Book Review: Bad Things, by Louise Wallace

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_bad_thingsBad Things, the blurb tells us, is about the different things we do to survive. At the start of the collection, on a single page, two strong sentences introduce this idea: ‘I did it for myself / I did what needed to be done’.

And what has been done? Wallace explores this in her poem The animal. In this piece, an animal lies ‘stuck in the mud, sick and barely moving’. The narrator’s first instinct is to reassure the frightened animal and come to its aid. But then the animal is quickly struck by a heavy piece of wood and the narrator looks up to see her sister, ‘anger still erupting from her slight form’. It seems that while the narrator saw compassion as a solution, her sister reverted to aggression. The uncomfortable ending where the two are left speechless seems to deny the option of reconciliation.

In the poem The olives, Wallace further explores consolation as an option for survival. She starts the piece with a character musing on the scenes of a cooking show. Wallace humorously describes how ‘the chef goes to Europe, and oohs and aahs at things the locals have been doing for centuries’. But then Wallace moves to observing other scenes: the comforting ‘sound of the olives falling onto the tarp’, people who ‘voice heartbreak for those who were shot and are then criticised by yet other people’. This leads to a reflection on the heartbreak that we all carry. The main character of the piece then returns to a reality where she spends ‘the long dark hours saying the same things over and over to her daughters’. What follows are words that she whispers like a prayer, words that we have all found ourselves saying to others: ‘it will be okay / I’m here / we are together’.

One of the most heart wrenching pieces in the collection is the poem Helping my father remember. In this piece, Wallace subtly sets the scene by describing her father at the kitchen bench, ‘his hand hovering / over an orange and a paring knife, / trying to think / what he had planned’. Throughout the poem, Wallace is there keeping an eye on her father, following him through ‘tall grasses, as high / as my head’. But a world of loss does not mean a world devoid of comfort. The ending seems to refer back to The olives when Wallace beautifully tells her father, ‘We won’t be lost / if we’re together’.

So how do we survive all the bad things? Through her collection, Wallace explores a variety of situations. There is no objective right or easy solution, but consolation seems to be a key theme throughout Bad Things. Wallace’s poem Reminders for December also offers a series of words to hold tight to and repeat in times of adversity, and it is a comforting piece in its simplicity. In the poem, Wallace provides a word on each page, similar to those reassuring phrases at the end of The olives. And she tells us, ‘cut / dig / gather / heel in / lift / protect’, reminders to keep on going.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Bad Things
by Louise Wallace
Published by Victoria University Press
ISBN 9781776561612

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Words of the Day: Monday, 4 November 2013

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Book Review: Enough, by Louise Wallace

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Don’t forget to tune in tomorrow for our #HobbitFanEvent live stream! Watch it here or here pic.twitter.com/xp5Lcbmqfp

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Book Review: Enough, by Louise Wallace

Just like in her first collection of poetry, Since June (2009cv_enough), Louise Wallace focuses on family and place in Enough, her second collection.

Enough is about life’s physical and emotional journeys, especially the aging process – the focus of a number of the poems. Her poetry is at times moving, as in ‘With her’, or cheeky, in ‘Well how would you be about it?’, in which an elderly lady disposes of her meals on wheels with creativity and determination, only to be tripped up by her nosy neighbour. Her poems are also about transitions, transition from place to place within New Zealand, and transition from conscious living into the forlornness of dementia. Enough is also about relationships between mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, people and places.

Louise Wallace often dives into the essence of an observation only to come up at the end for a breath dragging to the surface along with her a thought crisp and clear. With her glimpses into small intimate moments she paints a canvas on which readers might recognise pieces of their own life. Enough is making me feel at home.

Reviewed by Melanie Wittwer

Enough
by Louise Wallace
Published by Victoria University Press
ISBN 9780864739131

Book Launch Monday 4 November, 6pm, Southern Cross Guest Room, Wellington