Horse with Hat by Marty Smith, with collages by Brendan O’Brien (Victoria University Press, 2014), 77 pp., $30; Tree Space by Maria McMillan (Victoria University Press, 2014), 80 pp., $25; Remnants by Leonard Lambert (Steele Roberts, 2013), 62 pp., $19.99
At the beginning of Marty Smith’s debut collection Horse with Hat, the reader is presented with a photograph of five men and two women, five of whom are the ‘characters’ whose downward trajectories Smith traces with anecdote and metaphor along a loosely chronological arc. So characters, then, but also ‘real people’ who do such things as ‘sign up for the war’ and ‘go back to the farm’, things with which New Zealanders of a certain age will be familiar, people whose dads ‘wouldn’t be seen without a hat’ (‘Hat’).
The cast of the book seems to have made a lot of poor or ill-informed decisions. The book enumerates the consequences of these decisions in a manner that reminds me of overhearing my relatives talking about uncle Black-Sheep around the dinner table while I’m finding reprieve in an adjacent room.
Smith is telling a story: chronology, cause and effect, picturesque detail, verisimilitude, beginnings, middle and ends. One consequence of Damien Wilkins ushering his erstwhile charge down the narrative line is that it has muted the poet’s lyrical voice. Narrative and lyric are difficult to reconcile and Smith doesn’t seem to have tried. Her woolly-sheep Chaucerian tales are to Orphic song as Granddad’s Donegal Tweed blazer is to a single strand of silk. [Read more…]