Book Review: ransack, by essa ranapiri

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_ransack.jpgessa was the first (and is the only) person to ever ask me what my preferred pronouns are. It came in the middle of an unrelated messenger conversation, just a simple ‘Not to be rude or anything what are your pronouns? [sic]’ So for the first time in my life, completely casually, I told someone outside of my immediate close friend group that I don’t feel 100% comfortable using “woman” as an identifier. And then we went back to discussing the LitCrawl after party.

It seems like such a simple thing, like ticking a box on a form. She/Her, He/Him, They/Them. But more often than not that last box isn’t available for ticking. And that is the space that essa writes from, where many of the poems in ransack have been created. This collection takes that missing box, that void, and fills it to the brim with the previously unacknowledged.

Ransack is like a petri dish. When you read it you feel like you are examining a living thing through a microscope. There are scientific equations scattered throughout, so many references to the sea, an earthiness that is almost visceral. At times while reading it I felt the same feelings of awe I feel while watching a David Attenborough nature documentary.

Perhaps it’s that essa has lived a life where they, and everyone around them, has viewed their mind and body with a cool impersonal remove. They state in the poem the nonbinary individual:  ‘This shouldn’t tell you much because gender shouldn’t tell you anything / about a person.’

There is a yearning throughout many of the poems in ransack, a sense that essa just wants to be accepted for who they are, and yet they are still trying to figure out for themself exactly who that is.

There are a number of poems addressed to Orlando, the titular character of Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel, who begins the book as a boy, and at the age of around 30 wakes up one day as a woman, spending the rest of the book as such. You get the sense reading The Dear Orlando series that this character is a stand in for a real life confidante or role model. In the first Dear Orlando poem, which is the first poem of the collection, essa writes ‘I think about your gender as I think about my own. Would you find that funny Orlando? And would you let me make it a running joke?’

And so essa does, inserting Dear Orlando poems in between poems about their childhood, discordant and frenetic poems about growing up, about love, body dysmorphia, suicide, colonialism, multiple classical references, and references to classic literature. There are also Māori creation stories and genealogies. They sit comfortably in amongst everything else to complete the origin story of essa.

In the poem Koare, essa writes:
My path is Tūrongo
who went to the east
and Māhinaarangi in whose womb
Raukawa slept.

A line direct to myself

In a world which so often doesn’t make space for non-binary and gender fluid people, essa is clearly carving out their own space in ransack. And by doing so, with unapologetic and raw words, they are making space for others to follow. I can imagine one day in the future a young poet will publish a collection full of poems addressed the poem Dear essa.

reviewed by Gem Wilder

ransack
by essa ranapiri
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776562374

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: The Farewell Tourist, by Alison Glenny

Available from selected booksellers.

cv_the_farewell_tourish.jpgWith her Kathleen Grattan Poetry award-winning collection, The Farewell Tourist, Alison Glenny pushes the form of poetry to the edges, turning footnotes, dictionary definitions and letter fragments into their own kind of poetry. This is a book about absence, about white space and about how people grow apart even after being magnetized together.

Alison Glenny compiles in four distinct sections a heart-breaking story in poetry about absence and erasure. The poetry was found in Antarctica pulled from the snow with the snow still on it; ‘The practice of concealing part of a poem by covering it with snow’. The first section titled ‘The Magnetic Process’ is a narrative of lovers told in 29 parts, all prose poem fragments, that brings to mind the feel of Lyn Hejinian’s My Life. These 29 parts show Glenny’s wonderful ability to evoke worlds in a matter of lines; ‘Growing up in a house filled with harps and bicycles, he / pursued nature with nets, a light trap, and a killing bottle.’ This line gives us a view into who one of protagonists are – this man who seeks to pull facts from the world. The parts move back forth between he and she, tracking how both characters live separately, where they intersect and ultimately return to lives without each other. This line from the end of the sequence takes the heart from you and places it gently on your tongue;

even the ghosts would depart. The pictures would walk out
of their frames and disappear, leaving only vacancy and
a scattering of loose snow.

With that, the reader is left in the space of absence, in the spaces of obfuscation, of erasure. The next long section is comprised of footnotes to observably blank pages. Glenny uses form to showcase the margins, the narratives that are obscured pushed to the side. With these Glenny paints a ghostly outline of a larger story; an absence that casts a white shadow over everything. This might sound all a bit too portentous, but rest assured the poetry is still full of little details that spark on the page; ‘He declared his intention of taking the ponies, five dozen sled / dogs, and “a motor car for use wherever there were no mountains”.’

The final section is comprised of fragments of correspondence; communication has been broken down by time and weather and the inability to express within the restrictions of language. You feel a pang in the side or an ache in the heart that has nothing to do with the nervous system and you can’t do anything to evoke what this conjured in you; you can only sit with it in vain. These fragments gesture towards everything unspoken. Glenny leaves us with these two lines that speak to so much while showing so little, the old iceberg cliché stands here;

You are twisted into my being
[The remainder of the letter is missing]

This collection is a beautiful snowfall that leaves you cold and reaching for warmth. It is a stunning achievement and a successful experiment with language and form. I look forward to reading more work by Glenny in the future, to witness the other ways in which Glenny evokes the unspoken.

Reviewed by essa ranapiri

The Farewell Tourist
by Alison Glenny
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9781988531298

 

Book Review: Minarets Issue 8

cv_minarets_issue8Minarets is a special journal to me, in that every time I read a new issue I can see it doing something different.  The poetry is exciting and strange and the humble and lovingly crafted form it comes in is a pleasure to engage with.

In this particular issue there are blue ink illustrations scattered throughout that seem to contrast with the poems in delightful and curious ways. My favourite illustrations are the meme-lite picture of C3PO playing a saxophone and another of what appears to be a bifurcated corn cob, that embody the playfulness that is inherent in this journal. The poets in this issue are Victor Billot, Freya Daly Sadgrove, Lee Thomson, Zack Anderson (US), Murray Edmond, Courtney Sina Meredith, Manon Revuelta, and Naomi Scully (US). Freya Daly Sadgrove’s ‘Bad Sex In Big Suburbs’ (which is one hell of a good title) is a playful beast, as quick to lick wounds as it is to create them.

         what will you give for closeness honey bun

         You can get anyone onside with enough booze

and ruthless gentleness       people are gagging

For a little kindness     people will kill for sympathy

I’ve always admired the voice in Sadgrove’s poems; how it takes and gives with equal measure, there is this sense of honest exposure in her work here that really hits home.

Courtney Sina Meredith is one of the best poets writing today and her poem ‘Pony’ which is displayed on the page like fragments really confirms this. It plays with how we remember our past selves and how family provides a kind of anchoring of the self. The numerous subtitles in this piece do a lot of heavy lifting;

Sex with strangers

The man leading the pony in circles was wearing a cowboy hat.

Memories can carry this sickening contrast that bites at the small in the back and nips at the corners of our elbows and this poem brings that feeling into full view.

Manon Revuelta (who’s poetry book girl teeth is a must read) uses movements of the body to talk about interiority. We are meat forms protesting the air;

Look at this busy dance I do with my hand

When I am talking to people

Shredding paper in the darkness of my pocket

She then contrasts this with what the hand is doing during prayer, which is exactly nothing. I feel like this goes past a simple critique of religion and instead investigates how honesty is about communication rather than the lack thereof. In the silence of stillness between two people one can construct so many lies.

The final poem in the journal which epitomizes the desire for experimentation is by Naomi Scully an American poet who hadn’t heard until reading this. ‘p.Rose’ is a dense and enthralling poem that presents fragmented thought after fragmented thought in a way that creates more feeling than meaning. It’s a total blast to read. What I pulled from it was the sense of a discussion on pedagogy and the ways in which we communicate and teach obedience and the ways in which we can deny that totalizing force.

The cube is concentric volumes… And it speaks to Hallelujah. I will not give in. To the heat that speaks of sins. Beyond the paradise of product lines, we juxtapose a mother set of rhymes. Possible. A trace is made between the fields. A function of discrete appeal. My filter dreams are structured why? For pursuit of scenes and substance.

This collection is currently out of print but I hope it gets a reprint, as Compound Press are providing a platform for some of the most interesting poetry around.

Reviewed by essa ranapiri

Minarets 8
Edited by Erena Shingade, art by Harry Moritz
Published by Compound Press
ISSN 2253-4873

Book Review: Poūkahangatus, by Tayi Tibble

Available in good bookshops nationwide. 

poukuhangatusTayi has done some stunning work (in what is her first collection of poetry) that is at once personal and bodily at the same time as being an astute observation of gender and race politics in New Zealand. She grapples with the colonised body while paying tribute to her whānau and seeking to make contact with her tūpuna through the fog that colonising forces have placed on our vision.

This book speaks to me in an intensely personal way, as a Māori person trying to navigate both my own femininity and identity as a colonised subject. The collection starts with a lyric essay the titular ‘Poūkahangatus’ (a transliteration of Pocahontas); a bold move which showcases the multiplicities on offer here. Tayi blends Greek mythology with pop culture and Māori activism as well as a love letter to her sister. In this essay Tayi rewrites the damaging orientalist narrative of Pocahontas. One of the ways she does this is by utilizing the figure of Medusa; instead of being a threatening monster Medusa is a ‘master carver, engraving her existence in bone forever. Anything else said about her is a rumour and a violent appropriation,’ Medusa is an indigenous woman in this poem, often misunderstood, often responded to with violence but possessing her own skills and power.

My favourite moment in this book is a moment that highlights the contradictions that we as Māori exist in, which is done in such a succinct way within the poem Shame;

the winz lady who smiles
has a sign in her office that says
he aha te mea nui o te ao
he tangata, he tangata, he tangata

but she says the most important thing
in the world
is getting back into the workforce

Throughout this poem no name is given a capital letter from helen clark to papatūānuku, there is a flattening at work here that draws everything together under its title. These are the shames big and small that bind us.

There is a commitment to show the dark corners of this country: the poem Long White Clouds’ is another example of this. It is a prose poem of sorts where thoughts are cut short by slashes; ‘all anyone ever does around here / is grow weed and stare / into burnt out houses / into the rabbit hole / into the cards’. The start of the poem seems humourous before it twists on the slash. The poem keeps up this momentum until it ends with a “dive”. The singular section plummets the whole mass into the poem that waits for it on the next page which mirrors it in terms of formatting.

LBD is another dark poem which approaches sexuality and race. As with Long White Clouds there is an undeniable rhythm to the piece; ‘I want to dissolve / into the night /it fits / tight and acidic / like a womb / the Parisian catacombs / tombs / of bland white skulls’. Tayi’s sense of rhythm, informed by spoken word and modern hip hop, sets fire to the page.

The poem Identity Politics a piece you can find in the New Zealand edition of POETRY Magazine works so well at the tail end of this collection. I highly recommend just going and reading the piece because its brilliance speaks for itself, but here is a snippet from the start of the poem;

I buy a Mana Party T-shirt from AliExpress.
$9.99 free shipping via standard post.
Estimated arrival 14–31 working days.
Tracking unavailable via DSL. Asian size XXL.
I wear it as a dress with thigh-high vinyl boots
and fishnets. I post a picture to Instagram.
Am I navigating correctly? Tell me,
which stars were my ancestors looking at?

‘Am I navigating correctly?’ this is a question that follows me daily, one I am yet to have an answer to, but this book gives me comfort in uncertainty as it exists so bravely in a liminal space. It is okay not to have the answers sometimes.

The collection ends with a birth, a birth of a baby named ‘Hawaiki / like the paradise’. Tayi returns us to a precolonial garden or a decolonized space where we can imagine who are to be as who we once were;

where we were 
before we came here
by waka, or whale, or perhaps

that was where we were
before there was anything at all 

where we meant something

Reviewed by Essa Ranapiri

Poūkahangatus
by Tayi Tibble
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776561926

 

Book Review: Rāwāhi, by Briar Wood

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_RawahiRāwāhi (shortlisted for the Ockham 2018) is an ambitious collection of poetry that transports the reader to places all over the world. The title rāwāhi is a word that means, the other side, or overseas or abroad. This locates Wood (and us) within te ao Māori but in a global sense. This makes sense in Māori tradition as Māori have had a long history of travelling, from those who travelled from Haiwaiki, to those that accompanied the British to London.

We start our journey in the poem Kuramārōtini with Ākuanei, who has chosen to travel with Kupe to the new land of Aotearoa. Wood centres a woman here in a well-known Māori story and in the naming of a place. It is Ākuanei who has the power of words and it is she that is eager to travel. In this poem Wood is aligning herself with her tupuna who decided to leave Hawaiki. My favourite stanza from this poem is:

Some hoa.
Best to know that
legendary navigators take huge risks
and do not make the safest companions.

What stands out to me in this stanza is the voice, the way Wood deals with Kupe like an old friend. It brings real closeness to a story that may seem distant to some.

From Kuramārōtini, we are then taken to a poem about dolphins, and it is with these dolphins that we will be swimming through te moana. Also seeded in Kuramārōtini is the concept of searching for landfall, there is tension between the adventuring urge and the connection with Papatūānuku. In Māori stories there has always been a deep awareness of the separate worlds of Tangaroa and Tane Mahuta, and this tension plays out in this way. A poem that explores the relationship between sea and land is Kūmara Hōu which mirrors again the journey from Hawaiki in its opening stanza:

Kūmara hou – new kūmara – 
also kūmara tawhito – old kūmara – 
brought on waka from Hawaiki,
maybe Mexico, Peru, the Kon-Tiki
sailed thousands of miles across
Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa seeking
your roots, your tubers
Ipomea batatas earth banana.

This stanza explores so many places in such a short amount of time, drawing on phrases from three languages. This is just a snippet of how dense and rewarding Wood’s work is in this collection.

Wood spends time in Paris, London, Ireland and pulls from the linguistic universes she visits. Every language holds a new world in it which gives Wood’s poetry such a wealth of imagery and voice. It rings of the modernism of Eliot but without the elitist condescension. Wood draws on these languages because she understands that to come close to seeing the real diversity of our world we must come close to the words of each locality.

Kilmartin Glen, a poem located in Ireland, begins with the awful phrase ‘Don’t bring your voodoo in here!’ which is at once startling and humourous in the ignorance it reflects. The character in the poem is referring to a Māori karakia that is to be made before the weaving of flax. This is just one of the reminders that Wood is traversing a world that isn’t always kind or understanding to indigenous people like us; ‘If that’s Christianity they can keep it.’ is a line Wood delivers later on in the poem, showing she is not going to take such treatment lightly.

In terms of technical flair there is so much to love and linger on in this collection. How each piece flows into the next is immaculate, a construction that pushes the reader out of their comfort zone by giving us a firm hand to hold. This is a New Zealand poet whose work is worthy of attention and this book very much deserves to be on the Ockham Book Awards Poetry shortlist. I’ll leave you with the first few lines from the poem Transyek that I think encapsulate both the feeling and philosophy of Rāwāhi:

To live life like a fish curved
inside the breaking tip of a wave –

Is this foolish or brave – ?
or maybe neither, but simply to live.

Reviewed by Essa Ranapiri

Rāwāhi
by Briar Wood
Published by Anahera Press
ISBN 9780473403386