The Internet of Things by Kate Camp.
Wellington: VUP (2017).
RRP: $25. Pb, 62pp.
Reviewed by Jessie Neilson.
Wellingtonian Kate Camp’s sixth collection of poetry, The Internet of Things, examines the interconnectedness of objects and people within an ever-transient whirlwind of life. Looking both to the present and past the individual emerges as a fallible creature caught up in the lapping tide of memories, attached to objects which stir nostalgia, and trying valiantly to make hopeful decisions in an uncertain world.
Opening with a verse by Inger Christensen (‘Happiness is the change that comes over me/ when I describe the world…’) Camp’s poetry follows such a modus operandi, for the often first-person narrator, while often holding a tentative and realistic belief in herself, seeks the joyful and positive in life.
Aware and accepting of life’s imperfections she writes: ‘I return to you with relief that you are still/ the sad, angry failure whom I so admire’ (“The waking have one world in common”, p 28) or of herself: ‘here it’s just you, your trousers with ragged cuffs/ like the teeth of a saw/ and your variations on the same old joke’ (“Cherry blossom time”, p 20).
Characters are contemplative, lonely, alone, viewing themselves from outside of their shells, or else at length watching the world go by beyond their windows. She states that the waking all have one world in common, and this is primarily the bigger picture of the natural landscape with people shifting around within it. An immediate view returned to is the narrator’s own, of the harbour, perhaps ‘grey and damaged looking’ (“Civil twilight”, p 31), the aesthetics of working ports, rust and containers, where systems are logical and in place. She states: ‘I like a nautical sense of trim/ to have hooks for things, for when the world/ takes one of its sudden lurches’ (“Artist”, p 34).
Linked to the notion of the world as interconnected is that of departing and adventuring from home and childhood. She sketches, movingly: ‘Futures creep from our bodies/ and climb into wooden dinghies’ (“Sleep is money”, p 58), or ‘When I look out to sea/ I feel myself a reckoning point./ Like the woman at the front of a ship/ I have everything in front of me/ and everything behind me’ (“Antimony”, p 59). With age and hindsight she looks back at childhood recollections that leap out for their quirkiness: ‘with four shuttlecocks he hit all at once/ they flew from the racquet as magician’s doves/ to the net where they hung, white, in the dusk’ (“The party”, p 15), or of objects: the ‘pink tipped fragile deer, its black eyes painted on like commas’ and other kitsch ornaments discarded by her unsentimental mother (“Waster of three bowls”, p 37); the dominoes possessing their own small place in space: ‘In the warm obscurity of your pocket/ their small white depressions shining like moons’(“Advice for the person”, p 24).
There are scenes of everyday life, predictable in their routine unfoldings: a woman cooking up an egg for breakfast, or fathers finishing work at: ‘The time of night when men/ going home to babies/ are walking past trees shrieking with birds’ (“Civil twilight”, p 31). For what life comes down to, in the end, is the mad whirl of passing memories and experiences, of the imperfect self-pining and striving day to day, with an awareness of mortality: ‘You find you have irrational fears/ or rational ones/ the fear that your head/ that old, water-damaged clock/ is doing bad things to the rest of you’ (“Cherry blossom time” p 20). All we can do is potter along.
Kate Camp is the 2017 Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellow. Her latest collection, with a cover detailing part of the kitchen of John Lennon’s childhood home, flings together features of domesticity, lives as they might have been, and individuals dreaming of times past and what may come, in startling and memorable form.
Jessie Neilson studied English at Otago and also holds qualifications in the areas of second language teaching and library and information studies. She has taught international students here and abroad. Jessie is a regular reviewer for the Otago Daily Times and works in the University of Otago Central Library. She has broad interests in matters literary.