Book Review: Bones in the Octagon, by Carolyn McCurdie

cv_bones_in_the_octagonAvailable in selected bookshops nationwide.

In this poetry collection, Carolyn McCurdie brings magic to every moment, no matter how everyday. Bones in the Octagon is full of poems that are simple and sweet; one focuses on the memories associated with a blue and white tablecloth while another details the smell of freshly baked bread.

McCurdie’s writing easily carried me through the collection, maintaining a steady tone all the way. This, combined with the dream-like imagery, resulted in some very striking description. One poem depicts how “our eyes are less on the stars, / more on the spaces between”. Another captures memory as paint “on the dreaming / walls of my mind.”

‘Power poles along the street’ is an interesting piece despite being, as the title reveals, very commonplace. The poem has no full stops or commas; instead McCurdie relies on line breaks to create these pauses. This creates a small breath in between phrases and a similar effect to punctuation. The lack of full stops, however, reduces the harshness of each break and therefore results in an atmosphere that is more light and airy.

One of my favourite poems was ‘Invitation to dance’. It is a piece that dares the reader to “Walk with me. / Pack no bags.” Still, the poet doesn’t forget to remind the reader that the past is important, and how it’s where “You might look through your blinking to that younger / self”. This final stanza captures a feeling that, despite having no name, is so pervasive: the want to tell your younger self what you, in the present, know. It explores the importance of being able to accept your old self and recognise the distance between old and new. It is this common yet complex feeling that McCurdie manages to craft so deftly.

I felt that many of McCurdie’s poems were on the edge of something different like a beginning or a kind of rebirth. ‘January Begins’ is an obvious example, as it details the connection between Janus the two faced god and the idea of open doors and possibility that comes with the new year. Its final line—”Go through”—is a striking ending in its simplicity.

Although I would’ve liked a couple of longer poems, Bones in the Octagon was still a beautiful collection to read. The consistency of McCurdie’s writing allowed me to truly immerse myself in her words, where enchanting language could be found in the most ordinary comparisons and objects.

The final poem still felt fresh and new even at its place right at the back of the book. The title of the poem itself, ‘The time of fire is over’, reminds me of the rebirth of a phoenix from the flames and it invites the same kind of possibility explored in ‘January begins’. McCurdie describes how “your skin is growing brittle” but still “your feet stand firm.” The final lines—”your toes curl, grasp / the edge”—are a strong affirmation and conclusion that describes the sensation of being at the cusp of something new; it is an ending that feels hopeful.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Bones in the Octagon
by Carolyn McCurdie
Published by Makaro Press
ISBN 9780994117212

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’.


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