Monday, May 24, 2010

Sleepwalking in Antarctica
Owen Marshall
Canterbury University Press - $25

Owen Marshall is best known of course for his superb short stories, but he is also the
author of three novels, one of which, Harlequin Rex, won the Deutz Medal
for Fiction in the 2000 Montana New Zealand Book Awards, and a poetry
collection, Occasional: Fifty Poems, published in 2004. Marshall has held fellowships at Canterbury and Otago universities and in Menton, France.
In 2000 he received the ONZM for Services to Literature and in 2002 was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters by the University of Canterbury, where he is an adjunct professor.

His publishers have kindly given me permission to reporduce two of his poems here including the poem from which the collection takes its title.Marshall was one of the Antarctica New Zealand Arts Fellows earlier this year.

Sleepwalking in Antarctica
Four to a bunk room here.
Close familiarity of strangers.
The hairiness of the good-humoured
geologist is remarked on in his absence.
During the fifth night
the tall mechanic rises with
assurance, not to the lavatory, but
to wander the narrow and secure corridors.
He talks quiet nonsense
as he sleepwalks in perpetual
day. I find him standing before a
snibbed door to the ice. Maybe in the
white world on the other
side, close but invisible, waits
Captain Titus Oates, also dreaming.
He must have come a long way by now.

Speaking Volumes
My literary friends wear satin jackets
and are full of their own opinions.
They bear titles along stiff spines
yet can themselves turn over a new leaf.
So they are my reliable confidants
always patient, at my beck and call.
They have long memories, rich minds
and never once go back on their words.

This fine new collection of poetry, Owen Marshall’s second, is rich in the themes
and preoccupations that have made his short stories and novels so admired.
Here are wise, elegiac poems on love and loss, longing and regret, and ageing;
beautifully observed, affectionate poems about the New Zealand countryside,
where ‘ clear cold barking comes from miles away ’; sly and sharply witty poems
about human frailty (‘ Death’s an old joke, the Russian said/but comes to each of
us as a surprise ’); poems that look back to a distant past whose inhabitants were
‘much the same as you and me ’, all expressed in language that is superbly balanced
and finely judged.

The book was launched at UBS Canterbury recently. Picshows author (right) with UBS supremo Philip King.

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