Wry observations, Alison Parr

Kapiti Poems Five
Rawhiti Press, Pukerua Bay, 1990, $15

Archipelago, The Ocean Soliloquies
Denys Trussell,
Hudson/ Cresset Publishing, Auckland, 1991, $17.95

Koenraad Kuiper,
One Eyed Press, Waikanae, 1990, $15

Kapiti Poems Five is a sturdy collection stemming largely from people who live and work on the West Coast north of Wellington, the fifth anthology from this source. Newcomers among the forty-six contributors are in good company. Alistair Campbell, Lauris Edmond, and Louis Johnson are here too. Age is no barrier to inclusion; fifteen-year-old Alex Wishart reveals a maturity of observation. In ‘Grandpa Pours my Coca-Cola’, we watch with him, as an old man’s hands refuse to be overcome by the ‘ribbed metal’ of a bottle top:

Pretending unconcern, we chat
Ears strained for the snap
Of the lid’s weak crack
It comes, triumphantly
The fizzing liquid fills the glass.
The old hands have not lost
Their grip on life.

Patricia Murphy’s poems successfully convey the reflection possible from more advanced years, as in ‘Bearings’:

The red flash of anger faded winters ago:
leaving only the slight stink of fox
to slink back at unlikely moments
in backwashes of indiscreet nostalgia.

As if speaking for many writers in this collection, it is Meg Campbell, in ‘White Winding Sheet’, who conveys the stabilising effect of writing poetry. She describes ‘the old fears/ thoughts circling like vultures even within the intimate god-cell of one’s self’ and of the compulsion to confront and thereby vanquish them.

For poets like Meg Campbell this ‘ordering’ is elegant and controlled. Not all the writers in Kapiti Poems Five have yet achieved the ability thus to construct their ideas. It may be that a little more stringent editing of the next collection will overcome this unevenness.

Archipelago, The Ocean Soliloquies is described as a long poem/ sequence. The ‘symphonic space’ of the Pacific Ocean and its islands provides a focus for Denys Trussell’s more global considerations of the relationship between humanity and nature. Structured in three parts, the sequence first takes us from the geological conception of the islands in and around the Pacific, to the arrival of humankind – ‘God‑canoes deep cargoed/ with names’ in ‘A sea without steel/ swept by myth’. Then come the Spanish explorers of the new world, including the conquistadores.

Inevitably, the ‘City of entropy,/ cement tenement’ peopled by the ‘treacherous/ men of serge’ follows in this trail of destructive human intervention; and all the time:

the sea
with its judgements
of moisture and salt,
its flotsam of oil and blood.

The writer’s insistent concern for ecology dominates these Ocean Soliloquies. Images of the destructive outcomes of human confrontation with nature are eloquently evoked. But at the same time, there is acknowledgement of the renewal possible through imagination, symbolism, and myth. Although a sequence, this work can also be seen as a collection of individual poems; part of its strength is their potential to stand alone, as well as together.

In Mikrokosmos Koenraad Kuiper provides us with wry observations on both the intimate and public aspects of life. With humour and irony he addresses our common experiences, from taking disprin – ‘… parental pill-popping/ is best kept under silver wraps’ (in ‘Events in Middle Age’) to filling out a tax form – ‘heading for the TO PAY slash REFUND’ (in ‘Dear H and R’). Beneath this lightness of touch, however, is awareness of a vulnerability in many of our relationships. It is the juxtaposition of the two which makes this collection satisfying.


Alison Parr is a Wellington journalist.


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