I'm two-thirds of the way through Loop Tracks, and have reluctantly abandoned it to write this note. It's a novel full of acute observation, picking up big social issues and exploring them over a period of years, including 2020 with its Covid pandemic and General Election. It's not a sociological thesis, however. Sue Orr's assured shaping and sentence-making deliver compelling characters and events – a world full of human damage and human courage. You feel secure even when she knocks you off balance.
These days I tend to dip in and out of poetry books. At the moment I'm going to and fro inside US poet Michael Robbins' third book of poetry, Walkman, which isn't as nostalgic as its title might suggest. It's less noisy, a bit slower-paced, than his earlier work. Several of the longer poems sit somewhere between Wordsworth and Frank O'Hara, and they manage to be inward even when their gaze turns outward. Robbins knows about the trickiness of words, too: "I'm / sorry language is a ship / that goes down / while you're building it." Poetry like this helps keep us afloat.
Another book I'm dipping in and out of, astonished by what I find, is The Letters of Denis Glover, published late last year, and deftly edited by Sarah Shieff. Glover wasn't just – in his best poems – a great poet, he was a genuine man of letters, who led a busy and sometimes outrageous life. He was also a human being, and it's probably his human side that is most affecting, especially in his letters to women.
I'm looking forward to reading John Summers' new book of essays, The Commercial Hotel. I've previously read a few of the inclusions, including his exploration of New Zealand's strange love affair with Arcoroc mugs, so am eager for more. I just opened the book and came across this sentence: "Epiphanies might happen on the banks of the Clutha." That's exactly the sort of thing I'm here for.
Six by Six: Short Stories by New Zealand's Best Writers, edited by Bill Manhire (VUP, $40) is out now.