Annus mirabilis for poetry
This issue includes reviews of collections by five of our major poets – Lauris Edmond, Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, C K Stead, Jenny Bornholdt and Andrew Johnston. While this might seem an unusually generous allocation, in fact it is a reflection of the poetic annus mirabilis that 1999 to 2000 represents. Over the last year we have also reviewed new volumes by Elizabeth Smither, Bill Manhire, Robert Sullivan, Michele Leggott, Fiona Farrell, James Brown, Gregory O’Brien, and Harvey McQueen, as well as first collections by Emma Neale, Paola Bilbrough, Mark Pirie and Glenn Colquhoun. Such abundance of course made the task of judging the recent Montana Awards for poetry especially invidious.
What is particularly gratifying about the collections reviewed in this issue is their range, in material, depth of sensibility and technical accomplishment. Late Song is the collection Lauris Edmond put together just before her death, which makes these final poems all the more poignant. With their customary emotional intelligence, they show no sign of a falling off in her powers. Indeed, as Roger Robinson points out in his review, a number of them – such as the unflinching “Evening in April” – will undoubtedly find their way into future anthologies.
Jenny Bornholdt’s These Days, in its gentle humour, domestic warmth and immediate involvement of the reader, shows a further development in her work, as well as suggesting that she is something of a natural successor to Lauris Edmond. Her humour is at its most engaging in poems like “(Appliance heaven)” and “(Men come to call)”. Bornholdt’s playfulness is shared by Andrew Johnston in his Birds of Europe, although Johnston’s playfulness tends to be more of the linguistic variety. However, this new volume also extends the controlled lyricism of his previous work – nowhere more resonantly than in “London Winter”.
Wordplay has always been a forte of C K Stead’s poetry – with its puns, allusions, spoonerisms – and is no less evident in The Right Thing. These poems contain the familiar literary wit, but it is complemented here by a new mellowness of tone and openness towards the reader. A highlight in the collection is the spare “Crete” sequence, about the defence of that Greek island by the Allies in World War 2.
War features even more prominently in Alistair Te Ariki Campbell’s Gallipoli & Other Poems. Half of the volume is notable for the immediacy with which it evokes the disastrous 1915 campaign. By contrast, the other half comprises a moving sequence of poems, “Cages for the Wind”, dedicated to his wife, poet Meg Campbell, and celebrates their life together.
Disparate as they are, what these five collections have in common is that they speak instantly to the reader, without compromising poetic sophistication, skill and integrity. One of Lauris Edmond’s many achievements is that she commanded the kind of audience a novelist might envy. On the evidence of the four other volumes reviewed in this issue – and many others that have appeared recently – there seems to be no reason why New Zealand poetry in general shouldn’t continue to build a devoted, broad-based audience.
Harry Ricketts & Bill Sewell