Mirror World by Nicholas Reid.
Wellington: Steele Roberts (2016).
Reviewed by Elizabeth Coleman.
Mirror World is Nicholas Reid’s second collection of poems, following The Little Enemy (2011), both of which have a certain focus on memory, cultural (also with a big C) changes and perspectives.
“Mirror Glass” references the book title and its cover photograph. We read:
‘… In the tinted mirror glass of an office block,/ jigsawed up in the uneven squares of the separate windows,/ I saw reflected the Catholic cathedral spire behind us, on Wyndham Street./ The tinting made the sky and clouds look unreal,/ you know, that ideal mirror world’ (p 20).
And in “Mirror World” itself: ‘… I see a world of trees familiar/ and unfamiliar, bent in a way I know/ and do not know… left-handed people, dressing right… it’s a picture mocking what’s outside …’ (p 16).
In these excerpts, as in many more poems, we get the cue that everything’s not as it seems or at least it can be viewed from different angles. Through the poet’s eyes we are exposed to a collection of thoughtful, skilful poems which incorporate all of the senses, a confident trademark irony (indeed, possibly mocking sarcasm) and a distinct New Zealandness.
Reid’s 46 poems are divided into three sections. Part 1, entitled “Auckland Weather” commences with weather references but is mainly concerned with memory, perception and relationships. Another reflection features in the beautiful poem “You–Not–You”, and begins: ‘When you’re away the thing you were is here/ inside my head; the thing remembered,/ polished at my will’ (p 23).
“Works of Love” is a description of love in action, the practical things couples achieve when beginning to be family. No sentimentality here and yet it speaks, in a three paragraph form, of deep bonds: ‘This is a work of love, the rabbit-hutch/ she banged together with scraps…the rabbit lives content there…// The washed shed is a work of love… hosed down… while his brow burnt/ in the hot afternoon… clean as when he first bought it years ago/ and knew she’d like it’ (p 17).
Less innocent is “Ars Amoris”, an ironic take on the paths that lead to love: ‘the bowl of salsa spiced … Pablo Neruda’s love sonnets… bath water with tincture of rose’ and more robust suggestions until the poet questions whether love is in fact ‘a sagged mattress … old you, old me, old us with gathered years,/ without pretence’ (pp 18-19).
Part 2 of Mirror World, “Return Journey”, comprises 11 poems concerned with humankind and Nature. Perhaps Reid is seeing New Zealand through new eyes, as if reconnecting with his homeland. It’s not all loving vibes here though. In the poem “Return Journey”, he refers to Hamilton as ‘The cow-town/ metropolis announced in an industrial estate/ with an Elim Church, large as a battleship,/ featureless as a Portaloo,/ an aircraft hangar for lost souls (p 41).
“Summer Night”, expresses the stifling sleeplessness experienced in muggy climates. Its repetitive, almost villanelle rhythms, form and vocabulary reinforces the relentless heat with patterns that toss and turn restlessly. This is an extremely evocative poem, you need to wipe your brow by the end: ‘A casserole for dormant life/ that keeps the heat of day locked in,/ the summer night is dense with cloud/ starless, windless, dark and dead (p 42).
“Wellington Suburban” is similarly evocative, its couplets deftly incorporating the book’s mirror-image theme: ‘But when the clouds come down and dripping mist/ blocks off the vista// the brain fills up the gap denied the eyes/ with shapes and shadows’ (p 44).
“Alien” contains a marvellous amount of internal rhyme and rhythm patterns and is clever, even alien-shaped. Talking of the invading pinus pinaster, such phrases as ‘Latin-named, ill-famed as an exotic’, ‘yakking dawn chorus’, ‘caterpillars coil in parasitic adoration’ and ‘living unconscious without love or fear./ Pinus pinaster/ both alien and here’ have an up-beat, unusual appeal. (p 45).
“The Obligatory Canon” (p 46) contains a different kind of word play, and “Copperplate” (p 50) is made up of predominantly 5-syllable lines. This self-restriction reflects perfectly the pen man’s strict discipline.
Part 3, “Trove”, ponders on culture/Culture, digs into the treasure of thought, rituals of habit, possessions, belief, and here we see, I suspect, more of the poet himself and his personality. Evocative pictures, word plays, a wide knowledge of the arts, philosophy and nature, an ability to laugh at himself – all this is evident. As a consequence, Part 3 is more complex and high-brows may think it richer. Yet in some poems, Less might, in fact, be More. Reid does not need to strain to impress; his work is highly accomplished, fresh and commendable. Being ‘foxed’ (to quote a word he loves) by frequent esoteric input can become irritating. The ‘well-coupled train’ mentioned in his inscription might be slightly fast around a few corners.
Steele Roberts, as usual, have produced an attractive, easily readable, quality book with high production values affording wonderful breathing spaces around the poems and sections.
Elizabeth Coleman lives in Waikanae and has a strong interest in the poetry scene on the Kapiti Coast. She has been published in journals and magazines such as 4th Floor, takahē; in anthologies including Dear to Me, Swings & Roundabouts; has participated in performance poetry entitled Eyes in the Skies, and has judged competition poetry.
First published takahe 89