Edgeland and other poems by David Eggleton
Dunedin: Otago University Press (2018)
RRP: $27.50. Pb, 112 pp
Reviewed by Mary Cresswell
Edgeland, David Eggleton’s new poetry collection, covers a lot of territory. He drops us right into it in ‘Tāmaki Makarau’ (the first of five sections):
your surveyors who tick location, location, location,
your land-sharks, your swamp lawyers, your merchant kings,
your real estate agents who bush-bash for true north …
your hyperbole and bulimia, your tear-down and throw-up,
the sands of your hour-glass always replenished,
your self-harm always rejuvenated, unstoppable;
(‘Edgeland’, p 11)
This section takes us all over Auckland, Meola Reef, the Waitākeres, sonnets on Devonport and Hauraki, the old gardens of Ponsonby, you name it. Eggleton’s description is as good a yawp as Whitman’s was in his New York surroundings, and every bit as passionate.
‘Murihiku’ comes next, and is gentle in tone: these poems are melancholy and grey. They waft through the South Island, sometimes whispering of geological-sized history:
The Earnslaw headbutts shorewards.
After lying prone for years,
rocks shift downwards
at speed, … (‘Lake Wakatipu’, p 35)
Sometimes of human-sized history:
Teetotallers are slurping
through ancient dentures
back to when tea was tuppence,
served in Crown Lynn cups. (‘Kettle’, p 47)
Or of watching a wind-turbine’s “Slow white blades chop at airy nothing” (‘Spinners’, p 38).
The ‘Spidermoon’ section takes place in Australia: it is bigger, yellower, and brighter. The poems go back to the declamatory style that we associate with Eggleton, and he pulls no punches about our ‘death-star collapsium’:
No poppies blow, they faded long ago,
in a potter’s field paupers, job-seekers,
kicked to the curb by bigcorp motorcades.
Brands grow strands of web that loop the planet. (‘Planet Blast’, p 59)
This poem is one of a six-sonnet sequence exhibited in Christchurch; the poems show heat, human failure, drought and destruction. The rain carries our filth:
The dirt rain, the gravel rain, the stone rain,
the eel rain, the toad rain, the snake rain,
the hay rain, the worm rain, the herd rain. …
The morning rain that foams like carpet cleaner.
The refreshing rain that soaks laundry liquid. (‘Mullum Rain’, p 64)
In ‘Scale’, the poet cuts loose, rolling and wallowing in words and having a general good time – with the word play, that is; the subject matter is every bit as grim as the preceding. In ‘Ben Brown’, Brown is reassured that “you’ll never get out of this poem alive” (pp 75-76), hemmed in as he is by a roll-call of other poets and similar troublemakers.
We are given a page of choices for the collective noun for poets – a bevy, a sloth, a dither, a fluther … (‘The Collective’, p 77) and the wonderful ‘Age of the Anthrocene’:
this is an age of beautimus maximus bae,
an age of too long didn’t read,
an age of laughed out loud till I puked,
and age of narp – not a real person, (pp 80-82).
I agree that ‘Anthrocene’ is a improvement on ‘Anthropocene’ – we need to cultivate good words.
Eggleton ends up with ‘Legend’, a more rambling section that begins with a perfidious female, continues through a men’s group (“He is absolutely sweet and choice,/ and off to bro’ repairs”) and a litany, ‘Thirty Days of Night’:
Night that archives itself in stealth
inside the history of shadows. …
Night, as if a nameless rogue, a fugue,
as if no, nil, nix, not, never. … (p 100)
The book ends with the poem ‘Legend’:
When the word was god,
the first maker of the first ode
arose anonymous, another god,
epic, enabler of voices of the outlawed,
of sly bawdries of the banished skald,
of the divine chants of the vagabond scribe,
of the saturnine namkesakes of nemesis,
of the unsayable being said over and over. (p 107)
And long may it be so: we need all the help we can get.
Mary Cresswell is from Los Angeles and lives on the Kapiti Coast. Fish Stories, a collection of ghazals and glosas, was published by Canterbury University Press in 2015 and Field Notes was published by Mākaro Press in 2017. See also her page at the NZ Book Council.