Book Review: Native Bird, by Bryan Walpert

Available at bookshops nationwide.

cv_native_bird_smlThe brush of leaves, the sound of birdsong, the flutter of feathers—these are a few features that Bryan Walpert pinpoints with focus and clarity in Native Bird. As an observer of nature, Walpert uses this insight to investigate what it means to be native.

Much of the collection consists of ‘found’ poems, poetry made from other texts. For example, ‘Nearly about birds’ is a poem inspired by lyrical descriptions from nzbirds.com. It is this blurred distinction between fact and fiction that I found the most interesting. Despite the strict language of some of these sources, Walpert’s language assembles these poems in a way that turns the source material into beautiful and striking pieces. He transforms the ordinary into poignant images; in one poem, he describes empty pockets and “how silly they seem now… turned out and flapping and scattering lint to the early evening air like all the falling things you could name if you had to.”

My favourite poems were the ones part of a mini-series titled ‘A beginner’s guide to birding’. With touches of Walpert’s poetic language, these poems turned into more than just the instructional guides they came from. Walpert beautifully explains how binoculars are a useful tool in birding because “magnification is sometimes necessary for true identity”. Even when the facts got out of depth—“You can use angular field to calculate the linear field by multiplying the angular field by 52.5”—Walpert uses the right amount of lyrical language to balance this out. These poems become not only instructional guides on birding, but also tips on experience and how these “moments are slips in your pocket”.

I also felt that ‘Kea: daughter’ was a crucial poem for understanding the collection as a whole. Walpert uses the kea to describe her daughter, since unlike him, “she was born in this country” and therefore more fitting to the native bird. It considers the very meaning of the bird, both in a metaphorical and physical sense. This train of thought leads to musings on the effect of growing up in different places and what’s to come.

I also loved the way Walpert played with language. Included in Native Bird was a paradelle for moving that repeats itself in a way that mimics the repetitive action of packing away. The image of nature is present throughout the collection and here, even amongst the description of old furniture, the birds make their appearance; they “fly yards like flowers”. It is the consistency of these birds that string Native Bird together.

Although the language could be considered too thick at times, I enjoyed Native Bird as a highly compelling read. Each poem came together nicely to form the whole that was the collection; I loved the addition of Walpert’s many found poems, and the way he identified native birds in an attempt to understand New Zealand as a new and different home. It seems that with the appropriate language, even instructions on bird watching can become beautiful and poetic pieces in their own right.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Native Bird
by Bryan Walpert
Published by Makaro Press (part of the Hoopla series)
ISBN 9780994106568

The story of Hoopla – three at a time, by Mary McCallum

On my desk at Mākaro Press, I have the four winds, I have all the hoopla, I have a book my friend Vana gave me to write poems in. I’ve started writing in the beautiful handmade book, but not nearly enough. As a new publisher, I find there’s too little time to write, or to read books published by others. It’s all about the books I’m making.mary_mcCallums_desk

Of course Four Winds Press is one of those ‘other’ publishers, or was. And a small Wellington one too, founded by author Lloyd Jones. His vision was to publish essays by New Zealand writers in sets of three – small, smart, thought-provoking books. I collected them until they stopped, and still look for them in secondhand shops. They helped inspire the ‘hoopla’ on my desk: the series of poetry that I launch every year in April, in sets of three: small, smartly designed, thought-provoking collections of poems.

HOOPLA was named for its connotations of commotion, extravagance and play. And three at a time because we like them marching out together – supporting each other at launches and readings and in bookshops, making a splash. Deliberately, we have a late-career, mid-career and first-time published poet, and we make sure we spread ourselves geographically … always a South Islander.

On the bookshelf behind me as I sit at my desk is another series that has always inspired me: Faber poetry. Those plain, bright, font-driven covers I grew up with that – even now – look like they’re in loud and earnest conversation.

Our Hoopla series began in 2014 with the trio of Michael Harlow (Love absolutely I can), Helen Rickerby (Cinema) and Stefanie Lash (Bird murder). Three beautiful, provocative poetry collections in reds, yellows and blues on the themes of ‘love’, ‘film’ and ‘crime’.

cv_three_hoopla_writers_2015

The three poets behind their collections. L-R Carolyn McCurdie, Jennifer Compton and Bryan Walpert.

This year, the colours are oranges, yellows, and greens, with a touch of bone. The poets are Jennifer Compton (Mr Clean and The Junkie), Bryan Walpert (Native Bird) and Carolyn McCurdie (Bones in the Octagon), and the themes are ‘vice’, ‘settler’ and ‘south’ (in that order). What a whanau! They cry out (I believe) to be bought, borrowed, held, read, re-read, read from, heard from, collected.

You can find out more about the series on our website and order there, or better: go and ask your local independent bookstore to order the books in (if they haven’t already).

Meanwhile, I am not writing enough in Vana’s book. Nor anywhere else for that matter. I miss it and will redress the balance soon. But it’s early days with Mākaro and it needs me. This too I know … collaborating in making books out of a tendril of an idea or a digital file or dog-eared manuscript is in itself a fabulous creative act. Like an excellent series of books, it gathers its power from the numbers involved, and from its own collective joy.

by Mary McCallum
Publisher, Mākaro Press