Book Review: Crimson, by Marino Blank

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_crimsonFirstly, I want to say how beautiful the book is; the silver lettering on the front is striking against the deep purple hardcover. The focus of the cover is the drawing of a single owl in reference to the morepork; it is an elegant and regal design that captures New Zealand at its heart.

The writing in Crimson is quintessentially New Zealand. Flecked throughout the collection are the touches of the country we know: kowhai flowers, pohutukawa, and the vivid blue of the tui. I appreciated the glossary at the back, which ensured that even the reader most unfamiliar with New Zealand could understand the depth of Blank’s poetry.

The collection begins with ‘Minstrel’, a poem on birdsong that starts to set up the summer atmosphere. The title poem, ‘Crimson’, further encapsulates what summer in New Zealand feels like, describing the heat and sensation of celebrating Christmas under pohutukawa trees. It is these recognisable scenes that makes this collection of poetry so comforting; Blank describes a “scent of / summer” unique to New Zealand.

The language is beautifully light and so is the imagery that comes with it; Blank’s words are “stars that sparkle and capture the brilliance”. In ‘The Matrix’, Blank grandly describes the world around her, how “gold the shimmer of kowhai shelters my world”. It instantly brings a fresh image to the mind, of a ceiling of flowers and the sunlight that filters through the spaces in between. However, many of her other poems only had short phrases and lacked such beautiful, heady description. I would’ve loved to see these images developed throughout the collection.

Crimson is an easy collection to read because it moves steadily through the season; it feels like a collation of memory, a unique experience of summer in itself. ‘New Year’s Resolutions’, although more bitter in tone than the other poems, is a sort of bookmark that defines this passing of time.

There is a little bit of mystery near the end. ‘In Kiss of the Fem Vampire’, the narrator describes how she is only given a 10 percent chance that “the cancer will not return”. The poem undercuts the romanticism of summer and brings something more to the collection than just hazy summer days. It is a reminder of the fleeting sense of such a well-loved season and that such a carefree sensation cannot last.

The final poem, ‘The Last of the Summer Wine’, is one that closes off the collection nicely. The sound of the cicada is such a staple during a New Zealand summer and Blank uses this aspect, along with other memories, to end the collection itself. In this way, Crimson is like experiencing summer in New Zealand through poetry. Christmas, and the crimson red of the pohutukawa tree, is at its very centre. Stretching out from this is a familiar and beautiful collection of memories that formulate Blank’s experience of summer. It is an experience that New Zealanders will find comfort in, and is also written in such a way that other readers are able to enjoy it.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

by Marino Blank
Published by Anton Blank Ltd
ISBN  9780473297817

Book Review: For someone I love, by Arapera Blank

cv_for_someone_i_loveAvailable in selected bookshops.

Spanning over 40 years of writing, of history and culture, of love and life, For someone I love moves in phases, shifting through its sections. The poetry begins with the title poem, a collection of love poetry flowing forth beautifully on the page, complimented by the photography of Pius Blank, to whom most of these poems are addressed to or about. The pictures of the two in wedding clothes set the tone for the written words, but slowly this shifts. The photography becomes more focused on places, and the poetry moves along with it. The romantic love becomes more subtle, and instead we are confronted with feminism and the issues surrounding Māori culture.

The central concern in the longer pieces is that of the Māori way of life as their culture and people were becoming more and more ingrained in European society. The shift to the cities, the European schooling and religion influencing the younger generations as well as the older. The writing is reflexive, asking about the meaning of Māoritanga (‘Yielding to the new’), the integration of Māori children into Pakeha schools and the possible loss of culture and language that comes with this, and the influence of Christian values on Māori culture (‘Innocence of sin’ and ‘Ahakoa he aha’). The informal style of the prose, short sentences, realistic speech, the mixing of Māori and English, all lend themselves to creating a believable depiction of this transitional time for Māori. The characters range from a child starting his first day at school to a girl leaving home for the first time to move to the city, and the range represented here, from childhood to young adulthood, paints a picture of a generation dealing with these changes.

Arapera’s essays deal with the same issues that are dealt with in her prose fiction, mainly those of the Maori culture and its confrontation with the dominant Pakeha world. But here we see a framing through the lens of feminism, and the question of the place of not only Māori, but Māori women, is explored in detail. Motherhood and the upbringing of children in the split world of the 1960’s and 70’s is challenged. This reflexive and critical analyses of both Māori and Pakeha culture and integration is still relevant today, many issues having been lessened, but not necessarily solved. These pieces, written in the 1970’s and 80’s, contain thoughts and ideas that are useful in developing our own understanding of both our society as it was in the past, and what problems and issues we face today in continuing the change that was wrought during Arapera’s time.

For someone I love collects together the writing of a New Zealander whose thoughts are centred on the Kiwi way of life, and especially on the relationship between Māori and Pakeha. Her own relationship with Pius is a romanticized ideal of this, shown through her poetry. But the issues she tackles in her prose and her essays are important for a New Zealand public, as they help us to confront the past, and think about how we deal with the present, and the future.

Reviewed by Matthias Metzler

For someone I love
by Arapera Blank
Published by Anton Blank
ISBN 9780473299187