How to Tour the World on a Flying Fox by Marisa Cappetta.
Wellington: Steele Roberts Aotearoa (2016).
ISBN: ISBN: 9780947493318.
Reviewed by Jessie Neilson.
Marisa Cappetta is a jewellery maker and poet based in Christchurch, and her work has been published widely. The intriguing cover of How to Tour the World on a Flying Fox references her love of the creative and imaginary, as well as inclusion of both journeying and wild creatures. A delicate golden bird appears to abseil alongside a metallic globe balanced tentatively nearby. Metal objects of antiquity, old glass collection bottles, and detailed adventure maps assault the space in a welcoming clutter.
Cappetta’s motifs are predominantly those of travel, excavation and exploration, both in physical space and through historical time, bird-like creatures and the transformations/ meldings between human beings and other life forms, and the making and adjusting of objects or relationships within the immediate domestic sphere.
There is sadness, pining, remembrance. Swept up together in three sections, the first part, ‘We are a map’, takes the reader on an arcing, often airborne journey in and out of present history and through generations of family. Variously by kites, balloons, and as winged children or black cygnets, the landscape is tumbled over. Drifting and tumbling, the family threads are always being started over new, and reimagined.
A father’s love is enough to ‘fill a balloon/ and sail…’ (“Waterfall”, p 10). Or later: ‘My father surveys the fissure and measures/ steam and heat that rise from underground’ (“My father sews his way to me”, p 19). The underground constantly threatens to explode, which reverberates within a person’s own body: ‘Tendrils of quakes tremble the roots/ and his heart’ (p 19).
There is busyness in the domesticity. By the shoreline grandmothers ‘harvest/ long grass…/ and weave a cradle, dolls with/ downy hair …’ (“Glossary of birthing terms”, p 12). In the kitchen females are making apple strudel, but this seemingly innocuous activity is not so, for into the mix ‘They add the chopped/ bitter rind of long-standing family feuds, a sprinkle of spicy/ gossip’ (“Apple strudel”, p 14).
The second section elaborates on the precariousness of life and relationships, here especially dwelling on mortality. Opening with a death, images are uncomfortable and sometimes sadly brittle. In “My parents’ divorce” ‘my mother is a boat/ as light as a curled brown leaf/…they hang in the air suspended…/ and the tide is high they descend/ slow spirals circling each other’ (p 36).
A man mourns as he remembers his late mother, ‘Memorising the fine wrinkles/ on the tips of her fingers’ (“The accountant cries”, p 39).
There is more patchwork healing: stitching, sealing, attaching, and rearranging in never entirely successful attempts. This blends into the stitching and mending of book covers, and of writing people and inanimate objects into familial history.
The slight, final section, ‘Dreams of thickets’, harks back to fairy tales and tragedy, drawing on them to paint anew. A woodsman hunts the wolf to free Red’s grandmother from its belly; a wandering woman takes on the landscape and builds from it. Time and again solitary individuals and couples attempt to make something from the emptiness, such as in “Coracle”: ‘Woman and man carry their boat/ on a dry river-bed swollen with earth,/ cargo of white silk stained by glass bees’ (p 60).
Cappetta’s poems are dense, layered and complex. She grips tightly to themes and motifs that run like a seam of earth through these often landscape- and element-focused poems. They are at once beautiful and discomfiting, emotional, and rich. A splendid collection.
Erik Kennedy’s poems and reviews have appeared in The Curator, The Morning Star, Oxford Poetry, Poems in Which, The Rumpus, and Sabotage Reviews. He blogs about poetry and poetics for Queen Mob’s Teahouse. He studied English at Rutgers and Princeton. Erik lives in Christchurch and is Honorary Treasurer for takahē.
First published takahe 90