Dean Farran Productions, Christchurch, 1991, $12
Missing Parts: poems 1977-1990
Hazard Press, Christchurch, 1991, $19.95
Metaphysics for Fun
Dragonfly Press, Auckland, 1991, $15
Waiheke Art and Poetry
Pamela Reid (ed),
P O Box 202, Ostend, Waiheke Island, 1991
The Sorrow of Genghis Khan
Nagare Press, Palmerston North, 1991
CANT FIND REST ROOM
Nagare Press, Palmerston North, 1991
Les Giddens once blew up a quartz stamper and went to jail for it. Noreen Betts writes about her vibrator, and Sam Lessing is entirely underwhelmed by our poetic luminaries. These worthies in reeling consort with the likes of Eidel Rasmus, Sidonia Reapers and the thunderous Ulysses Thermodin fall together, fall about, introduce themselves and strut their stuff in a musty little compilation of the deepest drollery called Best Beakerful. The writing’s about as subtle as a D8, but the writers are certainly worth meeting. Especially Les. Dag of a book.
What, if nothing else, unites the Jolly Rhymesters of Beakerland is the belief in the plain fact of a world which can be approached directly and written about in plain English. So Alan Loney, to whom the poem is ‘an imperfect take on the world’ and for whom ‘writing is an unfinished and unfinishable business’, is precisely the sort of poet they would love to hate; and Missing parts: poems 1977-1990 precisely the sort of book responsible for their reactive banality.
Their exasperation is understandable, and when in his Preface Loney wheels in Samuel Beckett you begin to wonder what of the world, of poetry, can within such severe parameters survive. Persevere, dear reader. At its best Loney’s poetry has grace, a gravitas, a motion and a measure all its own. From Section 8, The Lyre suite:
death, at any time can come, and one/ time will. With all and every other thing/
taking place, as ever. A gull lifting off/ the cliff, mail arriving, shells blowing/
limbs apart, flowers opening. With what’s/ left, what to do? The slow-flighted/
hawk uses the speed of the magpie to/ misdirect the magpie’s dive, where/
the macrocarpa flails, gesticulated/ by the northerly. What was happening/
just before it came? Can you live with it?/ Will it tell you what to do? Now/
it beats with purpose, pushing, that round/ softness, that can and will come/
And if the Beakerfolk are not mollified by this, a better point of entry to the book is perhaps Section 2, a Great antiscorbutick, (i.e. limes for scurvy) where Loney plays to high comic effect, and with some haunting asides, with the antique quirkiness of Cook’s English:
Do not know the use of Iron/ the use of/
these, is to knock Men’s brains out/
all round the Compass/
whistling light Airs.
Is this a ‘difficult’ poet, or hath he fenced him round with fearsome Masters? Doubt the former, disregard the latter, and wander here.
Ross Fraser is an exclamatory fellow with a tendency to swoon over painters and to mistake short-line journalism for verse. But he wears his Classics lightly and takes us into the bright Hellenic world with much gusto and good humour. The Buried Sun is typical:
From the molten heart/ of a remote star/ crucible/
of our galaxy/ came all elements of earth/ trees rivers ancient rocks/
every living creature!/
Our planet too/ has fire in its belly./
And in the cosmos/ written small/
the body of Anthropos/ lives a buried sun!
It’s pleasing to find someone mining this particular vein but in the end Metaphysics for Fun falls foul of its high intentions. It lacks craft. In too many places rhymes clank and jangle, points are too heavily made and too often poems start out with some promise and peter out into the merely descriptive.
Waiheke Art and Poetry is indeed as Mike Johnson puts it in his Preface ‘a thoughtful, reflective volume’. Don Chapple, in his poem ‘Summer’ nicely catches the note of the compilation:
Summer swells the red and purple plum/ among a festival of leaves/
And about the Sun’s giving/ there is a huge and careless kindness.
Some fine paintings, too. Johanna Paul would have made the better cover.
No sun shines in Palmerston North. Bleak homilies and mid-air moral tables are the grey, grey fabric of The Sorrow of Genghis Khan by Jye Kang. Touched as I was here and there by his sad compassion and his cool appraisal of our not-so-wonderful selves, this for me was Hangover Sunday (and no purple balloon). Brrr.
Something of Masseytown seeps too into John Patterson’s CANT FIND REST ROOM. But this is a robust, original and thoroughly enjoyable volume: ‘cake shop open/ book shop shut/ wool shop open/ bank open soon/ cant find rest room/ …’ . It goes on like this, from A to Z, for 70 pages, as if a mechanical intelligence, (the poet’s computer?), were scanning with a kind of fascinated horror the landscape and its sad, mechanical denizens, and throwing it back at us, using the flattest diction imaginable, in bare bite(byte?)-sized bits; ‘mine eyes have seen/ know that song/ mine eyes have seen/ seen what/ what came next.’ A remarkable achievement. Highly recommended.
Leonard Lambert is a poet living in Mount Maunganui.