Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Recent NZ Verse reviewd by Elizabeth Morton

The Blue Outboard
Nicholas Williamson
Black Doris Press

There’s something art naïf about ‘The Blue Outboard’. I say this, not as a pejorative. Nicholas Williamson is a master of childlike comprehension of the world and its colourful inhabitants. He disinters magic latent within the everyday.  Like the cover painting, and the two sumptuous colour plates that accompany the text, Williamson’s text is vivid in its sincerity. His world is a place of block colour and outline, where the animate and the inanimate interact. Often characters are framed by objects. Poems such as ‘Alone with a hoe’, and ‘Blue enamel colander’ resurrect the gestures of his parents, the focal objects acting as portals to a former time. The poetry that follows is emotionally nuanced and nostalgic, as from ‘Alone with a hoe’:
‘My father is standing beside me.
His words come out of my mouth.
He’s in my mirror each morning.
Sunflowers lean against his shed’.
Williamson toys with the sunshine and shadows of boyhood. The collection kicks off on a darker note, with a poem titled ‘My father was a hare’, which tells an origin story – ‘I came from the Devil’s seed’. Skeletons from the familial closet are exhumed, but also delicately rendered. There are small moments where a quirk of perspective is loaded with melancholy– ‘In the rear vision/ mirror, my mother/ getting smaller’. Other times a discrete sensation transmogrifies into something expansive: ‘splitting pine / I smell / the whole forest’. These micropoems are some of Williamson’s most evocative.
‘The Blue Outboard’ is poetry that doesn’t play at obscurity. In an interview with Ruth Todd, Williamson states that he wants to write poetry that ‘ordinary people can enjoy’. But there are twists to his text, subtle nudgings towards incidents and emotions that belie the collection’s ostensible simplicity.
Williamson is a visual artist, as much as he is a writer. His imagery reflects his attention to the optical world. The simile in his poem, ‘Climbing the flame tree’, is particularly vivid:
‘We climbed a flame
tree to watch the moon
spread like tinfoil
to Rangitoto.’

Transit of Venus / Venustransit
Hinemoana Baker, Ulrike Almut Sandig, Glenn Colquhoun, Uwe Kolbe, Brigette Oleschinski, Chris Price
Victoria University Press $30.00

‘You can’t look directly at it, man’ – Hinemoana Baker

Philosophers, poets, and wanderers have long been preoccupied by the celestial. In 1769 Captain James Cook voyaged to the Pacific to view one of the rarest of predictable celestial phenomena - the transit of Venus.
In June 2012 Venus again made its appearance - a black spot moving across the face of the Sun. Six poets, from New Zealand and from Germany, met in Tolaga Bay to witness the event, and to describe their experiences in poetry.
The culminating work is a generous offering, with colour plates, an interview, and appended notes. ‘Transit of Venus / Venustransit’ is a handsome polyglot - it speaks in German and English, and indeed a little Maori. Many poems are translated, and the translations are bidirectional. English poems are mirrored in German, and vice versa.
The poetry is segmented by author. Hinemoana Baker, Glenn Colquhoun and Chris Price make up the New Zealand grouping, while Ulrike Almut Sandig, Uwe Kolbe and Brigitte Oleschinski are the Germans. Hinemoana Baker opens the collection, with her sensual poem, ‘Taranga’s song’, :
‘I sleep with a stone, oh make a sound
of it    stone warms as I drift, soft’...

Each band of poems brings with it a distinct voice. Some of the poems confront the event of Venus’ transit head-on, while others invoke Goddesses and aliens and Maori demi-gods. There is a sense that the human observer is a minnow in the scheme of things. From Ulrike Almut Sandig:
‘sieh her: selbst wenn ich mich gar nicht bewege
dreht sich der Globus immer’

‘look: even if I don’t move at all
the globe always turns’

However slight our galactic presence, on this occasion the stars (and, here, planets) have aligned. The next Transit of Venus will not occur until 2117. As Chris Price describes:

‘The goddess won’t
be back this way for a century
or so, but just now she is at home
on every isle. We seize the day’

About the reviewer:
Elizabeth Morton is a writer and sometimes student from Auckland's North Shore. In her free time she collects obscure words in supermarket bags. She has been published in Poetry NZTakaheJAAMBlackmail PressMeniscusShot Glass Journal, PRISM: International, Cordite, Flash Frontier and Smokelong Quarterly. In 2013 she was winner of the New Voices, Emerging Poets competition. She was shortlisted for the Kathleen Grattan Award (2015) and was 2nd place in the Sunday Star Times Short Story Competition (2015).

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