Forty Years of Titirangi Poets. Ron Riddell, editor.
Auckland: Printable Reality (2017).
RRP: $25. Softcover, 132pp.
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:
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:
The view is always
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”:
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
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:
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).