Book Review: Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2019, edited by Jack Ross

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_poetry_new_zealand_yearbook_19.jpgI look forward to The Poetry New Zealand Yearbook each year, because it’s so wonderfully filled with all things poetry. It’s also a great way to see the current landscape of New Zealand poetry, with familiar names making an appearance alongside newer poets.

The Featured Poet for this year’s volume is Stephanie Christie. Her poetry carries a strong voice that is raw and metallic. This voice runs through stanzas and lines that are proud to be unconventional; some lines run onwards while other lines are chopped, and then the words within those lines can be chopped again. The chopped lines and great pauses give the sense that the characters in Christie’s poems are languishing, while the use of sentences that run on through multiple lines brings a feeling of desperation. What forms is a unique mix that captures a dystopia-like setting. These are not safe places. In Microchasm,

Physical things leak aphorisms. Wash the hair again
for the second time this week
and all the weeks till we’re dead.

There is also the beautiful addition of an interview with Stephanie Christie, and this is where Christie also talks about how she crafts her art. In answer to a question about her writing style, she comments that she’s ‘magnetised towards words that are impossible to say, where the meaning multiples and gets out of control… mimicking the true ambivalence of the sure statements we shelter behind’. Considering the multiplicities in Christie’s work and how they form can also act as a writing prompt, a sparking point to inspire any poet to experiment with their own work. Christie wonderfully states that her creative practice includes ‘collaborations, poetry in theatre, sound poetry, visual poetry, songs… On a good day, I have no idea what I’m doing and am 100 percent committed to doing it. This is exactly where I need to be.”’

The winners of the Poetry Prize for 2019 are especially enthralling. Wes Lee’s first prize poem The Things She Remembers #1 is a swoon of images that shout and burst. Lee’s images also bring a sense that things are not quite right without actively stating it. She writes from moments that feel a little discomforting—

… A stranger sitting behind me
at the cinema leaning forward and
tugging a lock of my hair /

—to ones that are more stomach wrenching—

The patient who screamed like
a bird / her mouth wide as the abyss /

The New Poems are abound with strong pieces as well. Such as essa may ranapiri’s Gallows, which is full of sturdy images that are so clearly and satisfyingly described:

But you don’t seem to hear focused as you are on
trimming your fingernails. The plink of your ends hitting
the glass. And when I try to tell you in the morning
that the roof isn’t fixed; that I could see the streetlights
and blurred stars seep ghostly through the flimsy remains
of the ceiling, you just change the subject; put on your shoes and
leave through the open door.

I also appreciate the addition of reviews and essays in Poetry New Zealand, since creating discussions about poetry is also a rewarding process that brings new ideas to life. As well as being an important space for the work of New Zealand poets, this new instalment will inspire writers to continue writing and to introduce new methods in their craft.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 2019
edited by Jack Ross
Published by Massey University Press
ISBN 9780995102965

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