Small Departures: JAAM 33, edited by Kiri Piahana-Wong and Rosetta Allan.
Wellington: JAAM Collective (2015).
Reviewed by Mary Cresswell.
Outside an airport lounge, the word ‘departures’ doesn’t seem all that immediate or exciting. But this elegantly edited collection tells us otherwise: there are departures from the past, departures into the future, departures from the norm … ‘departure’ as a fulcrum, the turning-point between two worlds. Kiri Piahana-Wong and Rosetta Allan have called for poems and prose on the topic of Small Departures to create JAAM 33 (https://jaam.net.nz/ ), and their collection covers a wide range.
Miriam Barr and Fiona Kidman watch their old selves depart. Kidman says, “…I wouldn’t recognize/ her if I met her now. What I can tell/ you is that girl left town” (p10). Erin Scudder’s wonderfully extended ‘Stakeout’ follows the narrator’s state of mind over nearly ten days, as she gradually leaves a relationship:
… I feel
almost free from gravity, tied
to earth by only the
thinnest threads. (p 11)
Other poets look back at larger-scale histories. Liang Yujing translates Xidu Heshang’s ‘Earthworms’ (“It is reported/ this swamp/ in history/ was one of the notorious/ ‘ten-thousand-corpse ditches’” (p 27)). Rachel Smith’s poem ‘Parihaka’ reminds us that a whole way of life was forcibly departed from our memories:
it was never
never spoken of
removed from history (p 125)
The space between departure from and departure to is large and grey (not coincidentally, like the elephant in the sitting-room). This space is the subject of much of the prose in this volume, stories which examine at length the process of change from one way of life (or state of mind) to another. Nod Ghosh, Mary Elsmore-Neilson, Elysia Rose Jenson and Jane Woodham are among those who have chosen hospitals or sickbeds as the background for their stories of departure (from sanity, from life, from the norm).
In her poem ‘Endings,’ Victoria Broome shows us what it feels like in the middle of the grey area:
We take absence into our being, the soft and hard
edges of it and we are shocked when it jolts us
back to the beginning, before the end, when we thought,
this is how life is, this is how we are forever. (p 81)
Joanna Preston’s ‘Archipelago’ clears the decks for the future:
I watched the shimmering path
fall, and dissolve. All that it left
was bedrock, silence, and salt. (p 71)
And Sue Wootton’s ‘A day trip to the Peninsula’ rejoices in the sights and sounds of the present, a day with little (if any) commitment to either yesterday or tomorrow:
Pukeko descends into the opposite ditch,
vanishes. The fringes close, not
as bead curtains or macramé tassels
swish, but as a door to which we have
no key, no word, no code. Pukeko walks on. (p 95)
This is a nicely curated collection, and each of the poetry and prose sections warrants a full discussion of its own. The editors have done a fine job. Kiri Piahana-Wong is a poet and editor, and publisher at Anahera Press (http://www.anahera.co.nz/ ), whose kaupapa/mission is to publish work that fosters the telling and recognition of culturally diverse stories. Rosetta Allan is an Auckland-based poet and novelist whose most recent publication, Purgatory (http://penguin.co.nz/authors/83-rosetta-allan ) is a historical novel based on the Ōtāhuhu murders of 1865.
Mary Cresswell is from Los Angeles and lives on the Kapiti Coast. Fish Stories, a collection of ghazals and glosas, was published by Canterbury University Press in 2015.
First published takahe 89