t. 92, Sport 45, edited by Fergus Barrowman, Kirsten McDougall and Ashleigh Young

Sport 45,
edited by Fergus Barrowman, Kirsten McDougall
and Ashleigh Young, with assistance from Holly Hunter.
Wellington: VUP (2017).
RRP: $30. Pb, 260pp.
ISBN: 9781776561995.
Reviewed by Patricia Prime.

Sport 45 contains a novella, an interview with John Gallas by Bill Manhire, a chapter from John Newton’s forthcoming history of New Zealand literature, fiction, essays and poetry. The cover is by San Ducker-Jones.

The volume brings together work from many poets, fiction writers, essayists and reviewers. The reader has the possibility of tracing lines of development in the poetry and prose and of observing the persistence – or the persistence with

variations – of the motif or the other in them. I note the tendency towards a lyric style of simplicity in the poetry with images, also of a simple nature. The poems may be personal but the voices are communal, such as we see in this verse from Kate Camp’s “Driving to Hastings”:

Hawks’ feet like the landing gear of planes.

You see them often when driving

rising up from the road,

from the road kill. This time of year

the hills are golden, dull

beyond the first inch the ground is like concrete.

There’s memories I have along this road, I even

pulled off into the layby for sex.

There is a quality of incantation in a more obviously literary piece such as Rachel O’Neill’s “Box 64”: a prose poem in three sections. The first section, Fragment 9 reads: “Faint pencil on left margin reads, ‘dramatic words’ // There is a moon in Hell. Now we know.” Helen Heath shows her perception of the body in “Illuminated”:

When I grew breasts

they were illuminated

by the eyes of men on

the street, each whistle

seemed to make them grow

and grow

While Victoria Broome’s poem, “Nana in the Upstairs Bedroom”, elaborates on the care of her Nana:

When the bus comes along Barrington Street

the house shakes. I am doing up Nana’s ‘stays’

there are hundreds of rows of hooks and eyes

like shiny little teeth. Nana can’t reach the last ones.

More of the poems in this volume occupy themselves with translation, reading Virgil, scenes from Niue and more. The poems have a quality of recent reverie, the music poised delicately between innovation and speech.  Lucidly beautiful, sometimes more enigmatic, even unsettling, the poets’ voices are present throughout the volume.

The fiction section contains nine stories. Tracey Slaughter’s story, “Cicada Motel”, opens with this evocative description of the motel:

At the Cicada Motel, the woman booked me into the runt of the rooms. The caramel carpet had flecks in it the colour of cabbage tree. The bedspread was mango. She gave me a suss look, like I’d prove fly-by-night, and handed over the 17 key, fixing her glare on the palm I held out as if I had dirt all through my heartline.

The wide variety of subjects lends itself to an interesting read. “Moulin d’Ornes” is a novella by the new writer Nicole Phillipson. Here, again, the opening description of the building’s yard is captured brilliantly:

Paul recognised the three buildings of pale brown stone, sitting at random angles as if tossed to the ground. The yard had been tidy in the photographs the couple had emailed, but it was now cluttered with damp piles of wood, broken concrete, and black, polythened heaps weighted down with red bricks.

The John Gallas interview by Bill Manhire is from email communication between December 2016 and February 2017. Gallas tells us about his childhood, his ancestry, his reading habits, University, studying Old Norse and much more. The interview is conducted in clear sections. The sections are ordered in such a way as to give some tracks or trains of thought, which lead the reader through the poet’s life and work.

“Stridently Sex-Conscious: Writing and Gender (and Mountaineering) c. 1928”, a chapter from John Newton’s forthcoming history of New Zealand literature, is adroit in the craft of language and form. See here for example, in the section “Climbing and writing”, with its message about the unfamiliar and the familiar that could be seen to validate his reasons interweaving the boundaries between the two:

By now it will be apparent that I am talking about climbing as if I were really talking about mid-century literature. But in truth I’ve scarcely deviated from the narrative mapped out by Temple and Langton. The as if effect is not poetic licence. It’s simply that the moment one reads these accounts – reading as a student of New Zealand writing – the patterns of resemblance becomes irresistible. The history of climbing is a story we already know.

The item is an example of the haunting yet light touch of Newton’s writing. I started reading and couldn’t stop. He has the gift of turning his experiences into enchantment. His piece makes the ideas come to life. In “Women with women: the fall of Rise Cottage”, is a wonderful essay about the physical nature of women:

About physical culture for women, Dupain was ambivalent. But he had on his payroll two ‘Lady Experts’: one was his sister; the other, two years younger than Du Faur, was Muriel Minnie Cadogan. It was Cadogan who took Du Faur in hand. She had her own ideas about women and physical conditioning, and by the time her client returned to the Hermitage she would be, as Peter Graham discovered, ‘trained to a hair’.

Virginia Were’s essay, ‘Kathmandu Guest House – one year later’, covers an earthquake. It begins with the description of the guests:

At Kathmandu Guest House this morning all the guests have pink hair – even the men. They match the potted petunias in the lovely courtyard. Eating breakfast, they seem idle and docile – tethered to laptops and mobile phones, pink heads bowed, they know that home is never far away.

But during the earthquake, everything is disrupted:

During the earthquake the crows explode from the trees and fly in angry, demented circles – hundreds of them darken the sky above the intersection outside the Garden of Dreams, opposite the Department for Money Laundering Investigations where we huddle for several hours, our knees braced as the ground continues to shudder and jolt. It happened just before midday and the aftershocks continue every 15 to 20 minutes.

This is not just a story; Were’s life, one feels, has been altered by the experience of past and present, of memory and the vividness of a terrifying experience.

The essay by Giovanni Tiso “Before the Earthquake”, writes that

. . . the main Wellington-Hutt Valley fault runs directly underneath the motorway out of the city, narrowly skirting the Parliament buildings and the civil defence bunker below.

In the following passage, he gives a moving account of the state of the city’s infrastructure:

When you walk past a bright yellow notice on your way into every second café, whether charming or grotty; when half your civic infrastructure is witting on reclaimed land; when your hospital, your airport and your motorway are built where the risk map says you shouldn’t build things, let alone the things you are really going to need.

The voices in Sport 45 are complex – and contemporary. They address themselves to the various aspects of what we might call, with as much admixture of irony as we please, our civilisation. The poems, essays and interview incorporate or exemplify the standards in terms of which the poets and writers conduct their engagement with the past, present and future.

Patricia Prime, besides being a regular contributor to takahē, is co-editor of Kokako and assistant editor of Haibun Today. Patricia’s primary interest is Japanese short form poetry: haiku, tanka, haibun and tanka prose and she has published a book of collaborative tanka sequences called Shizuka (2015).