Mockler
You discover it where you least expect it
Poets are disenfranchised, strange growths on the trees, alien to their people. Not the poets of New Zealand. They are the singing voice of their islands, who sing in higher key the plainchant of the people, in love with their physical place, in thrall to it. The Australian and Pacific tectonic plates straddle the two largest islands like double pincers, moving past and towards each other, regularly convulsing the land. The Alpine Fault that ridgelines the north island is rife with active volcanoes. All this? Part of the donnée. The poets live between volcanic mountain-knives and the dark blue sea. The air they breathe is sliced by the peaks, freshed by salt. This is the air you inhale on reading these poets’ work.
Broadsheet / 6 was published in Wellington, on a harbor shaped by forefinger touching thumb, narrow outlet, on the northern of the pincer-straddled islands, where the poets have come together to honor Alistair Paterson in a small staple-bound book that resounds with love — can we say this? in 2011 with all we know, can we say this? These New Zealand poets do not ask what is it but walk along the sands, singing the songs that lie mute in other throats, From this high Pacific hill, my love / let me show you the world, Or they sail out over the water, heeling as they pass the knife-lands, Kawau’s just a blue line on the horizon. Rakino Passage / takes us, the tide is with us, the breeze freshens / over Motutapu. Or they canter along the sands in three-beat stanzas, we would cry / a dry lament / for sandy cousins // who never knew / the blaze of oxygen / the softness of a lake calling in their often strange voices, a Sunday in August and a late night hoolie at Tuwhare’s place. / Plenty of kai and even the pungent mutton-birds, but the booze / fast running out, inviting the sailing poets home.
They are loath to fix their minds on what’s eternal, loath to lose a world where the names of mountains and islands, inlets and archipelagos, are dear to them as breath. There’s something about it / about the rock, the way / it juts out from the sea / blocks out the beach // & gives voice to all that’s / happened here This small world, the great; day follows day and they are here, in that place, enormous forces rousing their lyric powers, a small boat / … hauling in its // latest catch. Is it the same with poetry? / It seems, as you say, a poem’s ‘medium’ / can be the ‘message’, yet they’re always there waiting / to be caught by those travelling that vast blue.
The landscape’s what’s eternal. The people have passed on / but not the ferns, flowers: / magnolia, bougainvillea, manuka. // The people have passed on / but not the shrubbery, trees: / kauri, rimu, golden elm. Our brief lives are best spent in celebration, some delirium, forsaking any careful manicure of life the land gives rise to, for In the wings the dark / scythe silently waits, beyond / mere mortals attempts at control.
Siobhan Harvey’s essay on Alistair Paterson in this book says, “For New Zealand poetry, the world changed somewhere between pages 48 and 49 of Birds Flying [Paterson, 1973, Landfall 109].” An earthquake, a cataclysmic event, a shift; two tectonic plates rubbing and sliding past each other. The living world looks at itself in a true mirror. An extraordinary event changes everything suddenly. Daily bread and butter for these poets of New Zealand.
& there’s / nothing more that needs to be said / of shimmering stars / or winter skies — of what they / & the moonlight share.