Actions & Travels: How Poetry Works by Anna Jackson (Auckland University Press, 2022), 312pp, $35
When fate sleeps, it dreams of chance (69)
A strange transposition (141)
The pertinence of Anna Jackson’s poetic primer, Actions & Travels, is quickly self-evident. The poet-as-critic takes 100 poems—predominantly canonical—allowing their combined magic to flow over several local practitioners. Among those ‘who may not be so well known’ (3) are 1990s-born IIML/THWUP associated writers: Hera Lindsay Bird, Rebecca Hawkes, Ash Davida Jane, Annaleese Jochems, essa may ranapiri (Ngāti Wehi Wehi, Ngāti Raukawa-ki-te-Tonga, Te Arawa, Ngāti Pukeko, Ngāti Takatāpui), Tayi Tibble (Te Whānau-ā-Apanui/Ngāti Porou), with Nick Ascroft, a single youngish male. Given the book’s main purpose as a reading/writing handbook for poets/students, it is understandable—if perhaps slightly disconcerting—that Te Herenga Waka, where Jackson is Associate Professor of English, serves as a kind of centre earth.
The purposive is something I’ll come back to, because I consider that Jackson, in her inimitable poetic canniness, in part destabilises the same ‘universality of literature’ that the book proclaims as exemplary.
That universality is consummately satisfied in the text’s assimilation of canonical thought and its symmetrical 300-page structure. The 100 poems are neatly categorised into ten more-or-less equal sections, with alluring titles such as ‘Simplicity & resonance’ and, to end, ‘Poetry & the afterlife’. Jackson’s insights are fresh and shrewd, her prose supple and resonant, demonstrating an easy facility with poetic forms and techniques throughout. To take a single instance, the following is written in response to Shakespeare’s quintessential Sonnet 30:
The poem holds open the possibility of finding beauty in sorrow from the beginning, with the phrase ‘sessions of sweet silent thought’ beautiful in its alliteration and its syncopated rhythm slowing down the pentameter line. The beauty of the phrase suggests the lure of the unhappiness that could be never-ending, never cancelled out, if it were not for the happiness the thought of the loved friend brings. (29)
In addition to the 300:100:10 ratio, there is the standard ‘Introduction’, and, from page 210 onward, five supplementary sections, ranging from ‘Writing suggestions’ to the usual ‘Index’. Among the enticing poetry-writing prompts—including an exhortation to ‘Rail against reality!’ (216)—we find this:
Invent a new form! How might form be related to identity (as the blues are related to an African-American identity)? Or how might form reflect your interests (self-described geek Gregory Pincus invented the fib, based on the Fibonacci sequence—a six-line, twenty-syllable poem with a syllable count by line of 1/1/2/3/5/8)? (215)
Balancing her structural astuteness, Jackson’s nimble, detailed critiques are impeccable. As alluded to above, she seamlessly encompasses the canonical big hitters (Sappho, Catullus, Horace, Shakespeare, Donne, Marvell, Keats, Whitman, Dickinson, Yeats, Frost, Pound, Williams, Moore), along with recognisable local standouts such as Bethell, Tuwhare, Baxter, Paula Green, Leggott and Bornholdt (not Curnow), as well as lesser-known figures who are beginning to make their presence felt, contemporary North American poets as well as the youthful New Zealanders already mentioned.
At this point, let me return to the sense of purpose and a deeper current of strangeness that runs through Actions & Travels, intimated in the two brief epigraphs that I have chosen. To provide one illustration, ‘Notes and references’ (35 pages), which appears bang in the middle of the supplementary sections, provides a marvellous complement—or subtext—to the main body of conventional argument. It reveals Jackson’s quirkier, no less interesting, poetic side:
‘There is plenty of crouching and brooding going on in the work of New Zealand poet Rebecca Hawkes…’, Rebecca Hawkes, ‘softcore coldsores’, in Anna Jackson (ed.), AUP New Poets 5 (Auckland University Press, 2019). (26/249)
The quirkiness is that the note is amplified through repetition of the assessment used in the main body of the text, further compounded when we see in the note that Jackson was herself editor of the publication in which Hawkes appeared. This observation is not made derisively, rather is done so to point out a connectedness that may well work for some but that is not totally apparent or available to all. For example, where are the other capable young poets who may have not come into Jackson’s circle? I mention Chris Tse in a footnote, with this same thought in back of my mind. In turn, the most revealing section in the main body of text is ‘Conversations with the past’, in which Jackson circles around her deepfelt ‘love’ (a word used often alongside other superlatives, like ‘beautiful’, ‘brilliantly’, ‘spellbound’, ‘estranging’) of translations of classical models like Sappho and, more specifically, Catullus. A gallery of favourites, including the book’s epigraph-source Anne Carson, C.K. Stead, and Jackson herself, are drawn to a meme-like transformational refiguration that is taken as the heartbeat of poetry:
These poems are all versions of canonical poems, rewriting—if not quite translating—them to make them into new works, a Sappho poem becoming a Catullus poem, a Catullus poem becoming of poem by Tiffany Atkinson. (137) 
It could be argued that the endeavour to merge the canonical and the ‘not so well known’, the international and the local, the universal and the particular, verges on a freewheeling reappropriation. Yet Jackson is adept at not blinking through her changes and has the knack of making pertinent comments on all of those gathered together. It is the time-free re-adaptability of the tradition that is espoused: in a nutshell, the tradition is Re-.
Rather than outright revolution, the approach urges an embrace of other wor[l]ds and ph[r]ases that can be enrapturing—suggested in the recurrence of expressions like ‘uncanny’, ‘off-kilter’, ‘haunted’, ‘dark demands’, ‘awkward’, ‘menace’, ‘fractured’, ‘outside forces’, ‘mayhem’, ‘disarray’, ‘disjunction’, ‘transgressive’, ‘chasm’, ‘contradictions’, ‘insufficiency of language’, ‘against logic’, ‘untethered to any referent’. There are further references to ‘disintegrated self’ and ‘psychological defence’, along with an admonition to ‘ask any psychoanalyst’ (114).
Poetic time is contemporaneous (‘All poetry collapses time’ (1)) and its deepest impact is always psychological. In this way, poetry is prized as a kind of individuation in perpetuity. Erin Scudder’s ‘Sextina’, a sestina that serially presents six distant-in-time yet concurrent perspectives on sexual violation, demonstrates the way in which poetry dissolves time’s separating machinations:
The rape of Lucretia by Sextus Tarquinius is a story that is known only through its retellings, the earliest version written almost five hundred years after the events. The poem tells the story in the present tense, yet the word ‘today’ reads a little strangely here. It is one of the ways poetry works, to hold open the present tense of a moment in time (like Keats holding out his living hand), but writing ‘today’ almost seems to date the action to an immediate present. (97)
Indeed, the unexpected final word, ‘fold’, gives Jackson an opportunity to reflect on the poem’s transformative play in spacetime: ‘What kind of a fold is it: a fold in time, a narrative fold, turning one event up against another? It seems, all the same, a comforting word—a lost sheep might return to the fold’ (98).
Yet another way in which contemporaneity or ‘the gap in time’ (20) through which apparently disparate things feed into each other is witnessed is in the representation of absence: ‘the longing for something absent or lost’ (49). This is clear in Jackson’s discussion of another favourite, the New York School’s Frank O’Hara, whose imaginary poem, ‘Oranges’, starts off as a single piece but progressively ‘expands to become twelve poems, which are finished before the word orange has even made an appearance’ (50). Something absent—something dreamt of—proves as compelling—as revealing and true—as anything that crops up in our immediate physical environment: life, the writing of poetry suggests, is redolent in its possibilities.
The same uncanniness is evident in the use of an off-piste Carson title and the front-cover reproduction of Richard McWhannell’s Pig Island Postal Service (2016). The weird (another more-suggestive member in the family of Jackson’s critical terms) saturated pastoral depicts uniformed settler postmen riding on the backs of pigs, with a similarly mounted naked couple of women cavorting in the background (outside the men’s gaze). Held in a private collection, the painting is snapped here by Stephen Goodenough—while the distinguished printer of Actions & Travels is identified as the Chinese company Everbest Printing Investment Ltd (my italics).
In sum, as well as providing an astute primer for young reader/writers, Actions & Travels proclaims the superposition of the orderly and disorderly in poetic life. It is disorderliness that characterises a human experience, whose prized moments of orderliness prove to be effervescent, scintillating, brief and treasured. Jackson’s is a feisty, capable and welcome book.
JOHN GERAETS edits the online remake and his Everything’s Something in Place appeared from Titus Books in 2019.
 Jackson states that one purpose of the book is to introduce these writers to an international readership: ‘readers from outside New Zealand will, I hope, be pleased to be introduced to poets whose work they may not have heard of’ (4). A surprising omission is poet Chris Tse, another among the group of IIML/THWUP alumni, who continues to gain considerable prominence in the New Zealand literary landscape.
 A touch disingenuously, Jackson lauds Robert Sullivan’s Star Waka (1999) as ‘one of the most important poetry collections of twentieth-century New Zealand literature’ (153), rendering him the rightful equal of poets of the calibre of Baxter and Tuwhare, similarly championed in Actions & Travels.
 In recent times the meme-like behaviour of poetry has become increasingly notable. From Hera Lindsay Bird’s biographical note in ‘The poets’: ‘She is also well known for her poem ‘Keats is dead so fuck me from behind’ (2016), which went viral, leading to her being profiled by various outlets such as the Guardian and Vice’ (224–25). The ‘social media’ entry in the Index highlights pp. 145–63, which includes the following: ‘Poetry is a social medium and always has been, but it makes a difference when readers—your twenty followers, a few hundred or, in the case of some Insta-poets like Rupi Kaur, millions—like, comment on and re-post your poems within seconds of their publication’.
 I am reminded of Jackson’s own Pasture and Flock: New and Selected Poems (2018), the title poem of which appears only at the end of the selection and is torn between similar notions of gathering and disarray. In this case, ‘fold’ again pertains to sheep and finding comfort: ‘I can see the sheep / moving close … and I am the sheep and I am / the flock’.
 The title and epigraph derive from Carson, a kind of bright-corollary to Jackson’s own career. Carson is a Canadian professor of classical studies, poet, essayist and translator (Sappho, Euripides etc.) who ‘often plays with convention and classification’ (227).
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