‘A Tingling Catch’: A Century of New Zealand Cricket Poems 1864–2009, edited by Mark Pirie (HeadworX, 2010) 189 pp., $34.99; AUP New Poets 4: Harry Jones, Erin Scudder and Chris Tse, (AUP, 2011), 96 pp., $24.99
Lost Relatives, Siobhan Harvey (Steele Roberts 2011), 71 pp; in/let, Jo Thorpe (Steele Roberts 2011), 63 pp; So Goes the Dance, Stu Bagby (Steele Roberts 2010), 64 pp.
A good book of poems should be more that just a collection of whatever the poet has been writing over the past few years; it should have a shape, a thematic structure that holds together between its covers just as soundly as each individual poem holds together on the page (or should it? For whenever I make such a pronouncement, it occurs to me that the opposite might be true: poetry books as junk-piles, as cluttered basements and attics, any trace of shape or cohesion blow apart by the words … for the sake of this review however, we’ll stick with my original statement …). Many current New Zealand poets attempt to give their books structure through the simple device of dividing the text up into sections. Most of the new books I’ve read this year have worked this way, their contents chopped up into bite-sized chunks – sometimes titled, sometimes numbered – for more meaningful consumption. The three works I review today are no exception. Each of them attempts to structure their content at the level of the contents page, in differing ways and with differing degrees of success.
Despite its title, Stu Bagby’s So Goes the Dance does not lend itself to such metaphors. Bagby’s style is casual and, at times, colloquial. The poems occasionally dip into rhyme, usually in the form of whimsical couplets:
MURRAY EDMOND teaches drama at the University of Auckland. His most recent volume of poetry is Walls to Kick and Hills to Sing From: A Comedy with Interruptions (AUP, 2010). He edits the on-line journal Ka Mate Ka Ora: A New Zealand Journal of Poetry and Poetics: http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/kmko/
Campana To Montale: Versions From the Italian, by Kendrick Smithyman, edited by Jack Ross and Marco Sonzogni (Edizione Joker – Transference series, 2010) 244 pp., $35.00.
Translation is a loaded literary subject. The transmutation of a poem, from one language to another, is a fraught act, and the status of a translated poem seems, if possible, even more problematic. It is also clear from the outset that Kendrick Smithyman’s translations from Italian, by a New Zealand poet who did not speak Italian, are a very special case. Campana To Montale: Versions From the Italian contains 211 poems by fourteen Italian modernist poets, ranging from the troubled isolate Dino Campana to Nobel laureate Salvatore Quasimodo, rendered into English by Smithyman. These ‘versions’, as he preferred to call them, were mainly the products of his late career, and many were completed after his retirement from the University of Auckland in 1987.