Thursday, February 1, 2018

Three New Zealand Poets: Dinah Hawken, Sue Wootton and Rhian Gallagher

I am doing a poetry challenge on Litsy. It involves focusing on a particular poet each month, and I had a hard time choosing among the tempting possibilities recommended by my knowledgeable friend Claire, at whose house I've been staying in Auckland. I ended up choosing Dinah Hawken, and I read other poetry as well. Three out of the seven books that I rated 5-stars on Goodreads in January were poetry by New Zealand authors. That's a testament to Claire's expert advice.

Oh There You Are Tui! New and Selected Poems by Dinah Hawken

The more time I spend with Dinah Hawken's feminist poetry, the deeper my appreciation. Her words are carefully poised to deliver maximum power. I love her awareness of nature and her sincere consideration for the lives of homeless individuals. I feel like she is sharing important things in an intimate way. I'm very glad to have chosen her for an in-depth study this month.

Oh There You Are Tui! collects pieces from three of Hawken's early books, plus newer work, as indicated by the subtitle. It was published in 2001. I struggled at first with a particular portion of her work, the brief prose poems (selected from Small Stories of Devotion). They are apparently based on dreams, and even these grew on me over time and reflection. Example:

A Visitation
A few young Maori men have walked into her house. 
One of them has found a copy of her father's will 
and is lying down on the bed to read it through.

While the prose poems are like fragments, there's something intriguing about them, and collectively they create something with a larger scope. Reading scholarly criticism of her work helped me understand what Hawken might be doing with these particular poems. She demonstrates that there are many ways to speak, many things to draw upon and many ways to understand the world. The "diary-like entries transform the sentence with a lyrical metre, repetition, brevity and fluencies that tumble and turn and coil" as Paula Green and Harry Ricketts write in 99 Ways into New Zealand Poetry. I'm staying in a great place for poetry: Claire pulled the aforementioned 99 Ways, plus Twenty Contemporary New Zealand Poets and An Anthology of New Zealand Poetry off her bookshelves, as well as supplying me with two collections by Hawken. (The other is One Shapely Thing, 2006. )

In Twenty Contemporary New Zealand Poets, Hawken writes: "Poems have given me pleasure, recognition, insight, wisdom, solace, direction, company, shocks and strength. I try to reach a reader and to give him or her some of what poetry has given to me." Success! I feel like I've received that entire list of things from Hawken. I've also been convinced that spending time building familiarity with one poet's work is very rewarding. I will seek out her newer work in the future.

"The harbour is hallucinating. It is rising
above itself, halfway up the great
blue hills. every leaf of the kohuhu
is shining. Cicadas, this must be the day
of all days, the one around which
all the others are bound to gather."
"Here is the green verb, releasing everything."
"Let me put in a word for trees.
Let me put in a word for breathing."
"...I know women
too frightened to leave their own
houses, sleeping beauties. Don't for Christ's
sake wait for any prince to show up.
Fashion one from a rib or sling up
onto the wild horse rearing in your

These words won't be slapped down to size
they're putting on their blue shoes, mounting
their red horses and swirling out un-
relentingly over everything."

The Yield by Sue Wootton

Being a writer, a cook, a gardener, a friend, a daughter, a mother and a wife - it's all fodder for Wootton's lyric poetry. Joyous wordplay celebrates human interactions with weather and the natural world, as well as the risks inherent in loving and living. This outstanding collection was published in 2017.

An international poetry festival in Vietnam
The authorities are nervous. It's risky
to bring in the poets. When they say 'flower'
are they speaking of flowers?
The kneeling rail. I kneel. I quietly rail.
Saline solution: the ocean. Oxygen therapy: the sky. Mineral deficiency: socks off.
The ghost of you shall set
like rimes of frost inside my chest
and never melt, nor quit
me quite, nor give me rest. It's
not easy to recall our best.

Shift by Rhian Gallagher

Yes, this happens to have the very same title as another book of poetry that I love, Shift by Kelly Shepherd of Edmonton. Gallagher is a lesbian from the South Island of New Zealand. Hers is a luminous collection about experiencing change, homecoming after being long away, and leaving a lover on the other side of the world. Shift was published in 2011 and won the New Zealand Post Poetry Book Award.

Flower of the ice plant
plumping its cheeks
to the mirror of the sky.
Everywhere -- changes;
more touch, more go.

Van Gogh painted sunflowers for a friend's return
- spilled from a vendor's bucket, the dark-eyed flower
in rapture with the sun. I chaperoned the rough stems
back up the avenue. You were awaited
and the tall flowers had the energy of a torch.

To believe we could have it all - the liberty, your city
while the documents themselves stalled. Attachments
officials specified in great detail; head and shoulder shots:
the resolution, the neutral background.

Yet we were always on our way, always coming back.
Before that future crumpled up as paper in our hands
there was a constancy: gold and all the sisters of gold,
saffron, yellow. The sunflowers lasted on your sill,
                                         our heads were turned.
Right mind and how I was never in it,
but not wrong
just some other mind.


Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more poetry adventures in 2018.

No comments: