Book Review: the moon in a bowl of water, by Michael Harlow

Available at selected bookshops nationwide.cv_the_moon_in_a_bowl_of_water

the moon in a bowl of water is a collection of prose poems, most of which are small journeys, tiny stories or precise portraits. But reading the collection sent me down a Michael Harlow rabbit hole, I even burrowed out a book he wrote over 20 years ago on teaching the writing of poetry (Take A Risk, Trust Your Language, published in 1985). I realised in the end that I was searching for his motivation – the drive behind this new collection of exclusively prose poems. I got as close as I’ll get with a quote from an essay Harlow published on ‘The Prose Poem’ in takahe – the prose poem celebrates ‘the strangeness that is in the familiar,’ he wrote.

To Harlow the prose poem is a place where ‘the reality of the imagination and the imagination of reality flourish.’ And you see this in the moon in a bowl of water where the poems prove that the author can maintain the musicality and even mystery of poetry within the prose sentences. For example, in the poem ‘A small magnificence, just buzz me Miss Blue’ there is the sentence ‘If you hear anything I haven’t heard, just Buzz me Miss Blue, and that dear hearts will do.’ With its internal rhyme and sound patterns, the poem clearly has all the signs of poetry. But with most poems having a tight narrative prose form I can’t help but think of another genre – flash fiction.

Indeed, reading the acknowledgements it is clear that some of the poems first appeared in the flash fiction collection Bonsai: Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand (eds Frankie McMillan, James Norcliffe, Michelle Elvy, 2018). The difference between flash fiction and prose poetry currently rests (says Tim Jones in an essay in Bonsai) on where they’ve been published first and how the author defines them.

the moon in a bowl of water contains beautiful lines; one example – ‘I saw the conducting hand of the wind in the bodies of trees, all that leaf green music’ (from the poem For once, then, something.)  However, if you are wanting new interpretations of sonnets, to count syllables and see the mastery behind each line break this won’t be the poetry collection for you.  But, with 22 June bringing New Zealand National Flash Fiction Day,many readers may be curious of the origins and value of the growing form, may want to understand how it can be used and the stories it can create.

In an interesting way, this poetry collection is a great place to start.

reviewed by Elizabeth Kirby-McLeod

the moon in a bowl of water
by Michael Harlow
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9781988531540






Book Review: Heart absolutely I can, by Michael Harlow

cv_heart_absolutely_i_canThis book is available in selected bookstores nationwide.

Heart absolutely I can is one of three books in the 2014 Hoopla series. The other two are Cinema by Helen Rickerby and Bird Murder by Stefanie Lash. All three collections follow a certain theme. For Heart it is love, for the others film and crime respectively. Heart is comprised of poems published in earlier collections as well as new material.

Harlow’s background is in Jungian psychology and in this vein he dissects the tangled undergrowth of human relationships. The vanities, longing, and secret desires of the subjects are exposed with a surprising frankness.

The harrowing disembodiment of a married couple in ‘The Identikit’ has something of an experimental horror movie, while the brevity of the lines in ‘In which’ suggests a hunted breathlessness of a conflicted mind.

In ‘Today is the piano’s birthday’ a family’s interconnectedness centers around said instrument. The piano has life, has feelings. A counterpoint to this sense of flow, of movement, is ‘Nothing but Switzerland and lemonade’ which appears like a still life, a scene frozen in time, a Cézanne painting.

Heart explores love in the abstract as well as in the physical sense; emotional turmoil alternates with eroticism.

The woman in the poem of the title wills ‘the music of the heart to sing us alive’. Harlow
manages to pull people as well as concrete objects into the abstract realm that is love.

Reviewed by Melanie Wittwer

Heart absolutely I can
by Michael Harlow
Published by Mākaro Press
ISBN 9780473276478

Five Poets and a Prize: The Lauris Edmond Memorial Award

Five Poets and a Prize: The Lauris Edmond Memorial Award, Chaired by Frances Edmond
Tuesday 11 March, 12.15pm, Hannah Playhouse

The Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for Distinguished Contribution to Poetry in New Zealand is a biennial award which is jointly administered by Lauris Edmond’s literary estate and the New Zealand Poetry Society. The award was last presented in 2012 to Riemke Ensing. Ensing, along with Michael Harlow, Vivienne Plumb, Jenny Bornholdt, and Geoff Cochrane, read at the session, which culminated in the presentation of the award.

After a brief introduction by Frances Edmond, Epp_riemke_ensingnsing (right) opened the readings with a poem by Lauris Edmond, something she’s been doing since receiving the award. Ensing’s reading was generous and affectionate, especially the poem about her partner of fifty years who passed away in 2009.

Next to the podium was Geoff Cochrane who has that enviable talent of wooing the crowd while being entirely genuine. Cochrane opened with the statement that this “poetry caper” had been pretty good to him, because at the age of 62 he’d been able to buy his first suit. He went on to read poems from the most recent issue of Sport, and gently poked at Creative New Zealand for not funding the issue (asking the audience to go out and buy a copy). Cochrane’s reading style is so wonderfully measured and deadpan that he must be one of New Zealand’s best, and the Hannah Playhouse was heavy with the silence of attention.

love_poems_pamphletAfter Cochrane was Vivienne Plumb, and her quirky reading was irresistible to the audience. Plumb started by reading poems from her self-produced pamphlet “Several love poems by Vivienne Plumb,” which she handed out to the audience after the session. Plumb went on to read from The Cheese and Onion Sandwich and other New Zealand Icons (Seraph Press), to much laughter.


The most popular was probably “luncheon sausage”:

you can eat a smiley face out of it/ or put it into the oven and
when the edges curl up break an egg into the centre/ i remember
having to eat it when i was a child/ my mother sliced it onto
school sandwiches that were spread with tomato sauce/ it was very
pink/ and never tasted like real meat/ for safety reasons the deli
staff are no longer offering a free slice of luncheon sausage to the
children/ as several elderly persons have been for a bit of a skate
on the discarded pieces/ so it is now considered a fully fledged
supermarket slip hazard
– luncheon sausage, from The Cheese and Onion Sandwich and other New Zealand Icons (Seraph Press)

Michael Harlow was up next, and pp_michael_harlowwas a poet I had not had the pleasure of seeing read. Harlow was born in the United States and moved to New Zealand in 1968. Since then he has published multiple collections of poetry, been the editor of the Caxton Press, the poetry editor of Landfall, and is a former recipient of the Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship. Harlow is also a practicing Jungian psychotherapist, and read a poem drawn from his clinical practice. While Harlow only read three poems, they were intense and lyrical.

The final reader was Jenny Bornholdt, who has previously received the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award. Bornholdt read from her most recent collection Hill of Wool (VUP) with her usual gentle authority. After reading some shorter poems, Bornholdt read “Poem About a Horse,” a wonderfully funny and touching poem about memory, story telling, and our use of animals to represent and symbolise human concerns.

And who won? Laurice Gilbert, President of the New Zealand Poetry Society, made the announcement and Michael Harlow made his way to the podium to accept the award.

by Sarah Jane Barnett, on behalf of Booksellers NZ

Thank you Sarah for your fantastic work on this festival – our Writers Week coverage has been enriched with your inimitable talent on board.