Book Review: Girls of the Drift, by Nina Powles

Available from selected booksellers nationwide.

cv_girls_of_the_driftNamed after a 1928 political pamphlet by the same name, Girls of the Drift is a defiantly pink debut from emerging poet, Nina Powles. Weaving real and fictional accounts of women’s stories, it is wrapped in the brightest pink imaginable. To encounter such historical poetry contained within its pages, particularly the delicate feminine portraits, is incongruous at first.

About her poem ‘Josephine’, based on Katherine Mansfield characters, Nina says she was interested in the way ‘the world opened up to [the women] in small moments of colour and brightness.’ The cover is more than just a moment, but perhaps that is the point. It is interesting to note that the women, from the story ‘Daughters of the late colonal’ are symbols of the opressed feminine, who came into themselves only after the death of their imposing father. Nina says she is drawn to thinking about ‘people and places stuck in the in between, caught in phrases of transition.’

The title poem is literally at the heart of the book, a 1929 letter from one poet to another (New Zealand poets, Jessie Mackay and Blanche Baughan) that references the above pamphlet and urges her friend to write again (she put down her pen after a period of illness). The reader is immediately thrown into a sensual experience here from the first line:

I pressed a sprig of manuka into the envelope…

Can you smell it? The wild, dry
dust-honey smell of summer in the gorge.

It is fitting that the green twine holding the chapbook together is like holding the sprig there in your hand. There is something reminiscent of tying a string around your finger in order to remember something important. In this letter, it is the girls of the drift, the ones who might drift into domesticity with barely an education, that Blanche promises to remember through her activism. This thought is echoed in the strings, knots and ribbons that pepper the poems. These symbols can of course also refer to apron strings and matrimonial bindings.

The continual reference to birds is a metaphor for the ability of women to soar above and beyond these traditiional constraints. These conditions are likened to sticky jars filled with bitter marmalade and honey (a trap?) in several poems. This is brought home distinctly (and in capitals no less) in the poem ‘Burn Back’:

MY WORDS ARE WASTED ON THINGS THAT DON’T FIT INTO JARS

With this reading in mind, the book becomes essentially feminist and a reflection on what it is to be a woman on the verge in a colonial context. The two prophetic wise owls on the cover could be the two poet friends, casting a wise, watchful eye over the girls of the drift.

Reviewed by Anna Forsyth

Girls of the Drift
by Nina Powles
Published by Seraph Press
ISBN 9780473308438

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s