Take one, Alistair Paterson

Mark Pirie
Sudden Valley Press, $16.95,
ISBN 0 9583684 4 9

Poetry has become increasingly a difficult art form: it demands something more than the tossing off of a few casual thoughts and feelings and putting them onto paper. Worse, while it’s now written by many more people than it was earlier in this century, its audience as a percentage of the reading population seems to have declined. This of course doesn’t matter if good poetry continues to be produced and published, as indeed it is by writers such as Judy Parker, Kai Jensen, Paula Green, Vivienne Plumb, John O’Connor, Anna Jackson and a modest host of others presently writing in New Zealand.

Mark Pirie is another such writer and an emerging poet whose first book of poetry shows a genuine talent augmented by a high degree of competence and skill. Shoot gives the reader 70 pages of largely minimalist poetry written in the manner of casual observation and comment that’s currently one of the principal modes of contemporary writing, and strongly influenced (as the book’s title suggests) by cinematographic technique and reference – technique which no matter how much one might dislike it, has become and is likely to remain a strong influence on poetry and prose.

Irrespective of the ease with which Pirie’s poetry can be associated with the writings of William Carlos Williams, Robert Creeley and the Black Mountain group, it could perhaps more accurately be linked with the work of New York poet and art critic, Michael Fried and the English Review poets Hugo Williams, Ian Hamilton and David Harsent. There is also and obviously the influence of the Imagists to take into account. As with most poets who read widely (and indeed they should) the influences on Pirie’s work are many and various. The result, though, is writing that in spite of some degree of surface variation in manner and style (see “Soap”, sections i, ii and iv, and the last piece in the book, which masquerades as an index), is consistent in manner and tone, and indicates the directions in which the poet’s writing might develop.

The work of course has its faults, as every collection does. I’m no great enthusiast for such capitalisation as “WHERE ARE MY CIGARETTES!?! / BRING ME SOME CIGARETTES NOW”, but I do recommend this collection with work such as “Journeys”, “Six Insignificant Landscapes”, “Three Short Films” and in particular, “Progress” (the opening piece):

the wall shakes & my bed rattles
as I lie awake and listen 

thinking that if I had
a needle, I would knit a light refrain
into the woolly clouds
something like: “Welcome to
the world, are you having a good time?

Poetry like this, commencing as it does with casual observation and concluding with the unexpected and juxtaposed near cliché “Welcome to the world”, demonstrates a capacity to convert the commonplace into poetry, an extremely high degree of poetic accomplishment and an ability worthy of recognition and respect.

Alistair Paterson is an Auckland writer and the editor of Poetry NZ.

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