Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Chinese, NZ poetic quartet

Chinese, NZ poetic quartet show diversity of style and subject
29 April 2006
Flying Against the Arrow, by Jan Fitzgerald, (Wolfdale Publishing, $24.99). Unreal City, by Yang Lian, (Auckland University Press, $24.99). Cup by Alison Wong, (Southern Publishers, $19.99). Hourglass, by Sue Wootton, (Steele-Roberts, $19.95). Reviewed by Peter Dornauf.
The most banal and ordinary elements often provide material for poetry. In Hourglass, Sue Wootton takes small subjects like a dressing gown, a chook or a posh frock as her point of reference for weightier matters.
This is done brilliantly in the poem, Heavy Hen, where grief is described in terms of such an unprepossessing bird.
"Grief is a ball of feathers", it begins. The essence of grief is captured perfectly here and the stratagem is cleverly sustained for the whole poem. A talent to watch.
Jan Fitzgerald's latest collection, Flying Against the Arrow, can be quite visceral. Smells and scents are to the fore. Things to do with fire also predominate in a beautiful suite of poems, one about fireworks which opens with the startling line, "Fireworks are the apparatus of angels". Fireside deals with love on rainy nights, while the poignant Fireplace describes a burnt-out house where only a chimney remains in a "square of daffodils".
Alison Wong, born and raised in Hawke's Bay, brings a Chinese perspective to her poetic observations about family in Cup. A mother's predilection, a father's illness and death, together with childhood reminiscences, are treated with understated poise and an eye for telling domestic detail. Such emotional control is evident in Chinese Settlement, Arrowtown, where prospectors and their dwellings are described.
Yang Lian is a celebrated Chinese poet who came to Auckland in 1989 during the Tiananmen Square massacre, and stayed. His work is now banned in China, lending an edge to any reading.
The poems are difficult –-with a discursive, surreal quality. Huge jumps and disconnected lurches take place between the lines, leaving the reader struggling to find a centralising focus. But within this surging plethora can be found intriguing and stunning pictures.
All four demonstrate the diversity of style and subject matter contemporary New Zealand poetry is enjoying at the moment.
* Peter Dornauf is a Hamilton reviewer.

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