Admittedly, I wanted to like this poetry from the outset. Robin Fry’s picture, on the back-slip of this weensy collection, is of a bespectacled elderly woman with a kindly face. Your quintessential grandmother, I figured. But Fry is no mere muffin-baking, cardigan-knitting senior citizen. Fry is a literary heavy-weight, with an intimidating backlog of creative achievements.
Love Song of the Wading Bird is an intimate collection of twenty-something poems. Arguably quaint, these works don’t demand cerebral cartwheels. They are forthright, and there is something disarming about their sincerity. These poems walk naked along the coast, pointing at oystercatchers and jellyfish. These poems want you to meet their family. They want to take your hand and trudge with you into the garden. They want to show you the moon.
But there is more to Fry’s work than deft simplicity. She is a chameleon of poetic form – switching from sestina to ghazal, from a double abecedarian to a triolet. Sure, this is a weensy collection, but it has range, in terms of both subject matter and composition.
Fry’s poetry has feet firmly planted in its turangawaewae – its place to stand. It is poetry of Petone, on the Wellington harbourside. It is poetry acutely aware of season and weather, of flora and fauna, of its inhabitants who come and go. The first poem in the collection, ‘My song’, encapsulates such observations:
‘I sing the ocean
with wading birds and gulls in constant motion.
My song is of the summer’s early light
of winter’s wind and rain at dark midnight.’
With sharp imagery and brute simplicity, Robin Fry’s work brings something fresh to New Zealand’s literary scene. With its parochial charm, however, this is not poetry to ignite a revolution. Not that this matters in the slightest. Fry is a master of her craft. Siobhan Harvey suggests Fry is ‘one of our most underrated poets’. I agree.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Morton
Love Song of the Wading Bird
by Robin Fry
Published by Submarine