There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime by Erik Kennedy
VUP: Wellington (2018)
RRP: $25.00. Pb, 80pp
Reviewed by Elizabeth Coleman
There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime is Erik Kennedy’s first full-length collection, of 50 poems. It follows his poetry chapbook Twenty-six Factitions, Cold Hub Press, 2017. Both publications are jam-packed with humour and intrigue, pathos and insight, a lightness and a seriousness, yet most of all a terrific poetic intelligence that keeps the reader intrigued and delighted. A poet originally from New Jersey (‘America, you look even worse from somewhere else/than you do from inside yourself.’ – ‘Remembering America’, p. 52), his is a fairly new voice in New Zealand, taking a perceptive and unusual stance.
The first clue to Kennedy’s style is the cover, an oil painting depicting two hot, tired infants beside a brook, their daisy chain on the grass (Spring (1864): William McTaggart). A giant thought bubble has been superimposed above one child’s head. What is she thinking? 1864 vs Internet? You get the quirkiness.
On this theme, the title poem leads us in to examine how everything leads us on:
… Everything foals a new thing like itself,/ and old things are respectful in their pastures/ and only argue over if it’s best/ to let the snow melt or to make it melt./ Vapours turn to rainbows and are praised/ while flowers breathe out oxygen for days./ Wait, am I thinking of the internet?/ Oh, maybe not, but what I’m thinking of/ is desperate and very, very like it… (p. 11)
Comparison, juxtaposition, questions come – not as bombardment, but firm nudges, making us think. Read the poem many times and it becomes more fascinating. It continues:
I have in mind new forms of intimacy/that sadly elude me and huddle with/ the young. Across the distances they hum/ like snow leopards and pandas falling in love.
Having been earthed with foals, pastures, snow, rainbows and flowers breathing out oxygen, we are then electrified with weird possibilities for the future. What, indeed, does it hold? And in a poetic way? Kennedy’s is not poetry about ‘almost nothing’ which he warns against in his Preface to Twenty-Six Factitions; it does enable his readers to ‘ride full and contented with the forty-foot draught of an aircraft carrier’.
In ‘Double-Saw Final at the Canterbury A & P Show’ there’s a good-old New Zealand-ness with his ‘Grimacing, sunburnt blokes sawing the shit out of wood/ for prizes – now that’s sport…’, the rigours of the ‘font-and-back, powerful, achingly unctuous motion’ of the double-saw event and we feel the heat, can almost taste the sweat. Then he introduces the unexpected hero of the poem: ‘…for poise and certainty,/ pinioned in the sawbuck like a cylindrical, primitive statue/ of a cast-off god, you can’t beat the log.’ (p. 16)
I enjoy the incongruity of many of Kennedy’s poems. In Section 2 of 3, in ‘You Can’t Teach Creative Writing’, he says: ‘I’m full of practical wisdom./ Like, I say there’s ‘good incongruity’ in titles/ and ‘bad incongruity’ in titles… my advice to you,/ writer who wonders if writing can be taught:/ move to Dubrovnik.’ (p. 29)
He also makes fun of himself, as in ‘Love Poem with a Seagull’ with its wide open spacing and pretence of sonnet-like seriousness, its fascinating vocabulary (‘post-saurian psycho’, ‘talonless fingers’, ‘stress-warped flexuous face’) and its clever ending: ‘me, the sort of person who manages/ to always look like this or feel like this/ regardless of how much easier being normal is’. (p. 57) And ‘My Repetitive Strain Injury’ (p. 71), with a rhyme scheme that’s repetitive, sequenced and (unexpectedly for Kennedy’s poems) goes nowhere, is like the condition itself.
‘Last Words’ is a dense and seriously beautiful piece of writing which, as per the poet’s style, is not the last poem of the collection. It is made up of four 16-line verses. Of particular note is this small excerpt: ‘…the ultimate refinement/ of the rarest funereal thought/ is confected commonplace,/ which only glitters/ brighter than but doesn’t/ taste the stronger when compared/ to what one writes in a reflective mood…’ (p. 74) The really final work is a tidy 14-line list poem. The rabbit, the artist, the hill, the soap, etc. – random things, all worthy of their own individual poem; all of them doing or not doing something particular. The poet finishes: ‘And I, alone and glad, have missed these things’ (p. 75) Yet I doubt this poet has, nor will now rest his pen. He has a kind of perennial cunning and is master of the last line.
There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime is professionally produced by VUP with fresh, clear, uncrowded printing and four full pages of Notes and Acknowledgements, making the reading experience a full one. I thoroughly recommend it.
Elizabeth Coleman lives in Waikanae and has a strong interest in the poetry scene on the Kapiti Coast. She has been published in journals and magazines such as 4th Floor and takahē, and in anthologies including Dear to Me, Swings & Roundabouts.