Book Review: The Glass Rooster, by Janis Freegard

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cv_the_glass_roosterThis sophomore poetry collection from poet and novelist, Janis Freegard, covers a lot of ground, both physically and metaphorically. The book is divided into eight distinct sections, labelled ‘Echo-systems’. Physically, the reader is transported all the way from Reykjavík to the Himalayas and on to the Mexican Desert, among other locales.

The ecological subject matter of the book is never heavy handed or clichéd. You can see the author’s love for the variety of species populating this planet, with several poems acting as almost a roll call. The poet obviously finds great pleasure in listing the various creatures.

The spirit animal of the work is of course the glass rooster of the title, who appears in several of the poems throughout the book. It originates from a poem of Freegard’s included in the now-defunct journal, Six Little Things, and was subsequently published in her first collection. When the strange, fragile animal first appears, we are told he is ‘well-travelled…confident in his own resplendence.’ It is no coincidence that he is unware of his own fragility, or the fact that he can no longer usher in the day, or issue a warning of any kind. He is impotent. He is nature objectified; ornamental.

In his next appearance, in the ironic poem, ‘Not’, the rooster is still singing his own praises:

Have you seen my feathers? How the colours glint
in the dappled light. Have you heard my call? Oh I am king
of all I see. Hear me, hear me. This tree, mine. This whole
forest, mine.

His ultimate destination is spelled out by Freegard in the final line of the book: ‘You will find you have become a poem.’ He has become memorialised. His fragility is spelled out in this poem, perhaps unnecessarily. There is a sense of foreboding rendered through this pitiful creature, such as in ‘Ectoplasm’: ‘The darkness lay on him heavily’. There is a note of grief; perhaps at the resplendent creature is now merely a decoration; a blank canvas for man’s projections. The unease is thematic. ‘…the land’s uneasy, the sun begins its long descent’.

If you create a poem from last lines in the book, you get an idea of the sense of loss underpinning the poems. Could the last line here be an assertion that we are (or at least the narrator is) in fact the rooster?

A heavy rain will come, and wash things clean
Turned out backs to the sea
Never quite dissolved
Somewhere different
Well away, well away
Collection of porcelain shells
& dance together, among the falling petals
The ultimate prophecy
Yesterday and yesterday I was young.
Why we missed them.
We took the path of least resistance.
I am the rooster. I am made of glass.

Reviewed by Anna Forsyth

The Glass Rooster
by Janis Freegard
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869408336

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