Poetry Reviews: Inventive trio of wordsmiths

By Paula Green

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Walls to Kick and Hills to Sing From: A Comedy with Interruptions by Murray Edmond
AUP, $24.99

Sleepwalking in Antarctica by Owen Marshall CUP, $25

NZ poet Murray Edmond mingles drama with poetry. Photo / Supplied
NZ poet Murray Edmond mingles drama with poetry. Photo / Supplied

These three recent poetry books immediately hooked my attention with terrific titles and covers, but they each led to such different reading experiences.

David Mitchell was a key figure in the New Zealand poetry scene in the 1970s. With only one book published, Pipe Dreams in Ponsonby, he made his reputation as a dynamic performer, the promoter of local poetry and as the founder of Poetry Live!.

His performances were like overcoats on his poems: he recited one through a rose stem in his mouth and batted an egg into the audience as he read another.

Now that we have a sizeable chunk of his writing on the page for the first time, how does his poetry in print survive the passing of time and his charismatic performance? I would say astonishingly.

Martin Edmond and Nigel Roberts have done a superb editorial job with a 42-page introduction that provides a captivating back story to the reluctant poet and his effervescent poetry.

These are poems written to be performed with a playful use of word antics and repetition, but they work on the page. They are fresh (still), fluid and full of ease. While some poets of the 70s were exploding poetic traditions, Mitchell was inventive but neither self-indulgent nor anarchic.

His poetry now leads you back to another time, and if you lived that time, renders it nostalgically potent. Highly recommended.

Murray Edmond's latest poetry collection, Walls To Kick And Hills To Sing From, brings his interests and experience in drama to mingle in and create a theatre of poetry.

He assembles a tapestry of many parts: poems, scripts, eulogies and prose. The poems are structured like a theatre piece with a complication, a revelation, a catastrophe, a denouement and intermissions in between.

You need these intervals because you need time to absorb the glorious layers. This is not a theatre of gritty social realism but a theatre that borrows the "no sense" or "less sense" of Artaud or Beckett along with Borgesian or Fellini-like distortions of reality.

Edmond is the master of twisty philosophical threads and acrobatic words that spin, back flip and balance upon the beam precariously: "it was not the jersey itself/ which was lost but/ the desire for the jersey which had been found".

Here is a collection where every poem is a treat; where the use of language is lyrical, sumptuous and on the move. Find a wet Sunday afternoon as I did and get lost in its addictive avenues, and then read it again.

Owen Marshall is known for his short stories and an award-winning novel. He now follows his well-received 2004 debut as a poet (Occasional: Fifty Poems) with a rewarding new selection.

Sleepwalking in Antarctica is a little like a photograph album. He frames little pieces of the world before him with an eye for descriptive detail, lyrical phrasing and reflective byways.

Halfway through reading the poems an even more apt metaphor struck me. These poems are like the ground after it rains. The surface detail - the master of the short story is able to provide this so adeptly - is luminous in the wet.

The poems are also in debt to story. You get drawn into a particular event, a certain character, a setting and the weather - the sun, rain and snowfall. Memory plays its part as the poems shift between youth and old age as in the wryly-observed Bike Riding.

However, these poems are not short stories. They are an exquisite marriage of musicality, observation, elegance and economy. Certain words stand out in his lines like the glint of light on the wet ground:

"In the wilt of high summer, rose scratches/ stung by sweat, I see a monarch jittering by."

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

- NZ Herald

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