Tigers at Awhitu, Sarah Broom (Auckland University Press, 2010), 80 pp., $29.95 The Worm in the Tequila, Geoff Cochrane (Victoria University Press, 2010), 95 pp., $25.00
Does lyric poetry spring from calm and contentment, or agitation and unease? Adverse circumstances and events can certainly provoke powerful creative responses; it is probably unsurprising then that the experience of physical or mental illness has resulted in many compelling literary works. Sarah Broom’s Tigers at Awhitu and Geoff Cochrane’s The Worm in the Tequila both emerge from such experiences, evoking and – eventually – moving beyond them in very different ways.
Sarah Broom is a relative newcomer to New Zealand poetry (Tigers at Awhitu is her first collection of poetry; a scholarly work, Contemporary British and Irish Poetry, was published in the UK in 2005). Her book is divided into two untitled sections: the first part written before the author’s diagnosis of terminal cancer (which is now in remission), and dealing with a variety of lyrical and narrative subjects; the second written after the diagnosis. Many of the poems in the first section are cool and spare with vivid imagery and stand-alone lines used for blunt impact, while other somewhat denser poems establish a more prosaic pace. ‘Crusade’ is an especially powerful example of the first type, its opening question – ‘And I wondered what kind of a thing the soul was’ – leading, after six lines of rhetorical speculation, to the climax:
Or the death rattle
of a coin belt ripped
from the waist of a dying man.