Book Review: Fallen Grace, by MaryJane Thomson

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_fallen_graceTo have a poet of such stature as Riemke Ensing endorse your poetry is a great sign. In her cover blurb to the slender volume, Ensing likens Thomson’s voice to ‘the music of the street…a questioning voice…wanting freedom from restraint.’ Having little knowledge of Thomson’s work, this was as good a framework to start with as any for a close reading or review.

Looking through a musical lens, the poems vary in cadence. Some poems, such as land, could have been influenced by the beat poets or rap in their essential rhythms, and would work well in any live reading. There is a definite lyricism to much of the work, which lends itself well to being spoken aloud. There are musical references peppered throughout the book, like a delicate seasoning, for example, ‘dissonant tones, lines in a refrain, improvisation or simmering melody’, all of which are used in a poetic sense in Thomson’s poems. There are too many great examples, but the most obvious is the echoing rhyme that so often forms a refrain, ‘…pre-ordainment, lifting containment, elevating to derangement.’ (From the poem Hustle)

Ensing is right when she says much of the work feels ‘…alienated from much of the material world as we know it.’ This is not a negative criticism, but a recognition of the poet favouring the philosophical over the concrete throughout the collection. This out-of-body experience as a reader, gives the poems an ethereal quality, as if we ourselves are drifting like ghosts across the landscapes Thomson creates, observing them from a distance. ‘The world mapped out…because they so high…’ (One Strike) Then, occasionally, like nervous birds, we are brought in close for a fleeting moment – ‘sitting cigarette in hand…staring at feather…’ (Pondering Belief). Then, we zoom out again into the nebulous world of ideas. ‘Ruminating over your small world, looking out from within…Fade in fade out new day…time to slow things down.’ (Nerve At Work)

At times, this distance creates a blurriness or the reader, drawing them in. Like a film that pulls in and out of focus, unnerving in its fuzzy edges. It is fitting that Thomson is also a photographer. The cover photo in itself a blurred forest, perfectly illustrating the poet’s chosen style throughout. It is almost as if Thomson, being a visual artist longs to eschew this world for a change, to wax lyrical and use the page to ponder greater themes, without having to tether them to a fixed set of concrete images.

Like the jazz influence of the beat poets, the unsettled energy of the underlying rhythm defines much of the world. We feel the moments where traditional form would seek to land us, but are transported elsewhere. It is like listening to Miles Davis and not knowing exactly where he will take you next. It’s a beautiful feeling.

Reviewed by Anna Forsyth

Fallen Grace
by MaryJane Thomson
Published by The Night Press
ISBN  9780473281526

Chapbook Review: Broadsheet 16, featuring Stephen Oliver

cv_broadsheet_16Available in selected stores nationwide.

Volume 16 of Broadsheet, November 2015, is an instalment in honour of Australasian poet, Stephen Oliver, for his contribution to trans-tasman poetry. The volume therefore features Oliver’s work, along with poetry from his friends and contacts and a few contributions outside of the theme.

Oliver’s poems are placed in the middle of the volume, with other poets and their writing flowing out of this central feature. One of these poems was Pavel Arsenev’s Translator’s Note, a lovely piece at the start of the issue that worked through the processes of thought. Similar to the way in which a translation is undertaken, the poem explores the way we try to comprehend and understand: “I feel fear. / I am afraid of something, but I don’t know what.”

Oliver’s own poems are both sweet and quirky. This Way Out describes a lush landscape, from fossil to mountain range, and ends with the beautiful image of “Orpheus as he plays / so high and sweet on his moon bone flute”. Another one of his poems included, Lace, has the same light and airy tone as it captures the image of a woman in her home. It is an everyday scene, but Oliver alights it with touches of beauty; the curtains are made of lace and she, too, is described as bright as a dream.

The selection of Oliver’s poems in this issue are proof that he can pull off both the comical and the more poignant side of poetry. Poetry Day Blues is a more casual piece of work, with Oliver using rhyme to create a jaunty little poem about the happenings of National Poetry Day. In a Doctor Seuss-esque rhythm, he describes “Poems on pavements, poems on walls, / Poems at bus stops, poems in halls”. His poem The Departed Guest, meanwhile, returns to more serious themes and encompasses an empty mind as “an abandoned amphitheater”; it describes an intangible loss of knowledge and memory that goes beyond the physical.

Other poems of note were two pieces written by Nicholas Reid. The poem King of Comedy contemplates how time seems to forever click onwards, taking the scene from antique skyscrapers to Vespa scooters and then to the city traffic of Los Angeles. Reid’s poem Ars Amoris was one of my favourite poems in Broadsheet 16, and talks about art and love and the inevitable way they twist and turn around each other. He describes how the art of love can be sonnets, a “plumage of birds in a downriver drift”, the sound of Mozart. And in the final verse, Reid finally talks of how love is also “old you, old me, old us”, a soft and precise ending that closes off the poem nicely.

Broadsheet 16 is a wonderful instalment of various poets, with many writers I had not come across before previously. This little and affordable chapbook promises a collection of new New Zealand poetry and it does not fail to deliver.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Broadsheet 16
edited by Mark Pirie
Published by The Night Press
ISSN 11787808