Book review: A Man Runs into a Woman by Sarah Jane Barnett

This book is in bookstores now

Let me start by saying, how intrigued I am by the great successes being achieved in crowdfunding of cultural projects in New Zealand at the moment. The printing of A Man Runs into a Woman was funded through pledgeme.co.nz. It is heartening to see that creativity in arts and culture is so highly valued by the people.

A Man Runs into a Woman is a collection of poetry and short prose and a collection of juxtapositions. The poem from which the book takes its title, The Geographer, describes the first meeting between a daughter and her cross-dressing father after the father’s transformation:
[…]
In my dream a man runs into a woman
with a small papoose. When he was younger my father
was a runner.
my father is also a woman.
‘What makes someone a runner? my friend asks.

The poem explores the difficulties both have talking about the change, and signals a transformation in the relationship.

The poems in this collection are not very dynamic, in spite of the fact that ‘running’ is mentioned a lot. If there is movement, it is slow and deliberate. People are sitting on the porch or in prison, parked in cars or they are lying in bed, reflecting. Reflecting on the title, Sarah Jane Barnett is mainly concerned with the moment of impact – in slow motion – and its aftermath. The texts are introspect in retrospect.

The collection is divided into three parts. The middle part is devoted to the last thoughts of actual American death row prisoners. The poems are broken up by descriptions of the crimes that have landed them there. At first, I struggled to understand how these poems would fit in with the rest of the book. They seemed completely at odds. Straight from themes a New Zealand reader could relate to, to the quagmire of the American hinterland. But then it dawned on me that these poems indeed go very nicely with the theme of stillness and observance.

A Man Runs into a Woman is Sarah Jane Barnett’s first collection of poetry. She is currently working towards her PhD in Creative Writing with Massey University in Wellington.

Reviewed by Melanie Wittwer

A Man Runs into a Woman
by Sarah Jane Barnett
Published by Hue & Cry Press
ISBN 9780473213992

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