Words that speak volumes

By Paula Green

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Paula Green reviews four new collections of poems

s(t)et by David Howard. Photo / Supplied
s(t)et by David Howard. Photo / Supplied

Ian Wedde strikes me as one of our more underrated poets in terms of awards. If I had to pick one poetry book for a desert-island sojourn, I would either take Wedde's The Commonplace Odes or Three Regrets and a Hymn to Beauty. Both collections offer extraordinary craft, coupled with keen insight and a terrific wit.

Wedde's latest collection, Good Business, continues to mix down-to-earth preoccupations with things that are a bit more ethereal. Ideas and observations bed down in the nooks and crannies of his daily life.

In the sequence from which this new book takes its title, the poet becomes pedestrian, a "flaneur" in the spirit of Walter Benjamin. These poems stand as a timely reminder of the way we become immune to our local areas, to the way things have always been.

It almost seems like Wedde's new poems have a public function; to get us out walking, to smell and see and taste what flourishes and decays in our urban centres:

"In mid-March the city fills up with monarch butterflies. / The red flags of the Toyota sale yards all flap south."

Yet there is also the imperative to stay within the poems themselves. We are led to relations as much as we are led to bricks and mortar and human industry.

Is it nostalgia on Wedde's part to hold on to the smidgeon of natural wood oil that reminds him of his father? We read of the strong "emotional investment/ in the wonky matai table I made/ with my son".

Wedde's dream sequence underscores the idea that poetry is a great place to filter the wonderful absurdities and strangeness of the unconscious. In Torn, the poet becomes gridiron professional in a relationship with the actress, Rachel Griffiths. Ever more candid, Wedde seamlessly mixes the way he thinks about the world with the way he lives in the world.

Ithaca Island Bay Leaves is also a treat. The first collection of Vana Manasiadis brings together Greek mythology and the everyday. Greek characters end up in the streets of Wellington, and it feels authentic rather than literary trickery.

I lingered on each page to absorb the deliciously fresh lines and the nimble sound effects, then I gravitated to the chorus of voices. The poems build a maternal line from daughter through mother to grandmother in a tone of utter tenderness. It is a way of telling stories, and a way of being told:

"Teach me before your bullet proof glasses cloud over those greying retinas of yours,/ before you give all your table cloths to greedy Katrina."

This elegantly produced book, with a stunning Marian Maguire print on the cover, is a little gem.

Like Wedde, David Howard has a lot to offer the poetry fan in his backlist. He is capable of exquisite lyricism but unafraid to take risks with what a poem can do.

Howard's latest collection, s(t)et, is an example of this and reflects his attraction to the "art song, oratorio and songspiel". He also acknowledges the offshore composers (Marta Jirackova, Brina Jez-Brezavscek and Johanna Selleck) who helped score and record these poems to music. The limited-edition collection, handset and printed on an 1897 ARAB clamshell platen press, offers the added settings of the printer/typesetter.

Richard Langston's fourth collection, The Trouble Lamp, follows the joy and pain of family. A reporter for TV3, Langston can often be heard reading his poems on National Radio and these examples resonate on the page in the sound of his voice.

* Good Business by Ian Wedde
(AUP $24.99)
* Ithaca Island Bay Leaves by Vana Manasiadis
(Seraph Press $25)
* s(t)et by David Howard
(Gumtree Press $70)
* The Trouble Lamp by Richard Langston
(Fitzbeck Publishing $25)

Paula Green is an Auckland poet and children's writer.

- NZ Herald

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