t. 94, Ron Riddell, editor. Forty Years of Titirangi Poets.

  Forty Years of Titirangi Poets. Ron Riddell, editor.
Auckland: Printable Reality (2017).
RRP: $25. Softcover, 132pp.
ISBN: 9780473400439.
Reviewed by Patricia Prime

Forty Years of Titirangi Poets, edited by Ron Riddell. Auckland: Printable Reality (2017). RRP: $25. Pb, 132pp. ISBN: 9780473400439. Reviewed by Patricia Prime.

 

The Titirangi Poets was founded in 1977 by Ron Riddell. Initially known as The Titirangi Poetry and Jazz Group, it provided a venue for poets and musicians in search of an audience for original works.

There are fifty-one poets represented in Forty Years of Titirangi Poets, including many well-known New Zealand poets, as well as new and up-and-coming poets. The anthology includes a Foreword by Ron Riddell in which he explains the formation of the Titirangi Poets. The careful structure of the individual poems is mirrored in the architecture of the anthology which is divided into two sections: Part I: The 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s and Part II: The 2000’s. These poets all play freely with lyric expectations, extending the boundaries of poetry through formal and informal innovation. For the most part these are short lyrics, delicate, well-judged and living primarily in their closely observed details.

“Look”, by Susan Allpress, for example, is a short lyrical poem which begins:

 

your glance

lingers

on my thigh

 

like it was

a bowl of cherries

a juicy cliché (p 19).

 

Many of the poems are subtly haunted by the city. This tendency is perhaps best exemplified in Piers Davies’ poem “The View from the Pleasure Dome”. One can see why Davies was drawn to this landscape:

 

1

The view is always

downwards

to compacted rock stratas

wedged between the city walls.

The one geomorphic reality (p 22).

 

In these poems we find the juxtaposition of urbane attitudes, smooth formal control and startling detail. As, for example, in the last stanza of the poem “Metamorphosis” by Diane Hibbert:

 

Truth is at risk in this

as in invention is a soul possessed

through passages imperfect to perfect cadences (p 27).

 

 

 

 

 

“From Transit of Venus” by Will Leadbetter, is highly effective in its sparseness:

 

There was this time

when I would wait for her

with all my heart

hanging on her appearance (p 30).

 

At odds with this simplicity are the poems, such as Paul Protheroe’s “A Space-Age Battler” about the birth of a child, which begins:

 

There’s no trace left

of the strangely feline cry

that haunted us at your birth (p 38).

 

Several poems are at once elegiac and beautifully descriptive of the countryside, such as “The Genius” by Iain Sharpe:

 

It’s the sky’s blue confidence

it’s the crispness of the sun

it’s the way the small birds cheer

from standing-room-only branches (p 42).

 

and Denys Trussell’s “Flood / Ohikanui / Paparoa”:

 

the stone

rain

the leaf

rain

the tree

rain

cold radiance

green burning

on the hill (p 43).

 

The second section, ‘The 2000’s,’ begins with John Adam’s “Parsing the Heaphy”. It contains a deep understanding of the topography of the river:

 

In this kind of country, a river

also acts as a verb, carving

its V into grey rock, shaping

those profiles of green bush (p 47).

 

“Walking Red Beach” by Stu Bagby is also a poem about water:

 

The off-duty sea

has gone out for the morning

so they can walk and talk

and come back by

the footprints they make, (p 49).

 

The poems in Forty Years of Titirangi Poets are gentle, intimate poems. They are not showy in any way nor do they rely upon a cleverness of language or style – instead their intelligence resides in quietness. In Peter Bland’s “Song”, for example, he reflects on ‘The old Chinese lady /who lives next door.’ The collection marvels on childhood, a pet dog and the long poem by Peter Brown, “The Blue Scarab”. The poem appears effortless because it’s been so well-crafted, and the ideas move so swiftly from one thing to another. This is Brown at his best; the language sings, the ideas strain against each other and there’s the poetic hand guiding the reader:

 

He follows a narrow path

hill-high between

a Valley of Kings, a Valley of Queens

over rough pale stones

sculpted rocks, eagle crags (p 58).

 

Aaron Croawell’s “Piha” shines most when he touches upon the less obvious and more elusive features of “walking slowly / on drifting sands”. The final stanza delights with its ability to withhold rather than reveal:

 

caught eternally

in ever changing patterns

of random imperceptibility (p 65).

 

Murray Edmond’s “Digging for Kitchener” takes us to an altogether different space. Here are some clues: he likes the words dark fields and humdinger, decapitated and persistence and, as these lines from the first stanza tell us:

 

At the corner of West Coast Road

and Shaw in nineteen-twenty-two

they (the they of history)

stuck up a statue of Lord Kitchener

right beside Oratia School

to remind the kids who it was

had wanted their dads to go

and get themselves killed

in the dark fields of France (p 73).

 

Forty Years of Titirangi Poets is a welcome addition to anyone’s library. Its vivid poems are full of imagination and minutely observed language. They are often surprising, multi-layered and have luminous moments and profound insights and an originality of thought and feeling.

 

 

 

 


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).