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The grimness of contemporary realism, John McCrystal

Five Strings
Apirana Taylor
Anahera Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9780473389482

Iceland
Dominic Hoey
Steele Roberts, $35.00,
ISBN 978094749343I

It’s that time of the three-yearly cycle again. A billboard has gone up near my house promoting the political party that has, for the last couple of terms, been promising us a brighter future. It claims this party is “Delivering for New Zealanders” – which is true, so long as you don’t read it as a claim that it is delivering for all New Zealanders. And, as for the brighter future, well, there is a significant number of people in New Zealand for whom the future can only be brighter, given how bleak their present is.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature and Review

Young, gifted, female and brown, Elizabeth Crayford

Fale Aitu|Spirit House
Tusiata Avia
Victoria University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9781776560646

Tail of the Taniwha
Courtney Sina Meredith
Beatnik Publishing, $30.00,
ISBN 9780992264895

Lucky Punch
Simone Kaho
Anahera Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9780473367510

Before Tusiata Avia’s Fale Aitu|Spirit House was published, she made a point of telling her mother what she’d written, to which her mother replied, “It all needs to come out.” Avia tells us this in an endnote, but it could stand as epigraph to all three books. Reading Avia’s work alongside Courtney Sina Meredith’s Tail of the Taniwha and Simone Kaho’s Lucky Punch is to be immersed, sometimes uncomfortably, in contemporary Pasifika culture from a female perspective. Each writer’s voice is distinctive, yet similar themes crop up again and again. Anyone who’s read Albert Wendt’s Leaves of the Banyan Tree, or Sia Figiel’s more recent Where We Once Belonged, both set in Samoa, will not be surprised by the level of violence in these new works. However, the “all” that Avia’s mother implies is alive and kicking in New Zealand in the 21st century.

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Posted in Literature, Plays, Poetry and Review

Moments of transcendence, Elizabeth Crayford

Otherwise
John Dennison
Auckland University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9781869408282

The Art of Excavation
Leilani Tamu
Anahera Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9780473290047

Whale Years
Gregory O’Brien
Auckland University Press, $28.00,
ISBN 9781869408329

The cover of John Dennison’s Otherwise features a photograph of what at first looks like a hand-blown light bulb and which bears a striking resemblance to a human head. It is, in fact, a photograph of that scientific curiosity: a light mill. Never heard of it? Neither had I, but the second poem in this, Dennison’s first collection, “Crooke’s Radiometer”, is clearly a description of this object: “the bright form / of the skull …. a partial vacuum …. a spike, / obsessive pivot around which the vanes hum”. Invented in 1873, a light mill consists of a set of vanes in a partial vacuum which rotate when exposed to light. To the lay person, a seeming anomaly, an impossibility: a perpetual motion engine; for scientific explanations, see Dr Google.

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Posted in Literature, Poetry and Review
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