Book Review: Beyond Puketapu, by Dunstan Ward

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_beyond_puketapuPuketapu in Maori means ‘sacred hill’. For Dunstan Ward, it’s also “the name of a high conical hill… that dominates the landscape between what was my father’s North Otago farm and the Pacific”. This is what the first poems of Beyond Puketapu start with: childhood memories of New Zealand’s nature.

Ward himself moved away from this home in New Zealand; similarly, his poems also make this transition into other overseas settings. Pieces about Paris make up a large portion of this collection; one poem captures the moment snow falls in France while another compares flowers along the Seine to the memory of a particular Otago morning. In ‘Gift of Venice’, Ward also captures a different part of Europe. In this poem, Venice is brilliantly described as “wrapped anew in tissue of light”.

With a significant amount of his poetry immersed in Paris, the danger of this massive scope is that I felt out of depth with what I was reading. Compared to the earlier poems in the collection, which were much more familiar, there were numerous French words and phrases I didn’t understand. I was unsure as to how crucial these were for supplementing Ward’s poetry. I still appreciated the beautiful language in these pieces, but having so much of the text in French resulted in feeling that some of the meaning was lost on me. It was only when Ward returned to more everyday landscapes that I felt I could immerse myself in his poetry again. At the end of the collection, Ward comes back to nature in a setting that seems more familiar, with the final poem ‘Song’ describing “a day that alights / Like a bird on your table”. It was these snippets of nature that I enjoyed the most.

A poem that stood out for me was Actaeon, a modern retelling of the Greek myth where Actaeon, after stumbling upon the goddess Diana when she’s naked, is then transformed into a deer. In this retelling, however, Actaeon’s final fate is not shown and instead the poet worries, “what will she do to him?” I enjoyed this familiar but still slightly altered take on myth and how it tied in closely to Beyond Puketapu’s themes of nature.

I also enjoyed the little section at the end titled Arrière-pensées, a section that contained more comical pieces. A poem about Ezra Pound’s Modernist motto, “Make it New” is simply titled ‘Lower Case’. Another self-referential piece titled ‘Poem’ with the subtitle ‘(creative writing class)’ plays with the idea of what makes a good poem.

Beyond Puketapu indeed does what the title promises; it looks beyond the New Zealand that Ward was born in and the childhood it represents. I was expecting to read a lot more poetry based in New Zealand due to the cover image of nature that seemed to be quintessentially New Zealand. However, it was still interesting to see the poet surrounded by the beauty of Europe and how he still found himself thinking about the wild nature of New Zealand. Puketapu, or simply home, is represented as a kind of beginning through which the rest of the world can then be discovered.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Beyond Puketapu
by Dunstan Ward
Published by Steele Roberts
ISBN 9781927242940

1 thought on “Book Review: Beyond Puketapu, by Dunstan Ward

  1. Many thanks for your generous comments. Just one point: French words are translated in the notes at the end of the book.

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