Feature Review

Six Collections from Mākaro Press

reviewed by Patricia Prime

Felt Intensity by Keith Westwater.
Wellington, Eastbourne: Submarine Poetry, an imprint of Mākaro Press (2015).
RRP: $25. Pb, 76pp. ISBN: 9780994129918.

Possibility of flight by Heidi North-Bailey.
Wellington, Eastbourne: Submarine Poetry, an imprint of Mākaro Press (2015).
RRP: $25. Pb, 76pp. ISBN: 978099412925.

Bones in the Octagon by Carolyn McCurdie.
Wellington, Eastbourne: HOOPLA (series 2), an imprint of Mākaro Press (2015).
RRP: $25. Pb, 78pp. ISBN: 9780994117243.

Where the fish grow by Ish Doney.
Wellington, Eastbourne: HOOPLA (series 3), an imprint of Mākaro Press (2016).
RRP: $25. Pb, 49pp. ISBN: 9780994123718.

Udon by The Remarkables by Harvey Molloy.
Wellington, Eastbourne: HOOPLA (series 3), an imprint of Mākaro Press (2016).
RRP: $25. Pb, 77pp. ISBN: 9780994117298.

Withstanding by Helen Jacobs.
Wellington, Eastbourne: HOOPLA (series 3), an imprint of Mākaro Press (2016).
RRP: $25. Pb, 57pp. ISBN: 9780994117281.

Mākaro Press1 publishes Aotearoa New Zealand poetry, creative memoir and fiction, including books for children and young adults. Their HOOPLA poetry series2 and the Submarine Poetry3 series are truly worth reading.

Felt Intensity cover
Keith Westwater has had his poems commended several times in the New Zealand Poetry Society’s International Poetry competition. His debut collection Tongues of Ash won Interactive Publications’ best first book award in 2011. The poems in Felt Intensity are divided into three sections: “All that tectonic testosterone”, “Felt Intensity” and “A wing and a prayer”. The first section of poems is about the Christchurch earthquakes. The opening poem, “February 22, 2011, Report!” recalls how ‘The earth roared, jack-hammered / bucked like a Brahma bull / at a rodeo’.

The focus in “Headlines” is on a newspaper report in the Sunday Star Times, 5 September 2010. Here people are seen ‘down but not out / a sad and bleak day / damage severe yet haphazard.” In a series of ten verses, Westwater gives an account of the devastation, as in this verse: ‘two billion-dollar bill likely in wake of thousands of claims / city counts cost of damage to loved heritage buildings / bridal couple keep focus on big day.’ The poems in the section “Felt Intensity” focus on politics. The first poem, “Today, there are twenty-three” contains the following verse: “the street’s address / is slid Golden Mile, where Versace, Gucci, and Swarovski sup with / the Saatchi brothers.’ “The poor girl” contains a litany of woes – here is the first stanza: ‘had she shoes they would have had holes / had she a satchel it would be plastic / had she sheets she would have shelter / had she a closet she might have clothes.’ In Westwater’s daring prose poem, “On standing at the crossing lights next to a boy racer’s car”, contains the following paragraph:

And I see you’ve lowered that all-show, no-go tin-shit
to within an inch of the road. Follow me, I’ll take you
over the speed bumps outside the mayor’s place, and
all that easy money you paid will seem such a waste.

In the third section, “A wing and a prayer”, the poems gravitate to the grimmer aspects of life but, strangely their effects are to make us aware of injustice. Here we have fundamentalists, loss, ‘the temporary permanence of hills’ and the lengthy poem in two parts, “Artifactual comments”, where in the first part, “The ordinance of clowns”, the poet tells us ‘there’s more to clowning than // oversized bow ties, banana skins / bandanas, braces and // button-hole flowers that spray.’ The penultimate poem, “The Pneumonia Suite”, is in seven parts. Part 1 is “The leper’s bed”, where ‘It’s Easter Saturday. / The room has six berths – four taken. There’s dull green lino / green painted walls.’ Westwater’s verses are resplendent with detail that punches out physical settings and descriptions that make us hold our breath. This is not a collection to read at one sitting as each poem leads to some kind of malaise – damaged earth, strained relationships, dashed hopes, compromise. Westwater has delivered a book for our age, reminding us of our society, our dependence on each other and the vital role we each have to play.

Possibility of Flight cover

Heidi North-Bailey writes poems, short stories and screenplays, and was accepted into a University of Iowa creative writing programme. Possibility of flight is her first collection of poetry. Agreeably easy to access, the vivid scenes of North-Bailey’s poems impressed me with their mixture of youthful adventures, her flight from New Zealand to London and her return home. The poems – which ponder love, absence, death, family, Wellington and London – often appear in simple stanzas, delivered in a calm voice. In “Best Friend”, the poet writes about a friend: ‘At twelve she rang to say she’d had sex / behind the Whangarei Heads town hall / and all I could do was picture us standing inside / on the little stage / waiting for Santa to arrive / singing so hard my nostrils hurt.’ “The departed”, focuses on the poet’s remembrance of her grandparents as she looks at a photograph of them when she is alone in her London room: ‘It is my grandfather, / in the bowler hat /posing for the photograph.’ “Crush”, features meeting a boy in an art class and, years later, being introduced to a woman whom she assumes is the dead boy’s mother: ‘when I got the news / and I got the wrong boy // so I say nothing more / but I know // I know from the way / the other woman looks at me.’ In “My view from Lauris’ bedroom window” for Lauris Edmond, we discover that the poet lived for a time in a house that once belonged to Edmond. The poems ends: ‘Yes, here’s her totara still / taking firm grip, while she’s gone // leaving me this scarred patch of earth /this knotted garden of poetry.’ In “London to Oriental Bay”, the poet makes a long distance call, in which she hungers for ‘salt sting, hunger for the wind, a sky / whipped grey under the shadow / of the virgin on the hill.’ The title poem, “Possibility of Flight”, begins: ‘Be brave, / tell me the facts, / nothing parcelled in rough / ambitious words’. This jam-packed little book has domestic drama, adventure and resolution. It also isn’t afraid to hint at darker, weightier themes and it is time to acquaint yourself with North-Bailey’s amazing poetry.

Bones in the Octagon cover
Carolyn McCurdie is a Dunedin writer who has worked as a teacher and librarian. She is a winner of the New Zealand Poetry Society’s International Poetry Competition and the Lilian Ida Smith Award. McCurdie has published an e-book of short stories and a children’s fantasy novel. Bones in the Octagon is her first collection of poetry. McCurdie’s prose-like long poems have an almost fairy-tale quality. They examine emotions, memories, dislocation, neighbours and family, sensitively and acutely. The first poem, “Inside a story”, reprises the tale of a man imagining ‘a future / of alpine grandeur’. The poems are serious, the observations acute. But they are sometimes funny, tinged with sadness or freighted with conflict. “Invitation to dance” tells us that ‘You might look through your blinking to that younger / self. You might ask her: how long since you laughed? / Expect a false laugh. A denial.’ “Two boys on roller blades”, with its couplets, is a more accessible poem, where the boys have ‘… set up a goal: / some wooden struts // wedged in the gutter, strapped // to a power pole…’ “Still life” after earthquakes in Christchurch & Japan, is a sad, touching, powerful poem recalling the energy of the galaxy:

The speed of the galaxy cannot
be known. One calculation says it flicks
through space at six hundred and thirty kilometres
each second. No fixed point exists
as a measure. Nothing is still.

“Tissue and Comb”, is a recollection of the poet’s father, who ‘… fled the tenements of Glasgow for the Royal Navy / the instant he turned eighteen.’ In “Hut”, McCurdie writes: ‘If I come back as a building / it will be as a tramping hut.’ “Making up the spare beds for the Brothers Grimm”, is another fairy-tale poem, full of spark, invention and play: ‘They’ll arrive before dark. / So she has aired the mattresses and used a stiff / brush to dislodge peas, spiders, frogs that lurk. / She has opened the windows and spread / sheets over the beds between layers of sunshine. The room / smells of linen crisped by the wind.’ The final poem, “The time of the fire is over”, has an energy in its lines: ‘All around you now the air, / voluminous, pushes, / sways with invisible parachutes. // Your toes curl, grasp / the edge.’ McCurdie has an expressive range and the poems exhibit ideas and versatility that are often hard to find in poetry. It helps to read her poems singly and deliberately, allowing them to resonate in the mind.

Where the fish grow cover

Ish Doney completed a design degree in Wellington and has been living in Scotland. Where the fish grow is her first book. In the opening poem, “Gumboot”, she writes about living in Edinburgh: ‘We lived off porridge and tea, / pasta and macaroni pies, / for two weeks in a tent / under a bridge in Edinburgh.’ Doney reveals moments of having dinner with her grandmother, her mother, a woman who she helped back to her hospital bed, a visit to the doctor’s office, losing herself on a train. Each observation recalls memories of the poet’s youth, as well as the reality that life is passing by as she imagines what it would be like to have children. Doney’s poems are sensual, reflective and whimsical. And, as in all reflective poems, her writing reveals an awareness of the passage of time, as we see in the prose poem, “The day I spend with her”, where she says: ‘Hospitals smell like everyone’s bad memories made into soup.’ In “To the boxes”, she is seen moving in with a boyfriend, where: ‘His boxes are full of things that I don’t know / the memories to: a silver vase, an unworn watch, two fans. / His boxes are full of roots / that I am asking him to pull out of the ground.’ The book ends with “Seaside”: ‘There is less competition for fish // from picnics / than from the nets of boats in the harbour. / I tip the squid / and seaweed down the sink and go back / to making coffee.’ Where the fish grow contains poems to be savoured for its numerous subjects ranging from family to earthquakes, to foster children and snoring with a pathos and humour that is remarkable in this debut collection.

Udon by the Remarkables cover
Harvey Molloy is a poet and teacher living in Wellington. His poetry has appeared in New Zealand and international journals, and he is past winner of the New Zealand Poetry Society’s International Poetry Competition. In his collection, Udon by The Remarkables, the poems move from the Lancashire moors of Molloy’s childhood to the politics of New Zealand, the lives of Anglo-Saxons and his wife’s Indian family.

But there are other worlds, too: a migraine in the poem, “A migraine in Valhalla” – ‘I’m recording on low battery / for the future world’s cut-up / as the Catherine Wheel / chakra lights begin to spin.’ In the wonderful poem, “Our song” (translated from Anglo-Saxon): ‘A wolf carries our unwanted child to the wood. / He swiftly tears apart that which was never whole: // our song together.’ His is ‘close-up’ poetry – close up to thought, to the world, to the emotions. Few writers at work today can give the sense of the rich fecund, lived life that Molloy does. He can make us understand that the outside world is not outside, but what we are made of, as we see in “Closer”:

We walked the same hills, Ian.
We passed the closed doors of familiar villages and towns:
Oldham, Saddleworth, Macclesfield.

“House of Design”, is a long poem in ten sections, and in the first section, we are made aware of Molloy’s interest in words: ‘The designer has copied these words / into his IB5 notebook: / lexie, spicule, sybarites, cloisonné / The designer now knows these words. / He takes copious notes.’ Molloy has given his title poem, “Udon by The Remarkables”, a sustained narrative that manages to create a feeling of tension, a sense that the ‘black crags of The Remarkables’ obscures the hidden tensions that lie beneath the surface of the man’s observations from ‘his blue canvas chair’. “Punch”, is one of his more humorous poems, perhaps reminding many people of their childhood on the beach and watching the Punch and Judy show: ‘Hello, boys and girls – it’s Mr. Punch. // I am the first and last puppet clown. / I am the minister of foreign affairs. / I am the minister of push-downstairs. / I am the minister of sausages and oil.’ Molloy has the confidence to leave things unsaid, resulting in some engrossing poems.

Withstanding cover

Helen Jacobs is the pen name of Elaine Jakobsson who has published poetry in New Zealand and elsewhere for 35 years. She has been a keen environmentalist, bush walker and gardener, but has now given up these activities, although she continues to write. In Withstanding, Jacobs ponders the paradox of aging. In her first poem, “Rhubarb and rain”, she tells us how she cossets old age: ‘Indoors day, space heater, / a book, a radio, query TV.’ In the title poem, “Withstanding”, Jacobs writes: ‘I’m walking on the coolness of grass, / and the littlest walker curls his toes / on the pebble path, sucks a pebble to see. / Ordinariness is re-established.’ The poem treads a fine line of enjoyment of nature and her stand on the environment: ‘It is said our future lies / in the energy from sun and water. / Just so, we will nurture the earth / on its circuits. Consider the trees.’ Jacobs’ tone treads a fine line between the beauty of nature and the vicissitudes of aging, as we see in “The language of poetry”, where ‘In the stasis of age, / I am wrapped against weather, / skin touch and stride, / writing dry words.’ In “Spring”, she enjoys ‘the sun on my skin’, but she recalls those less fortunate ‘on the far side of the world, / where tanks roll / and the dust rises, / who can remember or dream / of the liquid of spring?’ Her heart is in the right place, despite her thoughts of ‘iris buds’, ‘first shoots’ and ‘climbing beans’. In “Legs”, she recalls ‘the memory of the agility of legs’ and in “Interval”, the devastation of the February 2011 earthquake: ‘Yes, there is all that / falling’, but hope remains ‘waiting for a higher note, / waiting to build chord on chord, / a construction of rising.’ Jacobs’ lyrical poetry is as delicate as the plants and flowers in her garden and the landscape around her, while offering the interconnectedness of phenomena, as of her self-sufficiency.

As the above six works confirm, Mākaro Press’ poetry books by New Zealand poets are a welcome addition to our homes and libraries. The books in both the HOOPLA and Submarine series are compact, slim, brisk, frank and/or funny. They do not preach but take us on the individual poet’s personal journey and show us how their views change over time. They give us space to find our own way, draw our own conclusions, and perhaps seek out other publications by the same poets.

1 The publishers are Mary McCallum and assistant publisher Paul Stewart.
2 Launched on their first birthday, March 2014, three outstanding poets, the second trio launched in April 2015, and the third trio (reviewed here) launched in April 2016.
3 There are a growing number of poets in Mākaro’s Submarine Poetry editions.

Patricia Prime

Patricia Prime, a regular contributor to takahē, is co-editor of Kokako and assistant editor of Haibun Today. Patricia’s primary interest is Japanese short form poetry: haiku, tanka, haibun and tanka prose and she has published a book of collaborative tanka sequences called Shizuka (2015).

First published takahe 87
August 2016