On first glance, the title of Morgan Bach’s debut poetry collection seems to be a cheeky defiance. The messy, tumbling of the leaves and text on the cover suggest something discarded, with a slight hint of the trajectory of tears we encounter in the book. While eating the seeds might not appear to be a large act of rebellion, it acts as a centerpiece for the collection. Each poem seems to balance on the fulcrum of it somehow. We see her grow as the poems progress, as travel, difficult relationships and separation from family and country cause the central character to develop (with a dash of cynicism from her experiences at times).
At its core, the title poem is about breaking away from painful and difficult histories, including those created by our families and our culture. It also touches on the sense of dread at watching the destruction of our natural world (that is ultimately “making people disappear”). Bach likens the break with the past or tradition to being ‘…on a lifeboat out of the past, rowing away from the landscape my mother fought for’. There is recognition and perhaps a twinge of guilt at separating from something that was so hard won. Later, in “Education”, Bach returns to this image with:
but we’re still
moving forward, and then with a thump
we go over
The first line of the book is “What do I inherit?” (What they made). With this frame in mind, we see that Bach has placed the poems in the context of an inquiry. The first part ends with the phrase “tame gardens”. The equivalent of genetically modified fruit, bred to be seedless. Seeds can speak of inheritance, of future prosperity and of course, of fertility. There are several allusions to oral sex in the book. But for the most part, the central metaphor is left up to the reader to pin down completely.
The poem comes to us right at the beginning, straight after the hard-hitting opener, “What they made” that offers scenes of physical abuse. It pictures a rural land of disappointment, shame and a “basic sadness”.
This sense of loss or grief washes gently through the pages of this book, reflected in the recurring motif of the shifting seasons and temperamental climate.
Throughout the book, Bach shifts from dream-like sequences (In ‘Pictures’), to retellings of familiar New Zealand childhood experiences (marmite, swings, swimming pools colouring books). It is a book firmly rooted in place, even as its heroine is uprooted and struggling with the pangs of separation from the very place to which she feels she owes so much. Hers is a story many New Zealanders would relate to. But Bach never strays too far into obvious catharsis or melodrama, her hand firmly on the tiller. With her ability to write with restraint (not an easy task to do well), she proves that even at this stage in her career, she is a capable and astute writer.
It feels as if Bach’s life work has already been poured through the winepress into this volume. It could have even had some material held over for another collection. But some people like their books bursting. The same way they like their fruit.
Reviewed by Anna Forsyth
Some of us eat the Seeds
by Morgan Bach
Published by VUP