Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Reviews of Recent New Zealand Poetry by Elizabeth Morton
Otago University Press
The Conch Trumpet is a euphonious catalogue of artefact and myth, popculture and natural science. Moving through coastline to swampland to cityscape, Eggleton takes us on a giddying romp. Everything makes his poetical inventory - chimpanzees, neutrinos, spiderman, moa and life coaches. Eggleton's reach is expansive. This is the world spread-eagled on a page - Hokitika to Manhattan, Cook Strait to San Francisco.
In this there is divine revelation and bathos. Eggleton points to the stars one moment and inspects roadkill the next. He sweeps by the Guggenheim then landmines, observes glitter in one breath, and maggots in the next. The world is at once ghastly and beautiful. The world is crawling with things.
The Conch Trumpet is musical and heady. 'Church bells clang ... there's distant stammers of revving engines ... melody soughing in the windbreak trees'. Words shoot in quick-fire, but there is more here to chomp than mere sing-song and word-salad.
There is storytelling and satire, travelogues and landscapes. Eggleton is the poet as polymath. His work compelled me to scroll through Wikipedia, with search terms like 'syzygy' and 'Guangdong'. And indeed Wikipedia too ('Wikipedia of the self'), makes Eggleton's inventory, along with Facebook and 'crowd-sourcing'. The Conch Trumpet rocks us back and forward in time. From the primordial mythology of Maui, to the dystopian 'Age of Terror' where the 'mind is a search engine' and the internet is praised as religion.
Eggleton's imagery is arresting and multisensory, especially in the more terrestrial poems. In the poem 'Hydrangeas' the flowers are described as 'Delicate as grace-notes, tough as wicker-knots. / Gathered to empurpled perms'. In another poem, 'Sunday's Song', 'dry stalks rustle in quiet field prayer; / bracken spores seed dusk's brown study'.
This is the stuff of magic.
Auckland University Press
As its title suggests, Otherwise deals in counterfactuals. Dennison shines a torchlight down roads not taken. He perches with us at the juncture between one path and the next. Dennison's world is a system of 'throughput and outcome'. There is 'switch-flicking' and dithering at the elbow of worlds. There are doings and undoings - the 'road unwound', lines ‘unconverging’, steps retraced.
Otherwise is careful but not clinical. There is sentiment without it reading as sentimental. Dennison finds love in the quotidian. Love ambushes us from unexpected places -'Love, I never looked to find us here' and 'strangely love has appeared to us'. And love is a multifarious thing. Otherwise brings Agápe, Éros, Philia and Storge to play in his verse. There is the 'love-cast father', lovers in the garden, and the 'decentred love' of a 'boy-grown-man (who) still wants his father's yes'.
This is poetry with meat on the bones. Dennison has offered up a poetic engastration. There are layers to be picked through, and references to a rich literary history, from Dylan Thomas to Seamus Heaney, and locals - Eileen Duggan, Bethell, Baxter and Curnow. God is here too, tucked between colloquialisms, in a playful but philosophical poem ‘After Geering’ – ‘Hell-oh! Like, / my God why have you like, / forsaken me’.
Otherwise straddles the line between the ordinary and the metaphysical. But bridging these qualities is a tender humanity, an honesty, a restrained sense of the absurd.
There are occasions where I feel Dennison’s reader may slip from the semantic trail. That is because there is a certain nebulous quality to some of the poems, and an assumption of a world-knowledge that may surpass its reader. But Dennison knows how to return his audience to the scent - The imagery is magnificent and the form is tight and varied.
With images such as the 'acupuncture of light', 'the flensing of waves', 'the hills, their sodden bales as they slump', Dennison puts forward a world which is as aesthetically potent as it is philosophical.