t. 94, Tony Beyer, Anchor Stone.


Anchor Stone by Tony Beyer.
Lyttelton, Aotearoa New Zealand: Cold Hub Press (2017).
RRP: $39.95. Softcover, 165pp.
ISBN: 9780473411046.
Reviewed by Patricia Prime.  

Tony Beyer’s Anchor Stone is an impressive work from an established poet. Beyer has the confidence and skill to address many concerns in this beautifully presented book: such as time, memory, place and family. Beyer, who is a skilful haiku poet, avoids the dangers of heavy-handedness through a careful arrangement of the poems. The collection is divided into four sections: ‘The Pine Hut’, ‘Aratoi’, ‘The Regions’ and ‘Anchor Stone’.

The first section, ‘The Pine Hut’, recounts memories of people and places from childhood; the second, ‘Aratoi’, begins with “Paths” a hundred-poem poem; the third section, ‘The Regions’ engages with family; and the last section is ‘Anchor Stone’. At first glance, this may seem a little daunting, but the sections are loosely arranged, with alternations between poems with haiku-like verses and poems that are more demanding.

The poem “Election Day”, which begins the book, is a 12-line poem in couplets, in which the poet writes about his grandfather during the Depression when a swaggie comes to the door:

and there was no work

and no money in the house

to pay for work

he spread a table cloth

and plate and knife and fork

and fed the man (p 9).

The long poem, “Gone west”, with its wonderful recall of the countryside, is written in six parts. The poem begins:

back roads

being mended

for the festival

meant detours

to otherwise

unknown country (p 10).

The arrangement of poems develops Beyer’s preoccupation with time, memory, Aotearoa and various poetic experiences. “At Ratana” is a seven-page poem, which Beyer begins with these simple lines:

this quiet wind sliding

horizontally along the paddocks

this toetoe border

where the stream bed turns

this magpie echo

around the margins of the temple (p 25).

The next section, ‘Aratoi’, begins with the 31-page a hundred-poem poem

“Paths”, with lines ranging from two to five. Here are the last few lines:

waking or sleeping

I will always return

to my favourite

part of the river

near where the

kotare nests

in its tunnel

of mud and squalor

and darts by

on its business

flashing back the sun

with electric blue brilliance

while I sprawl

on the grass

waiting and watching

for nothing to change (p 75).

Elsewhere in the collection, Beyer’s acute sense of the natural environment is stunning. Poems such as “Nine for Du Fu” and “Te Ika a Maui” are touched by the mystery of the natural world, even as they describe and celebrate aspects of it.

“Studio” gives us a glimpse of the poet at home, as he meditates on the reassuring, if frequently ignored, continuity of nature. Here is part !:

to put myself in place

I go outside after dark

to look at the stars

the clouds are apart enough

for only one still

dot of light to shine through

a lamp in a distant room

a sailor in the sky’s depths

plumbing for shore

back inside the moths have found

my open window and lamp

and unfamiliarity with silence (p 88).

Yet, underlying this meditation is a sense of anxiety at change, an environmental awareness that is never dogmatic or strident, but is nevertheless part of his work. Here is a verse from “Night lights” in which he writes about change:

within a generation the change

from dairying to beef stock-fattening

has altered the texture of the soil (p 95).

“the clockmaker’s house” is a four-part poem, in which the poet visits ‘the jungle garden’ to visit a clockmaker. The regular rhythms and cadences of the verses have a lulling quality to them as in this verse:

the dry click or tick

of time passing

at the centre of conversations

no one pays more attention to

than he or she must (p 100).

In “Makakahi” there is a pleasing sense of things coming full circle from the opening poem about election day to the meeting of poets on a ‘bridge / near the main road”. The poem beings with a wonderful description of the river’

twisted and gleaming

like a sheep’s intestines

or as Du Fu would say

shining like wine

let it stand in

for all the rivers

braided in places

or dropping by stages (p 102).

The next section, ‘The Regions’, focuses on family: a grandson, pruning hydrangeas, buying a newspaper, looking at a photograph, an encounter at the check-out and more. There are five sonnets in ‘Sonnets from Erewhon’. These sonnets exemplify Beyer’s mission as a poet and illustrate the linguistic skill with which he communicates his ideas. The following lines are from sonnet 4:

it is a given of incarnation

among those religions that favour it

that the embodied one shall be beautiful

above other men and women

so all eyes are drawn to the faultless

skin of the Buddha or the bound strange

who stands accused before the Procurator (p 121).

The title section, ‘Anchor Stone’, begins with “Interchange” Brent Wong: Abandoned Works 1970-2008. These lines are from part 1:

into

the silence

of space

the level

crossing bell

train horn

sudden

rumble

of rails (p 127).

The lengthy poem, “The weather tomorrow”, contains fourteen verses. In the poem, the poet is in his garden of his new home where he writes about birds, cats, a dog, the estate agent and more. The poem ends with this verse:

past lives only part

of what must now follow

in a house

enclosed in fragile timber

tile and paint where

we are the new people

again (p 136).

Another long poem, “Lunchtime”, features a meeting with his brother. The poem is written in couplets. It opens:

it’s only my brother

I’d arranged to meet

at the seafood stall

in the mall

knowing he shares with me

the fittingly arrayed

and iced

joy of fish (p 159).

The final poem, “One-lane bridge”, in which the family are on a journey to Marokopa. The poem is written in five stanzas. Here, he writes:

the last 5 km to Marokopa

sealed & windy through the hills

the upper storeys

of high-rise beehives leaning seawards

off-road vehicle marks intertwined on black sand

out to the heads & fishing

Anselm Kiefer’s Departure from Egypt

mixed media & spinifex (p 163).

Tony Beyer’s Anchor Stone showcases a poetic talent of exciting depth, subtlety and sophistication. The poems’ deftness of phrasing and musicality owes something to the haiku-like lines which Beyer writes with passion and insight. The fluent and unhurried cadences of his verses are flexible enough to accommodate wide-ranging shifts of tone, but are always thoughtful, alive and humming with linguistic dexterity. Anchor Stone is a collection of unmistakable achievement.


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).