Book Review: irony | sincerity, by Hera Lindsay Bird and Klim Type Foundry

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_irony_sincerityirony|sincerity  is a collaboration between Hera Lindsay Bird and Klim Type Foundry. It is a book about irony and sincerity. Divided into three parts, Bird performs a version of irony on side of the book and sincerity on the other with an more essay type text separating the two parts. The conversation around irony and sincerity has been going for some time now, and this book posits that it is all performance, the lines that break your heart and the lines that make you guffaw come from the same artifice. This a very personal text in that people bother Bird about irony all the time seemingly missing the glowing heart of her work.

Bird is a f**king great poet, so when it comes down to the line to line level of the text, I can’t help be in love with it. And it’s concrete poetry in New Zealand by a New Zealand writer which is just so cool. Words move across the page in fun ways here, they change in font size to fill the space, or they are made small solitary blips in a black expanse, and for one section the words are italicised and shimmering on pink paper. There is just a lot of fun being had here; serious fun.

You have to save the dolphins
but you can only do so…

by killing

many,

many

dolphins.

We have the environmental concern being turned into a kind of nonsensical pattern. This is a section from the irony side and because of the razor sharp focus the poetry has this driving nature to it that keeps you reading. But even in it’s ironic state the text still deals with modern anxieties around work and environment, and there is still this sadness in the text. A quiet laugh turning into sobbing.

Because that is what irony is, it is a coping mechanism.

You
pray
so
often
that
God
refuses
to
exist,
just
to
spite
you.

This hurts my heart even if it isn’t meant to.

And the sincerity side of the book is no less funny or winking or painful. These two sides complement each other and we get the other side of the prayer; “anyway, / thanks / for / listening!” Funny things are often sad and sad things often funny, irony and sincerity aren’t any way to divide a book – and the central text lays this out very clearly. It’s a spoof of a lecture laying out an origin of the conversation around irony and sincerity.

And the argument is that ‘the problem with both attitudes is neither of them consider what it feels like to be alive. You can’t go through life without taking refuge in contradiction and absurdity, but you can’t live without meaning it either.’ This takes the exercise metatext tomfoolery to a place where we always knew it was – life is often a joke but it’s one that makes you cry just as much as laugh.

A part of what is so impressive is Bird here has essentially taken the hundreds or so comments that shit on her work for not being serious literature and turned that into serious literature like an alchemist or someone pretending to be a pharmacist when they’re not and the medicine they’re prescribing miraculously still works.

This experiment excites me, and I hope the design and poetry worlds blend more and get more public attention because I want to see more books with holographic letters on pink pages.

Reviewed by essa may ranapiri

irony | sincerity
by Hera Lindsay Bird and Klim Type Foundry
Published by Klim Type Foundry
ISBN 9780473448806

Book Review: Night As Day, by Nikki-Lee Birdsey

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_night_as_dayThe front and back covers of Night As Day relate to each other. We see the light casting the shadow of a knotted curtain onto a wall. The shadow encroaches over a picture frame. It is only when we turn the book over that we see the curtain itself and a window and the outside; cars on the road parked one in front of the other. These photos encapsulate the relationship this book has with truth and openness and the need to hide from trauma. As these photos interact to enhance the meaning provided so do the poems interact with more metatextual notes at the end of the book.

The poems throughout the book (split into three sections – that trace a kind of unravelling, a delicate exposure) are accompanied by endnotes which are crucial to make sense of the shadowy shape on the wall. I read the collection moving from poem to its accompanying note; from the ghost of a feeling to the statement that pushed its crystalline form into the world. How the endnotes interact with each poem creates this dual narrative that lifts each piece, creating a space that would otherwise not be present. It is a book of moving back and forth, both literally, as you turn from the poem to the note over and over again, fingers dealing with the problem of page, its rasping flutter, and in theme; the narrator of these poems is moving back and forth between place bringing a sense of unease with them.

the working class, Italian
countryside were skinny,
poor boys in tussock-coloured
frock coats with rich voices,
fleeing fascism.

This section was something of a lightbulb moment for me. The poems themselves are dense and give little away at the start. We are caught inside of a structure as strong as steel and as fine as the hairs on the back of the neck; but something starts to shift. The reasons for this looking-away – this vague sense of staring past the issue – becomes clear. We are looking into the world of trauma, and the real political reality, of upheaval, of fascism and misogyny and the ugliness that coaches it. Birdsey presents us a body that wants to live despite structures so invested in making it silent.

As every condition of the woman’s body
a state of war: clothing, ageing, pregnancy,
            reproductive health, sex

We get the sense that this struggle shadows the narrator, follows them whether they move under the neon lights of New York City or the Southern cross.

This is a threat.
I cannot put a date on this one,
pull me into the realm of forgetting.
The landscapes pass you by,
it’s everything and nothing specific.
I put coconut oil on my hands
and they still feel so dry,    

From what I have written so far you could get the impression that these poems are all drenched in doom but that is far from the case. There are many pieces here that explore the small moments, the delicate beauty we can find even in a world going to shit. Poems like ‘The Green Ray’ capture both struggle and earnest self-expression well the ‘sea yields seals, driftwood of varying/ creature, seabirds that glide alongside me’. And I am struck by how the book ends in this quiet place of sentiment that almost reads like a pop lyric if not contrasted with the weight that has come before;

I keep building this glowing world
with it’s glowing clouds.

This can be yours, too, so
don’t be worried, ever –

It’s you and me,
and we’re going to be
forever together

And for the last time I turn the page looking for the notes connected to this poem which is called One, the last word in a countdown. The note discusses John Hull and his ideas around rain and how it ‘brings out the contours of the audible environment.’ Which is what Birdsey’s book does for her ‘glowing world’ of things. We are not alone it says, just open your mouth and speak into the air and someone else’s world will vibrate with yours and the shadows that haunt our lives might just be twisted into light.    

Reviewed by essa may ranapiri

Night As Day
by Nikki-Lee Birdsey
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776562190