Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Winter Vault transcends

THE WINTER VAULT by Anne Michaels [Bloomsbury]

This is the review I wrote for Your Weekend magazine's Anzac Day 2009 edition. I found it in the letterbox and took it with me rolled up in my bag to read while I waited for the ceremony at the local Anzac memorial to begin. An apposite book for that particular day and for me, still fresh from a winter in Canada.

Anne Michaels’ writing finds the epic in the intimate and the intimate in the epic in a way that is both astonishing and demanding. At the start of The Winter Vault, Avery is an engineer in 1960s Egypt involved with moving the temples of Abu Simbel so they aren’t drowned by the new Aswan Dam. While local Nubians are forced to leave their dead to drown in ancient graveyards and move to mock villages where they have no history, the temples are moved stone by stone to a place without meaning.

Avery and his new wife, Jean, watch this exodus from their houseboat, exploring each other’s bodies and trading family histories. Among other things they talk about the work Avery did back in Canada when he presided over villages being shifted and drowned to make way for the St Lawrence Seaway. This is a world where people and history are dispossessed by cataclysmic man-made events, and Avery and Jean move inside it unsure what it is they possess, especially when faced with a tragedy of their own.

The neutral authorial voice that characterises this novel shifts back and forwards from factual descriptions of the two river projects to intimate moments more akin to prose poems. These two elements lap at each other to the point that when the statue of Ramses is sawed through in preparation for moving, Jean expects to see blood.

Back in Toronto separated from Avery now, Jean meets a man who helped rebuild Warsaw following the devastation of World War II. The novel focuses then on the stories Lucjan has to tell about his own experience of dislocation and the agony of building a replica city on the bones of the dead. The ‘pact of words’ begun in the desert continues with Jean and Lucjan’s encounters in bed.

Meanwhile, Jean plunges her hands into the frozen Canadian soil and tries to create a garden from her late Mother’s cuttings: transplants too. This is where we hear about the winter vault which provides storage for bodies through the Canadian winter until the earth defrosts enough to allow them to be buried. It is a place of silent ceremony, where death itself is delayed, and somehow made manageable.

Michaels knows about the importance of taking time. At 50, she’s produced three poetry collections and two novels: the Orange award-winning Fugitive Pieces was published twelve years ago. In many ways, Michaels writes fiction like her compatriot Michael Ondaatje – also a poet. There’s the same disjointedness in the narrative, and the concise, freighted language which gives remarkable insights into the human condition. Winter Vault is not always an easy book to engage with, but patience renders up something utterly transcendent.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Lydia Bennet and George Wickham are in a relationship

Pride and Prejudice as it would be if they'd had Facebook back then. Fabulous.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Getting to grips with Gallipoli

At Galli’poli there was no ice. It was stinking hot. The bodies were piled so deep in places they were used like sandbags, and lying there for sometimes weeks in the sun they were bloated and blackened and stunk to the heavens. One day a truce was declared and the men were given eight hours to bury the lot. Word went round that there were five hundred corpses to the acre in no-man’s land.

The stench was one thing, but dragging a rotten body by the arm and finding you’ve left most of it behind was another. It was clear the earth had started claiming the dead and wouldn’t let them go without a fight. The Friar remembered the sucking sound below a sound, like an old lady swallowing tea, the warning creak, and then an unexpected lightness when the arm parted from the body. The horror he felt the first time. The numbness he felt at the end of an hour. Then there was smoko with Ed.

Extract from The Blue [Penguin NZ 2007 ©Mary McCallum]

I didn't expect to write about Gallipoli when I began writing The Blue, but when I settled on 1938 as the date for my novel, I realised some of the male characters would have to have fought there in 1915. And then it became clear to me that I had to take the novel to Gallipoli and write about that place and what happened there because it couldn't be ignored.

The muddle, the horrors and heroism, the comradeship and nascent nationhood that are Gallipoli shaped the life of one of my protagonists, Ed, as it shaped all who served there. Ed is a farmer on isolated Arapawa Island in New Zealand's Tory Channel, but for three months of the year he and other local men become whalers who hunt migrating whales on fast two-man motor launches. In World War I, like many other NZ men, they leave their homes at the 'ends of the earth' to fight in Europe.

Ed also leaves behind a girlfriend, Lilian, who becomes his wife and is one of the protagonists in The Blue, along with Ed's cousin, Owen, known as the Friar.

The extract at the start of this post is part of the larger extract below. The Blue opens in 1938 on the brink of World War II. Here the whalers are pouring over mail and newspapers delivered by the mailboat. The story at this point is told by the Friar. Micky is Ed's son, and Tommy and Gunner are whalers. The Terminus is a Picton pub.

Extract from The Blue [Penguin NZ 2007]

Tommy was the first to speak. ‘Things are getting hot again in Europe.’

Gunner grunted. ‘Yes. Jerry’s up to something. First the Rhineland, and now those troops along the Czech border–’

‘I don’t trust them as far as I can throw them,’ said Tommy.

‘The politicians seem to have it in hand,’ said the Friar.

‘Appeasement is what it’s called,’ said Micky. ‘And it’s exactly what it sounds like. Piss. They should go in and deal with them now before it’s too late.’

The Friar turned towards him, surprised. He wanted to say, ‘What the hell do you know about it?’ But seeing the way Micky's face was clenched, he said, ‘Who have you been talking to?’

‘It’s all those newspapers he gets to read while he’s waiting for the fish to fry,’ said Gunner. ‘It’s given him opinions.’

The Friar coughed, Tommy laughed; Micky stood up, muttered something, kicked the box he was sitting on and walked off.

‘Now listen– ’ started Gunner, but the Friar shook his head. Micky had gone, walking to the rocks at the end of the whale station where he lit a cigarette, tossing the smoke up into the air.

The Friar watched for a moment and then turned back to his paper. There were no two ways about it, the boy unsettled him. How old was Micky now – sixteen, seventeen? Ed hadn’t been much more than that when they’d gone over to Gallipoli, and the Friar ten years older again – still young in anyone’s book. There they were, two cousins who’d lived within a mile of each other on the same island all their lives, vastly excited at going somewhere, anywhere at all, and as green as they come.

Micky talked about showing Jerry the door, but what did he know? Only as much as he’d seen at Anzac Day parades in Picton at that memorial like a kids’ castle. Glorious Dead above the gateway. What did Ed call them once? Leftovers at attention.

Ed had trouble getting along to those parades; he always had some excuse or other. The Friar remembered the boy Micky there, and his mother, and the disappointment in the cut of her mouth. Galli’poli. That’s how Ed used to say it. Like ‘gallop pony’. He used to have a funny way with words that had he’d lost as he’d got older. Iris would tell people how he was so painfully shy he didn’t talk until he was four and then when he did the words had just poured out.

That was a huge exaggeration: words had never poured out of Ed. What did happen, and the Friar was there when it happened, his cousin started talking one day in whole sentences as if he’d been doing it all along. He was looking out of the window and he’d said to the glass in front of him, ‘The weather’s turning, there’s a storm on the horizon.’ It was an odd thing to say for a person who hadn’t said a known word before that moment. His mother stood there as if frozen. She couldn’t speak herself for a matter of minutes (and that was a record for Iris), then she’d made such a fuss you’d have thought she’d just discovered her silent child was a genius.

That first sentence showed Ed had started as he meant to go on. He would only speak when he wanted to, and what he said did not always fit into other people’s idea of a conversation. The Friar remembered arriving at Gallipoli and Ed and him looking at the narrow beach and steep cliffs and the firing going on from the Turks and the men dying front of them.

‘Welcome to Galli’poli,’ said Ed.

‘Give me The Terminus any day,’ said the Friar.

And they both had a laugh, and some of the other diggers joined in. It started up a bit of banter until someone put a stop to it. Ed didn’t banter; he just kept his eye on the beaches. From that moment, he called Galli’poli as he saw it – or heard it – which seemed a vaguely subversive thing to do at the time. What was going on in Ed’s mind when he did that was anybody’s guess.

Then there was that phrase of his: ‘Tootsies up.’ He used it when a fellow was shot in front of them and lying there toes to the heavens. Ed had got it from one of the stretcher bearers who came to treat trench foot. You could hear them calling it up the line so you’d know to remove your boots and socks and wait your turn.

The Friar remembered the boy collecting ice to boil so he could wash their feet. It can’t have been Gallipoli then – it must have been the Somme, which came later. The two boys – no older than Micky – had each carried a tin, one cut down on one side to make a foot bath, the other unmarked.

‘What’s in there?’ said Ed.


And both Ed and the Friar had leaned forward together and inhaled at the mouth of the tin.

‘It’s a sweet one,’ said Ed, his eyes closed.

‘Sweet,’ said the Friar.

‘I don’t know about that,’ said the taller of the stretcher bearers. ‘It’s whale oil. The best bloody thing for trench foot aside of getting your feet back home and into slippers beside a roaring fire.’

‘Or up your missus’ nightie,’ said the shorter one.

‘It’s a sweet oil,’ said Ed, irritated, his eyes still shut. ‘It’s made from a newly killed whale and it’s still fresh.’

'I don’t know about that, but it does the trick. Now then, tootsies up.’

Ed had sat quietly while his feet were washed and the whale oil applied. Then it was the Friar’s turn, and still Ed said nothing. Afterwards they’d both sat for a while not looking at each other. When the Friar glanced across at Ed, his face was stricken, and he knew he’d been back home too. It was strange the things that did that to you, and smells were the worst. The whale oil had taken them both back to Fishing Bay at the start of the season: the chug of the boiler, the stink of boiled whale, a creeping breeze, sharing a smoke down by the ramp, a child singing somewhere, Iris bringing scones. All so utterly -- words escaped the Friar -- nothing would do, really. So utterly.

‘Tootsies up’ came later then.

At Galli’poli there was no ice. It was stinking hot. The bodies were piled so deep in places they were used like sandbags, and lying there for sometimes weeks in the sun they were bloated and blackened and stunk to the heavens. One day a truce was declared and the men were given eight hours to bury the lot. Word went round that there were five hundred corpses to the acre in no-man’s land.

The stench was one thing, but dragging a rotten body by the arm and finding you’ve left most of it behind was another. It was clear the earth had started claiming the dead and wouldn’t let them go without a fight. The Friar remembered the sucking sound below a sound, like an old lady swallowing tea, the warning creak, and then an unexpected lightness when the arm parted from the body. The horror he felt the first time. The numbness he felt at the end of an hour. Then there was smoko with Ed.

His cousin had trouble rolling his cigarette, and the Friar, despite the numbness, had felt a small surge of shock. Ed had got the shakes – his hands weren’t steady, and there was a slight tremor in his lips and around his eyes that made the Friar think of their grandfather. At last he licked the thing down and smoked it hard and fast, rolling another one while he finished the first. He was better at it this time. The Friar had no problem filling and lighting his pipe. He held his hands out flat in front of him to see, but there they were as always – as steady as a rock.

They’d said nothing to each other while they smoked, but stood there looking out from the scrubby hills, out from the cross-hatch of trenches and corpses and lines of exhausted men to a distant stretch of sea. The view was not unlike the view from Stony Knob on Arapawa; either way they were at the ends of the earth. In this case, hell was behind them, waiting. At home, well, it was heaven, wasn’t it?

Ed spoke at last. ‘What are we doing here?’

Did his voice shake too? The Friar thought so. That morning he’d watched his cousin stand in front of a sliver of mirror and shave his chin with soap and only a capful of water. The Friar could see a congealed cut on his cheek, and a rash where the skin had been scraped too hard. Ed’s hand had been steady holding the razor, but since his brother had died in Snipers’ Gully he’d had been less resolute somehow, less certain of himself, so he’d shaved the skin three or four times when once would have done. He was barely twenty after all.

The Friar went to put his arm around Ed with the intention of calming him. The gesture was a clumsy one and Ed pushed him away. ‘Piss off.’

The order came down that they should stop trying to move the decomposing bodies but scratch shallow trenches beside them and roll them in instead. Twenty at a time into single graves less than a foot deep. It would be temporary. There’d be reburials. Ed and the Friar tied singlets over their mouths and moved as fast as they could. The Friar made sure Ed stayed close.

Not too long after that, when the area between their trenches and the Turks was littered again, a shell had landed in a body near where Ed was standing. He’d been splattered from head to toe. It was days before he got down to the water to give himself a proper clean. He was a live corpse, he joked. His cheek had started to twitch by then in a manner which made it look as if he were finding the whole thing immensely amusing. It had unsettled the men.

That was the day they’d started calling him Lucky.

There’d be some in Arapawa would still remember that, many who wouldn’t. Only a few knew where it had come from. Not Micky, not the boy’s mother. He doubted Ed had said anything. And now it didn’t matter because the name had quickly fallen into disuse once they’d returned home. The shaking had stopped too, as far as the Friar could see, although Ed still lapsed into what some of the boys called his ‘thousand-yard stare’.

The land they’d cleared during the truce was never taken. The dead came back with the first rains.

The Friar watched Micky walk back towards them. The quality of light and the high polish on the water made him a silhouette. But the Friar knew without seeing the bruised look to his eyes and the way his hands were on the verge of shaking, and he felt a swell of anger towards the lad. He had a family, a mother who cared for him more than she cared for herself, a girl, all of his limbs and a whole life ahead. The Friar wanted to stop him then and there, hold tight to his arm and point to the picture-book day. He wanted to ask the boy what on earth could possibly be as bad as all that. What, on God’s sweet earth.

From The Blue [Penguin NZ 2007 © Mary McCallum]

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

On the library shelves

I'm at the Barn - our place in the Wairarapa - and out of internet contact. But sometimes I creep to the small library with painted brick walls and a small, dynamic Scottish librarian and use the free WiFi. At the moment, the small dynamic Scottish librarian is selling Girl Guide biscuits to two German back-packers, so I'm guessing she's also involved with Girl Guides.

After coming here on and off since Xmas to use the WiFi [I'd deliberately not activated the wireless connection on this laptop until then], I finally introduced myself today. She knew the name and The Blue and explained it wasn't the sort of novel people took to easily at first, something to do with the whale on the cover and people not being sure about the whaling ... but once persuaded, the locals have been enjoying The Blue and told their friends etc and now, apparently, it rarely makes it back to the NZ Fiction shelves. Once it's returned, and is waiting to be shelved, it goes straight out again. Yippee.

My library readers have been wonderfully supportive of The Blue. It is still requested around the country and people tell me of waiting lists. Shortly after The Blue was published, and when I was worried about sales, I'd go to library websites and get such a buzz to see the books were out, and even more of a buzz later to see it was requested by people.

I think my excitement is added to by being the daughter of a librarian. One who could never believe the problems I had getting books back to libraries on time - the fines - the lost books - the way I nearly didn't get my undergraduate degree conferred because I had logged up such a huge fine at the university library.

The Blue seems like a way of redeeming myself. Instead of shaking their heads and giving me chilly smiles, librarians welcome me with open arms now. I've spoken at a number of library events, and one wonderful library at Palmerston North bought something like 28 copies of The Blue and encouraged all its readers to read it.

My Mum seems very happy about that.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sentences that sing


It all starts with rhythm for me. I love Nabokov’s work, and I love his style. But I always thought there was something odd about it that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Then I read an interview in which he admitted he was tone deaf. And I thought, that’s it—there’s no music in Nabokov, it’s all pictorial, it’s all image-based. It’s not any worse for that, but the prose doesn’t sing. For me, a line has to sing before it does anything else. The great thrill is when a sentence that starts out being completely plain suddenly begins to sing, rising far above itself and above any expectation I might have had for it. That’s what keeps me going on those dark December days when I think about how I could be living instead of writing.

John Banville - Irish author of Booker-winning The Sea, and The Book of Evidence and others - is the latest author interviewed in the Paris Review about the act of of writing. Banville doesn't write draft after draft but is driven, it seems, to polish each sentence as he goes to achieve prose that has been described by De Lillo as 'dangerous and clear-running'. Banville says that when he finishes a sentence, it's finished. More of that interview here.

John Banville's method is mine. It is painstaking and painful - obsessional really - but I cannot change it. And I think that's because building a novel for me is like building a house: each piece of wood needs to be measured and sawn and sanded and nailed or bolted into place in exactly the right way so the next length of wood can be put in place beside it ... and so it goes. Of course, for a building there are exact plans, which is where the analogy falls down. I build not knowing exactly what it is I am building.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Worth twittering about

I am enjoying this book so much that when I got up for my morning coffee, instead of checking my emails I read MISCONDUCT. Bridget van der Zijpp is a kiwi and this novel - her first , out last year - was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize. The NZ Listener picked it as one its Books of the Year and made a fairly strong case for considering it thinking woman's chick lit.
If Bridget J has an older wild-child Aotearoa cousin, Simone is it. Saying this in no way disparages van der Zijpp. Her eye is sharper than Fielding’s, her writing edgier, her sensibility welcomingly wry rather than witty.. [The NZ Listener review]

Yes - sharper, edgier, wittier - constantly surprising, a terrific sense of the seaside town it inhabits, and a wonderful cast of characters drawn with sympathy and insight.

The publisher's blurb and more reviews here - good on Victoria University Press for taking the time to put reviews up on its website - and some interesting-looking bookclub notes here.

I am also still excited about The Blue being published in Israel. It should be in the shops there now - my translation editor, Hadas, told me Passover was the time and it was still Passover when I last checked. Two copies of the wonderful book plopped into my letterbox a couple of weeks back wrapped in brown paper. I forgot to mention it here but I don't know how I could. Holding them was a transcendent moment.

One more thing: oh yes - oh no - oh dear - I am a twitterer. Don't know how it happened - I think I wanted to read someone's twitters and ended up... well, joining... the same way I joined Facebook, really. I feel a bit ambivalent about it because I can see it's another time-consumer masquerading as a time-saver, and it is - as the pic below shows - very 'pick me, pick me'. So who knows if this is a long term thing for me. Meanwhile, down underneath my blog roll on the right somewhere are my twitters for time-being. If you have nothing else to do ...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter

Friday, April 10, 2009

When the world steps in

I visit a number of blogs that I like. The ones I enjoy most have something to say about books and writing. They are wide-ranging, generous, refreshed regularly and possess something of the character of the person writing them. Dropping by is like reading a terrific newspaper column or having a conversation with a very interesting person.

There are usually hints at the real life that surrounds these blogs - mention of a husband, a knitting project, trees being cut down across the road, strawberries in the garden. A photo of a dog and a stick. A well-fed cat on a cushion. A view from the window. Where the eye falls. But only a hint.

Generally, I don't want the life stories of these people I visit (although there are some who captivate me - always exceptions -- here's one.) The thing is, I have family and friends and lives enough jostling mine. But for those bloggers who don't confide, there can be a moment when that changes. It's usually a crisis of some sort which forces the change and it can be a shock to the blog-reader like me who comes for the usual take-out to find something altogether different. It takes a moment sometimes to realise what's happened, to realise the person I have come to rely on has been derailed and is talking about it with me.

Children's/Young Adult writer Neil Gaiman broke from writing about his books and his wide-ranging life as a writer [with asides about the lovely white dog above, and a daughter who visits] to talk one day about the sudden and devastating death of his father. I read it and some of the follow-up posts and was hooked by the story of this man and his family, and moved and devastated for Gaiman whose blog I usually go to for stuff about books [and my dog has a crush on his dog.]

Justine Picardie - an author in the UK - has a regular post she does entitled 'Bibliotherapy: What to read ...' and she offers up a review of a book to cover a particular circumstance eg. 'What to read in an English January...' '...when you're trying to stop drinking...' '...when you're not going to the party...' They are clever, well-written, amusing reviews. The suddenly one day she writes a post entitled: 'What to read when your husband has left you for another woman' and underneath she has no review just this: 'Any suggestions? All help gratefully received, on this rainy black night in february...'

Some people commenting after the post seemed to know what had happened, but others flicked up some fun reading suggestions by such as Fay Weldon and Sylvia Plath. And then the penny dropped. Picardie's husband really had left her for another woman, suddenly and unexpectedly, and her grief was profound, and all her blog readers (me included) felt just terrible for her. Food and books were sent by those who knew where to send them including one anonymous donor whose gift of Nora Ephron's Heartburn led to the post being written at last: 'What to read (and what to eat) when you husband has left you for another woman.' And there it was : a terrific review of Heartburn (must read the book now) and a cake recipe. Justine Picardie was back.

There have been other examples of this in my blog roll - Gondal Girl 's heartfelt post about trying to come to terms with a trio of deaths in her family especially one perplexing one, The Paradoxical Cat 's few but incredibly moving lines about the death of her mother, and then there was the time I wrote about my daughter being unwell and put up a photo of her swinging in the air when life was good. I'd given glimpses of my family until then but the focus of the blog was books and writers so I didn't intend to give more. Then there she was.

Why does this happen? Having done it myself, I'm still not really sure. It's as if the blogger believes it would be intellectually dishonest somehow not to declare an emotional derailment. And perhaps it's also that for many of us a blog is, amongst other things, a kind of journal, and when we can't do it justice we feel some sort of responsibility to say why.

Or perhaps the enormity of what's happened cries out to be recorded by one who always records. Or perhaps it's simply that as writers we turn to words to contain this thing, and understand it, and make sense of it, and it's only a small step to then press 'publish post' and create a public container for the grief. 'There it is,' we say, 'only that paragraph, that photo - it's not so awful, so ungraspable after all - and everyone can see.' As if that anchors it somehow.

Or perhaps it's a bit of all those things.

Oh, and my daughter's a lot better now, but I still flick back to that post now and then as a way of confirming that fact, and of recalling another day six years ago when she swung in the air, the camera catching a glorious split-second of joy and sunlight and flung hair.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Weathered Bones

Here's the very brief [could there be a briefer?] review published in Your Weekend on Saturday - it's the magazine attached to The Dominion, The Press and The Waikato Times. At 160 words, a review like this is a challenge of concision. It's also a challenge to write more than a mere summary of the plot. Before you read the review, here's the online link - you can get a three month trial if you already receive those newspapers. Otherwise read on....

Weathered Bones by Michele Powles [Penguin] $28
Review by Mary McCallum
Your Weekend magazine

I finished Weathered Bones while a storm raged outside our seaside home in Eastbourne. More than a little spooky, as the novel is set in Eastbourne and is racked by storms, water and drowning. This is a story of three women: Eliza, based loosely on Pencarrow Lighthouse keeper Mary Jane Bennett who took on the job in 1855 after her husband drowned; Antoinette whose husband drowns in Wellington harbour in the present day leaving her trying to find meaning in her life, and Grace who’s depressed from a bad relationship and almost drowns. In an audacious burst of magical realism, all three women come to haunt each other in one way or another. There are times when the magic overwhelms the real, the malignant Eliza takes on Disney proportions and the writing is overblown. But the fact remains that the interlocking lives and concerns of the three women are pretty compelling, there’s some fabulous imagery and you can’t help but admire this author’s chutzpah.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

denim sends a signal similar to azaleas

denim sends a signal similar to azaleas
hundreds of miles from here, and a blue
skirt from the sky looks red
These lines from The Scientist, My Wife, Explains Satellite Imagery by Bryan Walpert in his first collection of poetry Etymology. I heard him read on Thursday night at the Writers Read series Massey University hosts at the Wellington campus, and at the drinks afterwards (a nice touch at this event) I bought the book. As a creative writing tutor at the uni, I work with Bryan who is an award-winning lecturer in the School of English and Media Studies, although until Thursday I hadn't read a single one of his poems nor heard him read. I was very interested to hear what this man, who has a wealth of intelligent things to say about other people's poetry, would do with the blank page.

Needles to say, the poems are clever and - as the title indicates - involve some marvellous word-plays and layering and unlayering of words, but the palms of these carefully chosen words also cup sentiment and blow on it and make it flare. This was a surprise. In fact, Bryan talked about how the 'sentimental' isn't as acceptable as it once was in poetry and how he often uses the prism of science to view emotional stuff because it provides distance. Hence a poem like the one quoted above, which has four exquisitely-written stanzas on how satellite imagery works, and between each one the lines: (Take off/your clothes, my/love, turn out/the light.)

Opposite that poem in the book is one called Gravity which uses physics to explain gravity - something Bryan expanded on at the reading but I am still trying to come to grips with - and to explain (delightfully) lovers rolling together in bed.

Bryan is a science geek (in the nicest possible way) his gaze goes in with the surgeon's knife and out into space with the astrophysicist. He is also a romantic (in the nicest possible way) - there are many moons and many birds and many nights and dawns in his poems. He stills the world while he watches those things and language slips in. There is a lot of slippage - from word to word and line to line and idea to idea. As Bryan's colleague and poet Ingrid Horrocks said (in the nicest possible way) on the night, the poems are hard to read, but for that very reason they are also hugely rewarding.

Bryan writes tenderly of his father and his wife but those poems are also muscular and tightly formed [if I have any criticism at all it's that his poems sometimes feel too controlled and, now and again, too tidy at the end.] The reader realises early on that for Bryan language explains and justifies, and creates. It's as if he believes words came first, and then physics and then flesh, and even then I'm not sure about the flesh. It's as if, and you often find this with poets, without words there is nothing. [Look at this in the lovely poem Still Life with Gerund: 'A child would fill her/like thinking...' ] But even then Bryan questions that assumption - gently, quizzically, rationally, in the way you'd expect of a science geek.

No Metaphor is one poem that has stayed with me strongly since Thursday, having heard it read, and then reading it over now.
A tuba and a man stroll through
the grass, a pretzel of flesh and brass
you could say, I guess, except it's
only a man wearing a tuba ...
It's a skirl of thoughts and words and metaphor that twist and turn in on themselves, like -well - like birds ... need for a word about

the blackbirds, which ripple to earth behind
the man like the folding of a fan --
just not as final or as fast as and,
overall, more like birds landing in grass

Enchanting [with references to Lorca perhaps? I will find the poem I mean when I have a minute...] You can find Etymology on Amazon UK, , , at Bruce McKenzie's Palmerston North and Unity Books Wellington. Recommended.

NB. Reading over this post a few hours later [as I do] I discover I've written 'Needles to say...' rather than 'needless'. I think I'll leave it - it's apposite given the poetry I am reviewing. Mentioning it to my 12-year-old daughter just now, she tells me she always thought it was 'needles' anyway. Hmm, as Bryan would say: 'Now that's a poem!'