Book Review: Exits and Entrances, by Barry Southam

Available in selected bookshops.

cv_exits_and_entrancesExits and Entrances is a collection of both prose and poetry that describes characters at different points of their lives. Some of these figures are closer to the edge of certain exits and entrances, while others watch these borders being crossed in front of them.

Southam’s poetry is short and sweet, describing images that hint at lives beyond what can be seen. The poem Footpath Conundrum describes a torn photo as a ‘quartet of colour’. Lost without an owner, the photo is a fracture that ‘remains unanswered’; even the smallest things like a photo on the footpath carry their own resonances. His poetry also hints at change that is yet to occur; the poem Artist’s Studio is a piece that works in this way. It describes paint as’lifeblood’ for an unnamed character that works in the studio. These splashes of colour will soon become part of another canvas that is yet to be mounted, and therefore another piece of art. Without even describing the artist himself, a rich landscape is instead formed through the setting.

Southam’s pieces of prose also broke up the poetry nicely. Made In Heaven describes a rushed marriage through a cheeky main character who suggests, ‘If war breaks out, I’m going to maintain the Switzerland position,’ when drama seems imminent. Playing upon the setting of a wedding gone wrong, Southam brings just the right amount of absurdity to explore the complexity of human emotions that lead to such decisions. Sunday Crossroads is another piece of prose that looks at human nature, this time in the setting of a bush walk; it explores the tugs between pride and fear, the unknown and the safety of home. It is only the good sense of one of the figures that gets the characters out of the bush before it gets too dark. Needing to be reassured but unable to find it in the people around him, another character repeats “We’re okay now… We’re okay now” to himself like a mantra.

However, many of these prose characters fell flat, especially against the richness of the poetic language that surrounded it. A few of the stories were told through the perspective of characters who were passive figures that observed others undergoing change, rather than actively changing themselves. For this reason, I found myself wanting to know more about characters that weren’t focalised through the narrative, causing the actual main characters pale in comparison.

Nevertheless, Southam ends the collection sweetly with a section titled Two Memoirs. The poem Walking With Jim is a casual conversation that portrays the easiness between two characters while they mull over their history. Meanwhile, the poem Another Town, Another Time focuses on change in relation to place, describing the small town of Kawhia, before inevitably moving on to bigger cities.

The final poem, On Daffodil Day, is a pensive piece that describes a man in a hospital cancer department, surrounded by “terminal decisions”. In this way, the collection ends on an exit, but the former poems reflecting on change makes it clear that there were many entrances and exits along the way that lead to this final departure.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Exits and Entrances
by Barry Southam
Published by Copy Press
ISBN 9780994129598

Book Review: Entangled Islands, by Serie Barford

Available from selected bookshops nationwide.

each story will be framed by lines of latitude and longitudecv_entangled_islands
so I can locate myself and my discoveries over time – Entangled Islands

The opening title poem of Serie Barford’s Entangled Islands frames the collection as a whole within itself. It outlines the seven sections that make up the collection in its own stanzas, revealing the parts of the poet’s life that she chooses to use in her writing. The book turns into a poem of its own as we slowly start to see the embroidered stories, piece by piece, framed by its beginning.

The first frame starts  in an unusual place, the birth of the poet, and her subsequent life as a baby. It creates a feeling of surrealism, as the strong ‘I’ that is used throughout asserts itself as the authority on this subject. These moments before memory are written with the certainty of someone who experienced them with absolute clarity. From the hospital birth in ‘Into the wold of light’ to the feeding habits in ‘The promised land,’ the first person voice remains certain of itself. At the end of this section, however, Serie brings the poems into a more present time, as she reveals something about herself. I don’t understand why my parents christened me ‘Cherie’ / when my Samoan grandmother couldn’t make the ‘sh’ sound / when grandma died I changed my name to ‘Serie.’ These last few lines lend a lot of power to her words, an emotional confession that forces the writing from a moment of infancy into a more serious mode.

It is interesting, then, that the next section is comprised of one prose piece and one poem, where the first is made up only of poems. The prosaic writing instils a more concrete feeling into the collection, where entangling images give way for storytelling and description. This continues for the rest of Entangled Islands, as Serie switches between poetry and prose as she moves into more reliable memory. Here we are faced with a child surrounded by her family, to a mother living with her own children. Abstract thought and memory mix together, moving in and out of each other as this shift in writing occurs. Each prose piece feels like a memory, each poem a thought, woven together beautifully by Serie.

Towards the end of the collection, as Serie writes about her dog Sirius, she asks herself in ‘First light’ What memories will I take with me into the long night? What sights or scents or sounds will impress my final breath? And this is it. Her poetry and prose are a part of the answer, and she reminds us of this as she remembers her relatives who have passed on in the beginning and the more recent passing of Sirius at the end.

Entangled Islands is a stunning collection that weaves together memory with impressed images, reality and fantasy, past and present, all tangled together within her poetry and prose.

Entangled Islands
by Serie Barford
Published by Anahera Press
ISBN 9780473330828

Book Review: For someone I love, by Arapera Blank

cv_for_someone_i_loveAvailable in selected bookshops.

Spanning over 40 years of writing, of history and culture, of love and life, For someone I love moves in phases, shifting through its sections. The poetry begins with the title poem, a collection of love poetry flowing forth beautifully on the page, complimented by the photography of Pius Blank, to whom most of these poems are addressed to or about. The pictures of the two in wedding clothes set the tone for the written words, but slowly this shifts. The photography becomes more focused on places, and the poetry moves along with it. The romantic love becomes more subtle, and instead we are confronted with feminism and the issues surrounding Māori culture.

The central concern in the longer pieces is that of the Māori way of life as their culture and people were becoming more and more ingrained in European society. The shift to the cities, the European schooling and religion influencing the younger generations as well as the older. The writing is reflexive, asking about the meaning of Māoritanga (‘Yielding to the new’), the integration of Māori children into Pakeha schools and the possible loss of culture and language that comes with this, and the influence of Christian values on Māori culture (‘Innocence of sin’ and ‘Ahakoa he aha’). The informal style of the prose, short sentences, realistic speech, the mixing of Māori and English, all lend themselves to creating a believable depiction of this transitional time for Māori. The characters range from a child starting his first day at school to a girl leaving home for the first time to move to the city, and the range represented here, from childhood to young adulthood, paints a picture of a generation dealing with these changes.

Arapera’s essays deal with the same issues that are dealt with in her prose fiction, mainly those of the Maori culture and its confrontation with the dominant Pakeha world. But here we see a framing through the lens of feminism, and the question of the place of not only Māori, but Māori women, is explored in detail. Motherhood and the upbringing of children in the split world of the 1960’s and 70’s is challenged. This reflexive and critical analyses of both Māori and Pakeha culture and integration is still relevant today, many issues having been lessened, but not necessarily solved. These pieces, written in the 1970’s and 80’s, contain thoughts and ideas that are useful in developing our own understanding of both our society as it was in the past, and what problems and issues we face today in continuing the change that was wrought during Arapera’s time.

For someone I love collects together the writing of a New Zealander whose thoughts are centred on the Kiwi way of life, and especially on the relationship between Māori and Pakeha. Her own relationship with Pius is a romanticized ideal of this, shown through her poetry. But the issues she tackles in her prose and her essays are important for a New Zealand public, as they help us to confront the past, and think about how we deal with the present, and the future.

Reviewed by Matthias Metzler

For someone I love
by Arapera Blank
Published by Anton Blank
ISBN 9780473299187