Book Review: Cold Water Cure, by Claire Orchard

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_cold_water_cureClaire Orchard’s fascination with Charles Darwin is the foundation of her debut poetry collection, Cold Water Cure. This interest in his theory of evolution is one that attempts to grasp the concept of birth, death, and how it results in the humanity that we know now.

The poem ‘In the library with Darwin’s red notebook’ is central to the collection. It attempts to understand Darwin’s mind through his notebook; it ponders the curve of his handwriting and the small notes he’s jotted down. It portrays Darwin’s ambitious ideas not just for what they are, but also how he himself could’ve seen them as he tried to make sense of the world.

From this, Orchard tugs the reader along in her exploration, portraying different forms of life. In the poem ‘Voyages’, she describes the many different ways that journeys can be made, and starts with herself climbing up Makara Hill. Then she portrays a swarm of mosquitos, a small butterfly, a fox. With each different creature, Orchard describes a different moment in her own life, focusing on the movement of each stage.

I also loved Orchard’s experimentation with found poetry, both related to Darwin and unrelated. One of my favourites was ‘You played 2 hours to die like this?’, a collection of quotes from various video games. Some quotes I recognised while others were beyond me, resulting in a strange mix of the comedy and seriousness that is found in different plot points of video games, and different points of life. There were quotes that were simply absurd like ‘Wakka wakka wakka’, others more poignant like ‘Everything is teetering on the edge of everything’ and some simply blatant like ‘You have died of dysentery’. I found myself smiling at all the different levels of language that had been assembled together to create a poem.

Cold Water Cure is also a collection of a variety of poetry formats. Twelve voices over five courses is a poem assembled around the edges of the page in such a way that the reader can continuously read the poem round and round, forever getting lost in its ponderings on evolution. Rotated ninety degrees, the poem ‘Fully informed’ also becomes a diagram of reported sexual assaults, the length of each line representing the number of values on a bar graph. These creative touches made the collection so much more special.

Orchard’s poetry captures a variety of different moments in both human and animal life, and I found myself feeling sad for some characters that were desperately trying to find understanding and comfort in their lives. To me, the collection portrays the limited nature of humanity; perhaps we will never quite be able to understand everything. Darwin, indeed, tried to comprehend where we come from, and this collection further tries to understand humanity through his mind.

The last poem of Cold Water Cure is one on birth and it is a fitting end to a collection about existence and evolution. Orchard’s poetry collection may have an ending, but the ideas and questions will continue—this time in the reader’s own mind and beyond.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Cold Water Cure
by Claire Orchard
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776560578

Five Poets And A Prize

Five Poets And A Prize involved the reading of five poets’ work plus the presentation of the 2016 winner of the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award. Funded by Victoria University Press and the New Zealand Poetry Society, this award is given to a poet who has contributed greatly to New Zealand poetry.

Frances Edmond, Lauris’ daughter, starts the readings with one of Lauris’ own pieces: a poem titled In Position. She then introduces Dinah Hawken, a past recipient of the prize, as the first reader. Her poems are exact yet grand, and she explains that many of the poems she’s reading are about women and children, since they remind her of Lauris.

It is this threading of Lauris’ memory with each writer that makes the event feel whole. Bob Orr, the next poet, knew Lauris personally and reads samples of his latest book, Odysseus in Woolloomooloo. I loved the way he introduced his poems, sometimes giving an insight into the story and inspiration behind his pieces.

I especially loved listening to Claire Orchard read, since I enjoyed her debut poetry collection, Cold Water Cure, which was inspired by the life of Charles Darwin. Orchard reads snippets from this collection while also expanding the reason for this focus on Darwin: an interest in comparing the similarities between Victorian life and her own.It is this imaginary correspondence between Orchard and Darwin that fuels her pieces.

The fourth poet, Chris Tse, recently had his poetry collection How to be dead in a year of snakes shortlisted for the New Zealand Book Awards. Before the event, I’d never read his work, but such a striking title promises good poetry. Tse definitely delivers; his voice is strong and steady, detailing the metaphor of the snake found in man and humanity.

Next up is Harry Ricketts, and his first poem is a fitting piece that’s both about Lauris and BATS,the theme and venue of the event. In between his readings are small interludes where he talks about his own interactions with Lauris, including a little story about how someone in a café declared that Lauris definitely looked like someone famous… before deciding that she had to be Janet Frame.

The variation between these five poets covered a stunning breadth of place and time from both well-seasoned and newer writers. And when Frances Edmond announces that the 2016 winner of the award is Bob Orr, the audience bursts into applause. Shocked and humbled, Orr gives his thank yous. Like all great writers, he simply loves to write, stating, “I thought I’d just come here to read some poetry”. Overall, the event was a lovely selection of five poets who I will definitely be reading more of, including the worthy winner of a brilliant prize.

Attended and reviewed by Emma Shi

Five Poets and a Prize: Dinah Hawken, Bob Orr, Claire Orchard, Chris Tse and Harry Ricketts
BATS, Saturday 12 March
NZ Festival Writer’s Week