Book Review: The Glass Rooster, by Janis Freegard

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_glass_roosterThis sophomore poetry collection from poet and novelist, Janis Freegard, covers a lot of ground, both physically and metaphorically. The book is divided into eight distinct sections, labelled ‘Echo-systems’. Physically, the reader is transported all the way from Reykjavík to the Himalayas and on to the Mexican Desert, among other locales.

The ecological subject matter of the book is never heavy handed or clichéd. You can see the author’s love for the variety of species populating this planet, with several poems acting as almost a roll call. The poet obviously finds great pleasure in listing the various creatures.

The spirit animal of the work is of course the glass rooster of the title, who appears in several of the poems throughout the book. It originates from a poem of Freegard’s included in the now-defunct journal, Six Little Things, and was subsequently published in her first collection. When the strange, fragile animal first appears, we are told he is ‘well-travelled…confident in his own resplendence.’ It is no coincidence that he is unware of his own fragility, or the fact that he can no longer usher in the day, or issue a warning of any kind. He is impotent. He is nature objectified; ornamental.

In his next appearance, in the ironic poem, ‘Not’, the rooster is still singing his own praises:

Have you seen my feathers? How the colours glint
in the dappled light. Have you heard my call? Oh I am king
of all I see. Hear me, hear me. This tree, mine. This whole
forest, mine.

His ultimate destination is spelled out by Freegard in the final line of the book: ‘You will find you have become a poem.’ He has become memorialised. His fragility is spelled out in this poem, perhaps unnecessarily. There is a sense of foreboding rendered through this pitiful creature, such as in ‘Ectoplasm’: ‘The darkness lay on him heavily’. There is a note of grief; perhaps at the resplendent creature is now merely a decoration; a blank canvas for man’s projections. The unease is thematic. ‘…the land’s uneasy, the sun begins its long descent’.

If you create a poem from last lines in the book, you get an idea of the sense of loss underpinning the poems. Could the last line here be an assertion that we are (or at least the narrator is) in fact the rooster?

A heavy rain will come, and wash things clean
Turned out backs to the sea
Never quite dissolved
Somewhere different
Well away, well away
Collection of porcelain shells
& dance together, among the falling petals
The ultimate prophecy
Yesterday and yesterday I was young.
Why we missed them.
We took the path of least resistance.
I am the rooster. I am made of glass.

Reviewed by Anna Forsyth

The Glass Rooster
by Janis Freegard
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869408336

Book Review: The Year of Falling, by Janis Freegard

cv_the_year_of_fallingAvailable in bookstores nationwide.

Falling – falling from grace, falling in love, falling out of love, falling over, falling down, falling apart, the harder you fall – so many quotes about falling, and they could all apply to the characters in this first novel from Wellington poet and short story writer Janis Freegard. Such a clever and simple idea to build a story around.

The lives in various stages of falling are those of two sisters, Selina and Smith. Their mother deserted them and their father when Selina was just a toddler and Smith was a teenager. Even though their father did the best job he could raising his daughters by himself, the absence of their mother has affected both girls in quite diverse ways over the years since.

Selina is now 29, a graphic designer working for an advertising company in Wellington city, single, living alone in a flat in Brooklyn on the property of her landlady, Quilla, a semi-reclusive older woman with her own story to tell. Selina is, quite frankly, a bit of mess. She drinks too much, is unreliable in her work, recently broke up with her boyfriend, and her much-loved father and his wife are in the process of moving to Australia. At the same time as porcelain dolls begin turning up on her doorstep, she begins an affair with a celebrity chef who not long afterwards, disappears.

Smith, being somewhat older that than her sister, has never been able to move away from the surrogate role of mothering Selina. She has sacrificed many opportunities in her life to look after Selina through her various issues, and is now living in Takaka in a house bus, part of a cooperative community, finally having found some peace in her life. Ever the carer, she is also caring for a young woman who is terminally ill, and the woman’s nine-year-old son. With all this going on, she has taken it upon herself to also try and find her and Selina’s mother.

Selina is the central character in the story, and well over half is told in her voice, with Smith and Quilla in alternating chapters. The characterisations are terrific. They are well-rounded, flawed characters, trying to live a life and hold themselves together. We also get to see each character viewed through the eyes of the others which gives quite a different dimension to each woman. All three women and the minor characters felt like real people – the likes of Selina could easily be in your workplace, and Quilla is instantly recognisable as the elderly neighbour living alone, keeping an eye on things.

The locations of the story also feature prominently. Wellington in particular I enjoyed very much reading about, hailing from that city myself. I can see the winding streets of Brooklyn, the houses perched on the slope down off the road, or up steep driveways, the bush of the town belt as an ominous and slightly threatening backdrop. By contrast, the author writes about Takaka in a completely different way – the natural beauty of the place comes shining through, symbolic of being far better for one’s mental and emotional health than Wellington. And for a place of complete difference and contrast – Iceland!

This is a story of searching for one’s self, trying to identify and then hold onto the important things, and finding a place to call home whether it be a physical place, or simply in your own head and heart. There is hope, forgiveness, joy and love. It is a wonderful story, I very much enjoyed reading it. I really hope this book gets widely read and promoted, because it certainly deserves to.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

The Year of Falling
by Janis Freegard
Published by Makaro Press
ISBN 9780994106575