T. 97, Trevor Hayes, Two Lagoons and Nina Powles, Luminescent


Two Lagoons by Trevor Hayes

Wellington: Seraph Press (2017)
RRP: $20.00. Pb, 20pp
ISBN: 9780994134561
Reviewed by Mary Cresswell

 


Luminescent by Nina Powles

Wellington: Seraph Press (2017)
RRP: $35.00. Pb, 5 x 20-pp chapbooks together
ISBN: 9780994134554
Reviewed by Mary Cresswell

 

Chapbooks are easier come by in main-centre bookshops than out here in The Regions, so it was a great pleasure to receive these two – both of them from Helen Rickerby’s excellent Seraph Press – and appreciate not only the contents of each one but also the difference between reading a chapbook and a full-length collection.

Trevor Hayes’ Two Lagoons floats across the map, and he participates in the cartography experience as much as in his landing points in English-speaking and Spanish-speaking worlds. ‘It’s a relief to be able to say/ I am here – as you look out/ on the contour lines…’ (‘Cartography’, p 5).

In the affectionate series ‘The Jesús Poems’ he begins with ‘Where I Found Him’ with equally precise but entirely different reference points:

Behind an armchair

in the front room of an old villa

at the end of the cul-de-sac

in one of the leafy eastern suburbs

of the city beside the sea

is where I found Jesús.                       (p 7)

A family is bookended between their parrot and the family ghost (‘Cortés Family Portraits’), the ghost who ‘… walked/ distinct trails across the open plain. …’ (‘The Family Ghost’, p 10).

Hayes keeps his distance throughout the whole collection: in many places the earth seems more human and alive than the people moving across it: ‘And the peninsula arches/ its back, muzzled, undaunted,/ on the deadly line of balance.’ (‘Peruvian Light’, p 12).

The poems in this book are carefully curated and presented. ‘Ash Song’ (p 15) admits the distance:

I have created

these blues myself.

This sand

I have dreamed. …

These lines

I have not imagined. …

Hayes takes us vast geographical distances but very small, precise emotional distances. I’m thinking that a chapbook can keep a mood alive in a way a larger collection often can’t – reading one is like examining a very special item from a cabinet of curiosities.

*

Nina Powles’ Luminescent also illustrates ‘less is more’. Five chapbooks are packed in one cover, to be looked at in whatever order, like microscope slides ranged for perusal.

The books are connected by format and a shared connection with ghosts of one sort or another, but they deal with entirely different worlds. This is another bonus of the form – as a reader, my focus is sharpened by the size of the book I am holding, the fact that I control where I go next but am now forced to look at one topic only. Within the books, there is considerable variation in point of view and grammatic person, but we don’t need transitional stages.

‘(Auto)biography of a Ghost’ is the resident ghost at Queen Margaret College in Wellington. Does she really exist?  Or is she the reason we need a word like ‘Apophenia’: ‘… the human tendency to see patterns/ in things where there are no patterns at all’ ? (p 11)

… I knew she wasn’t     real     but when I passed that door

                      I always ran                            breathless

                                  not looking at the shadows

(‘The school ghost’, p 10)

 

‘Her and the Flames’ reports on Australian pantomime actress Phyllis Porter, who died after her costume caught fire during a 1923 performance at the Wellington opera house. Powles revisits her within a variety of contemporary circus stories and newspaper coverage. One page gives us headlines. An erasure poem (incorporating just-visible original text) is based on a newspaper article. (Three of Powles’ chapbooks have erasure poems, all of them greyed rather than blacked out, which gives the reader an extra chance to appreciate them.)

Astronomer Beatrice M Tinsley is ‘The Glowing Space Between Stars’, seen in ‘this ghost light that reaches her/ at dawn as she sits at the kitchen table/ testing equations for galactic models/ … just before her children wake’ (p 10). The world is almost entirely coloured by starlight, with touches of red.

Katherine Mansfield is also seen and described from a distance in ‘Sunflowers’. Like the Tinsley story, this also includes biographical sources, some contemporary and some published later. The author identifies herself with Mansfield, ending with ‘If Katherine Mansfield were my best friend’ (pp 18-19).

‘Whale Fall’ describes Betty Guard (wife of Jacky), who came to New Zealand in 1830 as a 15-yr-old bride, living on a whaling station in the Sounds. It is written as though we are her contemporaries, aware that where other people have ghosts, she has whales.

She keeps rooms lit up,

sets lamps down on windowsills each night.

Her house in this cove

is the brightest in the Sounds ­  (‘Beacon’, p 14)

Reading these books in one go was an interesting lesson in what chapbooks can do that thicker collections can’t. Over and above meeting the individual authors, I found this very rewarding. But alas, out in The Regions, we need to work at collecting our rewards. Check out http://www.seraphpress.co.nz/ – not only will you find a list of Seraph Press’ earlier chapbooks, but you can sign up for their newsletter, learn about new ones, and ask your local bookseller to order for you. We’ll all learn something.


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.