‘You have to start somewhere / in these morose times …‘
begins Ian Wedde’s poetry collection The Lifeguard. And he begins with a cycle of poems about said, albeit symbolic, lifeguard, sitting up on the towering chair overlooking New Zealand’s coastlines – past, present and future – while dipping his feet in Greek mythology. You can almost smell the coast in these poems.
The two parts that follow – ‘Help!’ and ‘The look’ – still see the poet observing from a more or less stationary position, exploring the fragrant and the sensual. Wedde weaves his grandchildren into his poetry, creating a common memory.
Next is a group of elegies on the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, who died in 2008. Wedde spent some time travelling in the Middle East in the 1960s. From these travels he is said to have taken his inspiration to become a poet.
In the last section the poet is on the move, in circular motion. In ‘Shadow Stands Up’ we accompany the poet on a tour around Auckland, mainly on the link bus; memories springing from roadside detail. I cannot help but wonder how long the man spent on that bus. Did he observe all this in one loop? Can you still go round and round for one fare these days? Daydreaming on the bus, one of my favourite pastimes as well. A 40 years younger Ian Wedde once said in a contributor’s note for the anthology Young New Zealand Poets: ‘I think I seldom tell; I enquire’. Observation and enquiry. To me this sums up the genre of poetry. Maybe add distillation. Five years worth of poetry distilled into the fine essence that is The Lifeguard.
And so this collection ends …
‘… the motorways / restless traffic going west.’
Thus concluding a journey from the abstract to the specific, wisdom embedded in detail, the minutiae in the majestic mudflats of Aotearoa.
The publication of The Lifeguard marks the conclusion of Ian Wedde’s two-year tenure as New Zealand’s poet laureate. The poet dedicates the collection to his grandchildren.
Reviewed by Melanie Wittwer
The Lifeguard: Poems 2008 – 2013
by Ian Wedde
Published by Auckland University Press