Poems for the pocket, Vivienne Plumb

50 Poems: A Celebration
Lauris Edmond
Bridget Williams Books/Peppercorn Press, $29.95,
ISBN 1 877 242 039

It is good to mark our lives with some celebration, which 
 is why we should welcome this celebratory collection of Lauris Edmond’s work marking her 75th year.

Bridget Williams of Bridget Williams Books and Fiona Kidman of Peppercorn Press conceived the idea of publishing a collection of Lauris Edmond’s poems to honour her life and work, which would then be presented to Lauris at her 75th birthday party. The original collection was a limited edition in hardback, but the general reading public can now reap the benefits of this birthday present, as a paperback edition has been produced.

The poems have been selected and arranged by Harry Ricketts and Bill Sewell, editors and colleagues of Lauris’ at New Zealand Books (which she helped found in 1991). The book also includes an introductory essay by Ken Arvidson on Lauris Edmond’s work, besides a useful bibliography at the back.

Bridget Williams is quoted as saying that all involved wished to produce a beautiful book that would be a pleasurable experience to read. That has definitely been achieved. The size is comfortable, easy to slip into a large jacket pocket (just as poetry should be). The cover is of tasteful cardamom-coloured card with folded ends (good for keeping your place). And the endpapers are respectively a rich nutmeg and a warm biscuit colour. The recycled paper pages also feel good to the touch. Delicious! The look and feel of this text is a total enticement to the reader.

Dip into this book at any page and you will be sure to find something delightful to read. The poems have been chosen from all of Lauris Edmond’s previous work and divided into five sections, with the poems in each section threaded together by the use of several themes.

The first section contains poems about families, and their beginnings and ends, including several pieces from Wellington Letter (1980). The cycle of the seasons and other performances of nature are often used as metaphors in these poems:

Now the thousand faces of spring shake
their white light across the glass; in us
too there is a stirring, of force or feeling …
(“The pear tree”)

Family relationships can be the most difficult we have: they often jangle the nerve endings like a sore tooth, but at the same time they can endure and gain strength and power from perseverance and continuation. There can be an intensity in the most ordinary acts within a family, let alone the more ritualised times of observance such as deaths, births, or even naming a child:

yet you have come to me this white morning,
and remind me that to name a child is brave,
or foolhardy; even now it shakes me.
(“The names”)

The family stands (in all its manifestations) as every individual’s template for future relationships.
Linking to that theme of relationship, the second selection of poems is about love, partnerships, and separation. Over and over we are reminded (or warned) that “Love ends, as it began, in a flash” (“One to one”). Love is celebrated, but at the same time every sober corner is covered: love as gain and love as loss.

The next selection of seven pieces deals with Wellington, as a city, as a place to live, and as the chosen residence of the author. In “Scar tissue” we are reminded how much place, and the events of the past, can shape our identity and future. Place, scent, and even a particular type of weather, can stir the memory and contribute to the suggestion that the past is also conceived in the present:

the city’s strict oblongs of light are new,
but in these hills the past is soaked like blood
that soaks a battlefield; the restless water grinds
the pebbled beach, before the island’s dark hump
opens the winking red eye of the buoy …
(“Round Oriental Bay”)

Wellington’s infamous weather and rigorous streets and steps become part of the celebration of this collection:

It’s true you can’t live here by chance,
you have to do and be, not simply watch
or even describe. This is the city of action …
(“The active voice”)

Some of the next thirteen poems deal with moments that can become condensed within time. Distance and travel can often achieve this solidification of memory. Or sometimes it can be the sudden realisation that our desires have changed, and so our whole self has changed:

They are perfect, it all is. And I know every detail
by heart – five wire fence, a post every few feet,
staples old but tidily hammered in, small flat lawn,
path to the gate. An absolute dream, total as

childhood. The shock is, it isn’t mine. It must
have slipped out one day, been found and taken
in by a neighbour. I glare at her, plump woman standing
in the doorway to watch me driving slowly by.
(“A matter of timing”)

Several poems in the last section have been selected from Lauris Edmond’s most recent collection, A Matter of Timing (1996). These poems are concerned with the concepts of time and space. Poetry can unroll and collapse time, and this transcendence is part of the true power of literature: the union between the reader and the page can overthrow time and defeat space:

and the hill falling away so fast it seems
to move too with an urgent clambering gait,
shifting and sifting, one grain on another in
a perpetual unwillingness to settle for
what the world is at one moment of its turning …
(“At Grass Street”)

This tasteful selection from Lauris Edmond’s many poetry collections is not only a celebration of her work, but to those not familiar with her poetry it would serve as a very satisfying introduction.
50 Poems is no smiley-faced fast-food disposable, nor is it an expensive order of nouvelle cuisine designed only for the select few. It is a succulent and tasty full-course menu, prepared from good quality ingredients and presented with thought and style. So get in there, and enjoy!

Vivienne Plumb is a Wellington poet, playwright and short-story writer. Her collection Salamanca was reviewed in our August issue.

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