t. 97, Nicola Easthope, Working the tang; Saradha Koirala, Photos of the sky; and Jamie Trower, A sign of light

Working the tang by Nicola Easthope

Wellington: The Cuba Press (2018)
RRP: $25.00 Pb, 88pp
ISBN: 9780995110724


Photos of the Sky by Saradha Koirala

Wellington: The Cuba Press (2018)
RRP: $25.00 Pb, 58pp
ISBN: 9780995110748


A sign of light by Jamie Trower

Wellington: The Cuba Press (2018)
RRP: $25.00 Pb, 70pp
ISBN: 9780995110731



Reviewed by Mary Cresswell


In late 2018, Wellington publishers Steele Roberts and Mākaro Press combined forces and became The Cuba Press (https://thecubapress.nz/ ). These three books are the press’s first poetry release.

It’s tempting to listen to them as a trio, but they are not – they are solo voices, clear in their intentions, and quite different from each other.

The poems in Nicola Easthope’s Working the tang rake the past into the here and now. Her images come from the sea, off the Orkneys down to the Kāpiti coast, in a celebration of the sea and the people connected by it. James Baxter is alive and very much in our faces as “Hemi crashes his fortieth death anniversary seminar”, outraged by people telling his story ‘in a velvet monotone,/ no one can presently hear.’

So I knock their stand-alone microphone about.

They say I was elegant – knock –

that my tailoring of town jacket and slacks

knock – was as careful as my couplets

and full stops.   (p 32)

“Working the tang, Bursay” – the title poem – also shows the breadth of the poet’s imagination and exuberant images, here of women gathering seaweed to burn for potash:

Ghost dust drifts into livestock,

limpets. Fish are driven away.

The women are wrapped in the drapery

of ash, the cloak of salt, the taste of tang.  (p13)

The voices and territory covered are as huge as the past itself – the Orkneys, the Andamans, James Cook, Dogmatix; the sea, its urgency and immediacy, informs all the poems, repeatedly providing them with energy and tang.


Saradha Koirala’s Photos of the sky reaches into the future and, like her first collection, trusts in the spirit. The lovely “On being solo” ends with

On these days the air

can touch every surface of your self

lift and let loose your hair. You smile


knowing everyone yet no one

cares how you feel. Not enough

to haul you up on it at the traffic lights


but enough to let you own it

let it float past you in whatever city

whatever street you desire to be in.  (p15)

The collection is in four parts: reach, shift, reach, this time. These convey the feeling of the text as a whole, in which the past definitely exists but the poet is living in the present with an eye on the future, knowing that this moment is just that, a moment, and things might or might not be about to change.

“Rainchecked” (p46) shows this. I’m quoting it in full because it can be read on so many levels; as well, the structure reads to me almost like a sonnet with the turn in the middle, a very deft way of handling a narrative which could have been entirely predictable and not very inspiring.

Squally showers continue to drench

arriving just as I hang it all on the line

open my mouth to say aloud once

and for all what I want from this life, world

white noise on the roof drowns me out again.


He tells me I deserve to have the things I want

and I envy the ease with which he can search

his own desires up on eBay or the RSPCA.


Each time I go out to check the sheets

I decide they’re not quite ready to bring in

each time I stand by it

watch from the kitchen window

as the cold rain falls once more.


A sign of light by Jamie Trower, on the other hand, portrays tension and ambivalence. Jamie Trower prowls through a variety of stresses, using a variety of poetic forms. “Descent” (pp45-51) begins in a ‘dream duologue’ between (deceased) Mother and Birdboy. Then, ‘As the curtain falls, the audience erupts in applause.’ The author is silent and grateful; he then returns to his lonely, ghost-ridden home and wakes:

The feathers are prickling your skin again. The refrigerator grinds softly to the touch. They’re growing again through tiny puncture wounds left open on your arms. …

When you can’t call this fight a war, you must count all the walls that had been covered in your blood – …

Anxiety will come knocking through the air. Oh yes, trust me there. You can feel it growing in your chest. Such a life force. …

The townsfolk deemed you wild and untouchable. But not in your rubicund eyes.

(you were just surviving).

There are many dream scenes, perhaps acting as a form of self-hypnosis, making the topics of the dreams safe to address. The sounds of language and the sound of silence often work in a dialogue; so does the balance between man and boy – and many times there is Boy alone, and no balance, only the sky:

This was my doing, because anyone can create a superhero on paper.

This light,        this rolling breath,

this partition of happiness in my neck.


Everybody said the boy-         thing held his body like the sea.

Everybody said the boy-         thing coasted from chalk.

                                                            (“A sign of light” p39)

The many water images (including giving birth) don’t seem to hold a balance – rather, they set up their own tension, and we don’t know how close the poet is to drowning. But he is not alone: the epigraph from Henry V (“…we happy few”) and the acknowledgements all show that Trower feels himself very much grounded in the poetry community.


These three books are a wonderful start for a new press – by the time this review is published, they will certainly have been joined by others, we trust equally varied and interesting. Not just these three books but the press who has enabled them are a welcome addition.


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.