A poetry collection exhibiting a long-term obsession with planes, especially fighter-planes from World War II, planes, planes, and more generally, flight, Fly Boy is filled with evocative replications of Canterbury poet Jeffrey Paparoa Holman’s basic, vigorous and deeply rooted song of boyhood, imaginative freedom and time past. A bit like Seamus Heaney’s nostalgic paeans to household items, Paparoa Holman’s poems show an art of linking vivid, musical phrases into small lyrical vignettes that read like private memorative recitations: revisitations of a formative aviation manual which the poet evidently pored over as a boy, meditations on birds and bird flight, pilot death, gliders, Antarctic Austers, Fokkers, Constellations, Vulcans, Barouders and Sunderlands.
Stories Without End: Essays 1975–2010, Judith Binney (Bridget Williams Books, 2009), 424 pp., $49.99
i.m. Dame Judith Binney, DNZM, FRSNZ,
How the Land Lies: Of Longing and Belonging, Pat White (Victoria University Press, 2010) 239 pp., $35.00
The eye, the ear,
Brian Brake: Lens on the World, edited by Athol McCredie (Te Papa Press, 2010) 352 pp., $99.99
Photojournalism is politics by other means, a form of persuasion, a type of propaganda, where photographs might proselytise on behalf of a world-view. Brian Brake (1927–88) was, as this book tells us, ‘New Zealand’s best-known photographer’, certainly during the latter part of his lifetime. But, as Athol McCredie, the book’s general editor, goes on to point out in his lucid and succinct introduction, though Brake had a successful international career and was a media legend in New Zealand, ‘the generation of “art” photographers who had emerged during his absence overseas largely ignored him’ — there is no School of Brian Brake, and meanwhile his images which once featured so prominently in international anthologies, such as Helmut and Alison Gernsheim’s Thames and Hudson survey A Concise History of Photography, have disappeared from more recent authoritative publications, such as 2004’s Magnum Stories: Sixty-One Photographers (edited by Chris Booth for Phaidon).
The Te Papa Brian Brake project, which combines this book selection of over 300 photographs and six essays – ranging from McCredie’s overview, to Lissa Mitchell’s examination of his early years, to Peter Ireland’s assessment of the best-seller New Zealand: Gift of the Sea (1963, revised edition 1973, new version 1990), to Damian Skinner’s revisionist reading of his museum and gallery object photographs — with a 2010 major retrospective exhibition at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, also extends to include an ongoing online cataloguing of selected Brake images in an attempt to do justice to the critical mass of around 115,000 photographs that were donated by Brake’s partner Wai-man Raymond (Amau) Lau to the Museum in 2001. That donated collection in turn doesn’t quite encompass Brake’s entire oeuvre — things have gone missing over time. (Various originals of a number of key colour images are also missing from the book, represented instead by barely adequate magazine reproductions.)
Kingdom of Alt, Jack Ross (Titus Books, Auckland, 2010) 240 pp., $45.00
If Jack Ross has not read J.G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition, someone should get it for him. Kingdom of Alt has some of the serial agonistic airs of that work, but it is more dispersed: Kingdom of Alt is a collection of tales and takes involved with relations between real-life events and imaginary fictions that score the traumas of those real lives. The narrators include variously: a twenty-or-so female university student, a thirtyish divorcee taking evening poetry classes and making freakish death films from video fragments, a middle-aged man, Jack Ross himself as the speaking author, and other, both fragmentary and unified, human-ish points of view.
The book opens with ‘Trauma’, a compelling short story that lampoons the difficult-subject liberal university course, the traumatised people who take it, and the suiciding student who seems to be the inevitable result of that equation. The story is largely presented as a series of journal entries including marginal edits from the narrator. These edits tend towards smoothing out her self-presentation, so that the student will come across as nicer than her first-thought compositional impulses might indicate. Thus ‘correcting’ the university journal or essay is associated with self-editing as making nice. By extension, smoothing out and correcting writing – making ‘good’, finished art – is presented as a making-nice of the painful equations of human culture. Kingdom of Alt does not want to make nice in that way. The fictive framing of this story, as with others in this collection, is multiple: real-life journalism, psychological theory, an embedded story, and the draft composition journal bracket each other, while the tale moves toward its ‘resolution’ of sorrow and sympathetic incomprehension.
From Under the Overcoat, Sue Orr (Vintage, 2011), 348 pp., $29.99
Clothes: whether it’s the beret worn by Anna Sergeevna in Chekhov’s ‘The Lady with the Little Dog’, or the beige raincoat donned by the protagonist of Lorrie Moore’s ‘How to be an Other Woman’, or Nie Chuanqing’s ‘blue gown of lined silk’ in Eileen Chang’s ‘Love in a Fallen City’ (i), or the ‘dark mohair’ bristling at the nape of tragic heroine of Maurice Duggan’s ‘Blues for Miss Laverty’ (ii), the garb writers choose to dress their characters in not only offers the kind of detail that makes prose convincing and compelling, but resonates with thematic and symbolic effect.