Book Review: Expecting Miracles, by Peter Bland

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_expecting_miraclesPeter Bland’s Expecting Miracles is a collection of poetry that explores the many emotions tied to memory. By touching on subjects of loss that are close to the heart, Bland crafts a nostalgia that invites the reader to also reminisce.

‘Expecting Miracles’ is also the title of the opening poem, a piece of work that was written in memory of Bland’s wife. Through snippets of recollection, Bland fondly crafts this memory back to life. His language brings meaning and grandeur to even the most commonplace occurrence, from a game of cricket, to the image of blonde hair streaming back in the wind. This is where his work finds strength: creating a strong picture by focusing on specific moments in time and place.

From this opening piece, the poet becomes the primary narrator of the collection. Through his memories, the reader learns the people and places he treasures. The grandeur of his language emphasises this connection to the great loves of his past, when he was “young / and the road never-ending”.

Bland’s poetry also explores other characters beyond the poet. Through these characters, his writing also experiments with a magical realism that is both haunting and striking. In ‘The portable pond’, a man carries around a remnant of his past—a pond near his childhood home—and is never quite able to get rid of it. This childhood love is what stops him from being able to truly start a new life. These stories are, in a way, alternate forms of expressing the poet’s preoccupation with memory. I most enjoyed these touches of fantasy as they allowed a distinctive outlook on a common theme.

However, there were only a few works of prose poetry such as ‘The portable pond’. I felt that these pieces were the strongest and found myself savouring them much more as they best-suited Bland’s style of storytelling. His works of prose poetry felt significantly smoother compared to the constant use of enjambment in his works of verse. I felt that this was jarring against the nostalgic atmosphere that Bland had so effectively set up at the beginning.

Due to this, sometimes I felt a lack of coherence in Expecting Miracles. Although I could identify main themes such as memory, the order that Bland’s poems followed on from each other was not strongly linked. The beginning worked well as it asked questions about remembering, about hoping for things that had come to pass, but I felt this theme got a bit lost in the middle; there were an array of memories from different standpoints with no concrete order.

However, the collection gained traction again with an ending that attempted to find a solution these questions. In this way, Expecting Miracles finds strength in its beginning and ending. At its end, it turns again both to magical realism and the real. It then delves back to even older memories and what to do when, in the end, all you have left is recollection.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Expecting Miracles
by Peter Bland
Published by Steele Roberts
ISBN 9781927242902

Book Review: Hometown New Zealand, by Derek Smith

cv_hometown_NZAvailable in bookstores nationwide. 

Derek Smith has worked as a meter reader for most of his adult life, travelling on his work-issue scooter in town and country to read the power meters of suburban and rural properties.

The job was a revelation – he found he was able to indulge his passion for photography while earning a living wage. For over 30 years, Derek Smith took photographs of the ordinary scenes around him and turned them into a wonderful social documentary of our community. Derek would take photos of seemingly mundane streets, buildings, cars and billboards and capture a moment in time that we can still appreciate whether current or from 1982.

His ability to visit all types of properties allows him a unique insight into a broad cross-section of New Zealand. He completed stints as a meter reader in Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin, Coromandel, as well as rural Otago, Westland, Waikato among others. The pictures in Hometown New Zealand reflect his time in all of these places.

The foreword is definitely worth reading next time you are relaxing on the couch with a cuppa in hand. He writes a wonderful and charming introduction to his idyllic life, linking arms with New Zealand people and culture. He shares amusing stories from his time on the road, coining the work-issue scooter with brake problems “Certain Death”, and gaining sympathy for his daily confrontation with beasts unknown in yards around the country. Then there are the stories of chatting with hermits in back-country properties, tracking down the power meter through 12 farm gates, and then swapping gates for electric fences. His time in Wellington is familiar to all who have lived there; survival of cutting southerly icy storms and walks up and down 137 steps to domestic properties.

His inspiration is that he ‘recognises our place in time as transient and important to document’, and it’s wonderfully nostalgic to look through the photos, reviving your own memories of growing up in New Zealand. It is such a surprise when you look at the rural photo of Foxton from 2004 with old cars, worn signs and battered paintwork and recognise that this photo is similar to that from Raetihi in 1986. Heart-warmingly, New Zealand hasn’t changed much if you find the right spot.

Review by Amie Lightbourne

Hometown New Zealand
by Derek Smith
Published by Craig Potton Publishing
ISBN 9781927213117