The Farewell Tourist by Alison Glenny
Dunedin: OUP (2018)
RRP: $27.50. Pb, 80pp
Reviewed by S J Mannion
Based in Paekakariki, Alison Glenny is a prize-winning New Zealand Poet (Kathleen Grattan Poetry Award 2017) whose work has appeared in numerous and varied journals and anthologies, as well as online. The Farewell Tourist is her first book of poetry.
Glenny’s book is a curious and subtle delight, and a truly poetic thing. By that I mean the very ‘thing itself’, the object, is poetic. A sly and melancholic epic of mind and matter. A fully integral creation that speaks by word and presence, its own truth. Original and somehow mysterious, it is a love story of sorts. The writing is precise. The language, academic, dry. Yet the result, is intriguing and enigmatic: ‘The geologist described it as the highest achievement of counterpoint. The doctor disagreed. The fugue, he insisted, was a disorder characterised by memory loss and travel.’ (‘The Magnetic Process’ “V”, p 13)
There is an elegant and cryptic mind at work here. Reading through it one gets the sense of each piece having arrived. Sailed in like an iceberg and settled on the page. Moored and framed by blankness, the smooth, soothing whiteness of paper. Or snow. The pacing of the book is arresting too. In sections, some divided by a gorgeously grey shroud like page. A moment of blindness? Or a restoration of absence? Clarifying. Punctuating. Cleverly and romantically titled: ‘The Magnetic Process’, ‘Drift’, ‘Footnotes to the Heroic Age’, each differs in style, in content, in tone. Each solicits a full contemplation from the reader and encourages an adroit interpretation. There is a rigour here too, despite the ethereal almost gothic quality. This book is the device that: ‘would shrink the landscape so it could be scooped up by hand and examined through a jeweller’s glass.’ (‘The Magnetic Process’ “IX”, p 17)
I particularly love the ‘Footnotes’ sections. Potent and coolly portentous, they draw the mind’s eye and offer plays of sleek and sophisticated, and deliciously witty and wry humour:
A reference to her little adze pick, which she used to reveal a fragment of the truth.
(‘Footnotes To A History Of The Cryosphere’, “3”, p 41)
Would that we all had such a tool!
Then there are what I call the ‘floating pieces’, like haiku-flakes, crystalline, individuated and exquisite. The imagery is both intense and delicate:
flooded with light
(‘Appendix 1’, “Magnetic Traces”, p 55)
shatter. (‘Appendix 1’, “Magnetic Traces”, p 65)
These ostensible ephemera look airborne and weightless on the page but they also have a solidity, an iron filigree, wrought and shaped, by absence and presence – as we all are. This is a strangely humane book by a sophisticated writer. With the slightly skewed view necessary for true insight or indeed outsight, Alison Glenny’s The Farewell Tourist is a well-honed, polished beauty.
Having read it, I was left with the resounding impression of the biblical lines: ‘For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as I also am known’ (Corinthians, 13:12, King James Version), and I could see the very shape of the words and how – small as they are, as with all words – they still might stand against the immensity. And they seemed to sum up for me what the book does for the reader – it illuminates. It stands against the immensity. It stands.
S J Mannion is an Irish writer living in Christchurch, New Zealand. When she can she writes. When she can’t she reads. In between she ukuleles. She is published widely and variously, Ireland, the U. K., New Zealand, Australia and the US.