Book Review: Otari: Poems and Prose, by Louise Wrightson

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_otariLouise Wrightson knows her subject. Boots on and I’m off for a quick clip into Otari – My Trail. She has lived near to Otari-Wilton Bush for awhile, and her local knowledge, firsthand experience and love of the area is evident in Otari: Poems & Prose. The cover of her book is hardy, much like the flora it details. It’s one of those books you could carry in your bag, perhaps on a visit to the area. It’s a poetic field guide to part of the original Wellington bush.  Otari has been described as a “living museum”.

The opening line of the title pantoum, A dark wind roars in the pines, seems to be in conversation with the last two lines of the book, like book ends, Breathe out and in, keep warm. As an introduction, the poem is a flood of sight and sound, immediately assailing the reader’s senses and plunging us into the vibrant world of the Wellington bush. It is teeming with nature, with all its familiar onomatopoeia.

Louise’s love for natural history is the unifying force of this book, and she references several texts within her work, such as, A Photographic Guide to Mushrooms and other Fungi in New Zealand, in the poem Fungal Foray. Needless to say, it’s a niche subject, but Louise obviously enjoyed writing about these kitsch objet d’art of the natural world:

 It listed their common names: the witch’s
 butterjelly, sticky-bun bolete, olive oyster and slippery jelly baby,
the sociable inkcap and hotlips puffball, the flabby poreconconch
and balding webcap, and my favourite, the cinnamon deceiver.

It’s a rich source of poetic material and Louise dives into it effortlessly. Unlike many similar books, the mix of poetry and prose in Otari is unusual and provides great textural counterpoint with delightfully refreshing narratives. Within the mix of stories and poems, we see the gritty imagery of human life displayed, almost as a parallel museum, filled with delicious objects, such as the remnants of the totorere shell we used to wear as rings, wine corks, plywood boxes (a coffin) and gumboots; flotsam of our lives and deaths.

The glossary of Māori words is a delight, as are the notes. These items are often overlooked in works of fiction. Their inclusion shows Louise’s dedication to the mana of her subject matter. Overall, Otari is akin to a marvellous bush walk. The kind where you come out scratched and tired, but ultimately full of wonder at this rugged country and its many facets, ripe for exploration.

Reviewed by Anna Forsyth

Otari: Poems and Prose
by Louise Wrightson
Published by Otari Press
ISBN 9780473288792

Interview in Booknotes Unbound

Wellington’s NZ Festival features For the Birds, a visual art show in Otari-Wilton bush. Perhaps you may like to buy this book as a companion-piece!


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