Book Review: Portholes to the Past, by Lloyd Geering

cv_portholes_to_the_pastWell know theologian, Lloyd Geering, takes the reader on a journey into the twentieth century, as he shares a wide range of experiences in his memoir, Portholes to the Past.

At nearly 99 years old Lloyd Geering is well qualified to look back over the last century, discussing the massive social changes he has lived through and evaluating the progress the human race is making.

Born into a world at war on 16 February 1918, he was the youngest in his family, and his three brothers all left home while he was in primary school. The family moved a number of times to enable his father to gain employment. Despite this, and the struggles of the Great Depression, Geering had a good education and went on to University, ultimately training as a Presbyterian minister.

He remembers “men tramping the highways with swags on their backs” during the 1930s, looking for any odd job in return for a meal and a bed in the hay barn, which all changed with the passing of the Social Security Act in 1938 creating the New Zealand welfare state. Geering stated, “the welfare state was founded on two basic principles: that every citizen has a right to enjoy a reasonable standard of living, and that the community is responsible through its elected representatives to ensure that this is achieved.”

Of course one of the greatest changes which occurred during Geering’s life time has been in communications, and young people today would struggle to comprehend how the family was told of the death of his brother. A messenger was sent from Dunedin to the farm at Allanton to inform the family of the passing of Ira due to TB, as they had no telephone. Lloyd then had to travel to Dunedin to let another brother Fred, know of their brother’s passing.

I enjoyed reading this book; it brought back lots of memories of my parents, who talked about many of the same issues, as they were born in the same era. They also had a Presbyterian background and followed Geering’s Christian journey.

In his concluding porthole he is optimistic about the future: “It may not be too much to hope that from the fragments of dismantled Christendom we may rediscover and reinvigorate the moral values of justice, truth and environmental guardianship. Together with the spiritual forces of faith, hope and love, these qualities may yet enable us to create a viable human future.”

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Portholes to the Past
by Lloyd Geering
Published by Steele Roberts
ISBN 9780947493332

Book Review: Looking Out To Sea, by Kevin Ireland

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_looking_out_to_seaLooking Out To Sea is a collection of landscapes and the people that inhabit them. With the image of the ocean at its centre, Kevin Ireland deftly crafts a panorama of vision and memory.

The cover image of a single man amongst the tumult of the ocean hints at the complex emotions explored in Looking Out To Sea. At first, the opening poem focuses on a single moment of childhood bliss where the narrator skips stones “across the still and glassy sea”. However, this bliss is soon undercut by an ending that suggests the losses of growing up.

By placing this denial of romanticism at the very beginning, Looking Out To Sea also considers what is real. We, as the reader, learn to become wary of our own interpretation, such as being sceptical of the beautiful silhouette in ‘Girl on Cheltenham Beach’. Sometimes this message is more explicit; for example, ‘Great day in paradise?’ is a poem that asks its title with doubt, and chooses to depict the true ferocity of the ocean that others tend to forget.

Following from this are also poems about the very act of writing poetry itself. Ireland explores how writing a poem can sometimes be a conscious process of grasping the right words before they, and the moment, slips away. It also acknowledges the flipside of this, suggesting the danger of waiting indefinitely for a poem to come.

The beautiful moments that Ireland captures are still valid, even if there is the possibility of romanticism. ‘Cold Duck’ is a short but simple poem that is both vivid and sweet. The rich language of the piece ends beautifully on the image of wine “corks we aimed / at the summer moon”. Although there were some pieces such as “Happy twenty-first” that contained more hackneyed and simple language, pieces like ‘Cold Duck’ were brilliant moments that brought emotion and wonder to Ireland’s landscapes.

As I read further, the collection seemed to be zooming out from the opening piece, which was a poem that had quite a contained setting. Near the end of Looking Out To Sea, Ireland zooms out further and touches on wider subjects. The title of one of these pieces, ‘Human climate change’, made me wary whether the poem would be preachy and cliché. However, I found the piece to be an unexpectedly comical and original take on an often-discussed matter.

Finally, the last piece briefly considers the Earth as a whole. This final poem also suggests other means of interpreting the title Looking Out To Sea. It can remind us of the dual nature of the ocean that can be both fierce and calm, a complexity that Ireland’s poetry explores. It can, indeed, encapsulate the feelings evoked from this action and the seemingly limitless way the horizon stretches into the distance. Or it can also simply be the act of looking out into the distance that was steadily conveyed throughout the collection, from a single focus to a broader and greater picture.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Looking Out to Sea
by Kevin Ireland
Published by Steele Roberts
ISBN 9781927242926

Book Review: The Unknown Sea, Selected by Rod MacLeod

Available at selected bookstores nationwide.

Death and taxescv_the_unknown_sea − nothing else can be certain, supposed Defoe and others along the way. And in the thick of summer, I carry Rod MacLeod’s selection of poems ‘on living and dying’ at my hip. Fellow beach-goers may consider this a morbid exercise and, undoubtedly, the emphasis of the anthology is on the ‘dying’. But there is something wonderfully contrary about lugging Death about amongst all the mortal festivity.

Besides, this is a magnificent book. Showcasing local talent and contemporary voices, alongside antique heavyweights, one is equally likely to open the book to a sonnet by Millay or Shakespeare, as one is to a poem by Jenny Bornholdt or Bill Manhire. This is MacLeod’s second anthology of poetry on the subject of dying, but unlike many sequels, this is no B-side catalogue. Each poem is a stand-alone, and there is no sense of poetry as ‘fillers’.

Those of you who prefer to read about swing-sets and marigolds may dread such a thematically morbid collection. But there are lighter moments to the verse within. Indeed, as Apirana Taylor states in his poem, ‘A departure’, ‘life and death (are) bodylocked like Siamese twins’. And sure, there are tulips and birds and the reassurance of the quotidian – Billy Collins’ ‘electric bed’, Natalie Hornyak’s ‘hands’. There are dirty plates and vacuum cleaners, sunflowers and dogs. There is vitality here. It would be false to suggest this is an anthology of good cheer, however. More often, the tone is, like the grim tempest of the cover − one of grief, despair or resignation.

I am inclined, as i imagine most folk are, to tiptoe around the subject of personal mortality. MacLeod, a palliative care specialist, eases the reader into the subject matter, by way of careful annotation and introduction. He stresses the humanity which the process of dying can reveal, along with the aloneness, the need for love. The Unknown Sea is a book which I am pleased to house on my shelves − one that i will dip in and out of, and filch from on occasions of funerals. This is a literary staple, something like the potatoes of poetry. This is one to read before you die.

The Unknown Sea
collected by Rod MacLeod
Published by Steele Roberts Books
ISBN: 9781927242667

Email Digest: Wednesday 21 August 2013

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Book reviews

Book Review: Stag Spooner: Wild Man from the Bush, by Chris Maclean

New releases

New Release: Decision Time – A guide to choosing an aged-care facility in New Zealand

Tuesday Poem

Tuesday Poem by Rachel O’Neill   Her collection comes out in September!


Events in September: Lloyd Jones, Kathy Reichs, Stephanie Johnson, Rosemary McLeod, Shaun Hendy, Sarah Laing and more

In Wellington and need something to do this evening? Come and celebrate the launch of Latika’s and Saradha’s books

Fear & Loathing…but not in Las Vegas – True Stories Told Live, 6.30pm August 30, National Library WLG

Book News

Good news for aspiring authors: HarperCollins NZ launches The Wednesday Post

Edinburgh has 53 bookstores – our members number 48 in Wellington, and over 80 in Auckland.

Awards News

#nzpba Congratulations to Paiges Book Gallery & Carterton District Library:

Judge Guy Somerset was on Newstalk ZB with Tim Fookes today talking about the #nzpba

From around the internet

Mal Peet is missing us already – shout out to the Children’s Bookshop Kilbirnie & Unity WLG. Brilliant!

Elmore Leonard died last night, sadly. Here are a couple of Elmore Leonard links:

Just in case anybody hasn’t seen this – Elmore Leonard’s writing tips. Don’t use “all hell broke loose”

Vale Elmore Leonard,  10 of the prolific writer’s must-read novels

RIP Elmore Leonard