Fracking & Hawk by Pat White.
Alexandra: Frontiers Press (2015).
Reviewed by Patricia Prime.
Fracking & Hawk is Pat White’s ninth collection of poetry. He has also published a book of memoir essays, How the Land Lies (2010). He and his wife live in the small town of Fairlie, in the Mackenzie District of the South Island.
Pat White’s Fracking & Hawk is a game of two halves. Part one contains 27 poems, including the title poem, and Part Two contains 30 poems. White’s collection explores the fragility of organic life. Like Robinson Jeffers, he writes about permanent things made a little more poignant by every creature that breaths and sings. Some of his poems depict human beings as intruders – “the barbarians walk your streets / and the scent of them is in the air you breath” (“Barbarians have crossed the border”). “At the café Miramare” is perhaps a scarier poem. Its focus is on the border where “three people who have stopped for lunch. / Father, mother, and someone they have never met.” The poem ends:
Pigeon. Crumbs. Bombs.
At the border three people sit, sipping tea
Taking lunch, reading headlines.
But in other poems human beings are shown making the most of their sojourn in the world, as in the poem “After reading the darkness of a different poet”, where White juxtaposes man, swan and dog the poem begins,
He watched too far away to interview
that swan, attempting to get away
caught herself in the fence’s top wires.
The white dog scrabbled, hind legs taut
in his jaws, the swan’s webbed feet.
White comes into his own in the more personal poems, where there is room for ellipsis and often humour. His strengths lie in his wit and an imagination that opens up new worlds, in pacing that works so well that the rhythms he achieves are like flowing rivers. In the title poem, “Fracking and Hawk” he begins:
How long does the hawk live? I’ve been watching them
carrying out their thermal and updraft pursuit of lift
for decades, here where valley cycles and seasons
punctuate flow of air, governing their drifting
shadow with wingspread.
The drive of the narrative carries one at speed through the various vistas White creates. The form is certain and strong and one can go all the way with him because he is an assured and confident writer; one who seems to capture the very urgency and pace of the hawk.
In “Leaving Ireland” White creates another narrative, this time in a form that allows for long lines; the weight of the poem depending on the massed togetherness of the words rather than the space between them There’s the lovely lines, ‘just that / white swan rising and falling on wavelet / caught in the dark water’s movement.’ The ‘aproned expert’ he meets on is journey counsels him about “what to think” and which way to go on his travels.
White is a master of the opening line, which is often lengthy, sincere and intriguing. For example, in Part Two he says, ‘It’s a long way until tomorrow is it not – ’ (“Sonnet from the journals”) and ‘And that was a good time, before words was received’ (“River flows through my father”).
This is a poet who is not afraid of cutting out all the unnecessary words and who bravely works with language. My favourite poems are the ones that don’t tell me everything but leave me slightly wondering, slightly lost in the beauty of the language and searching for something after the words have gone. This includes White’s gorgeous poem “Wind farm at Woodville”, a poem that says everything without having to say it:
So close to where I lived, and where my father
was born, today soft light on the hills, autumn
soft as woollen strands caught in barbed wire
macrocarpa trees bent to wind, twisted to sun
clouds shred, their dark underbelly caught
In “Harvest” White frees the poem from the need to keep company with the left margin. Instead he uses the page to highlight the gorgeousness of unusual words:
even the names run like the scent
of oil into a bowl beside crusty bread
bread and red wine, taken
into the body’s ache at evening
White has the courage to mingle the contemporary with the traditional and his vocabulary and format always serve the best interest of the poem. His rhythms are exceptional as he weaves his magic with words then returns to his themes as they glide across the page. The themes are those of man and nature. He is very much alive to his surroundings and has the assurance of his maturity to accept himself and his world as they are.
Patricia Prime, besides being a regular contributor to takahē, is co-editor of Kokako, reviews editor of Stylus, assistant editor of Haibun Today. Patricia’s primary interest is Japanese short form poetry: haiku, tanka, haibun and tanka prose.