Kevin Ireland – Looking out to Sea

Looking Out to Sea cover

Looking out to Sea by Kevin Ireland.
Wellington: Steele Roberts Aotearoa Ltd (2014).
RRP: $19.99.
Pb, 58pp.
ISBN: 9781927242926.

Reviewed by Mary Cresswell.

“Where to begin?” asks Kevin Ireland1, early on in Looking Out to Sea (his 22nd collection):

There are stacks of words strewn about the house
on backs of envelopes and scraps ripped from old
notebooks, and so many oddities and endings
crackling from balled-up wrappers that it’s high time
for a cleansing and there could be no better moment
to impose order where loopy lines on rainbow reams
have bound my life in turns of phrases.

The possibilities are huge: starting with the Family stack of words gives us a loving tribute to a younger brother who died a couple of years ago (the title poem, “Looking out to sea”) or the wonderful description of the poet’s father making a performance art form of almost missing the bus to work (“Another one that got away”). And there’s always old friends:

The only way to answer questions
successfully about an old friend’s past life
is to stick to the facts and stuff the hearsay.   (“Answers”)

The Past is another stack, always useful, best taken in careful doses:

There are maps to the past that we should use
with caution in the light of day. The details
are out of date, storms have brought down landmarks
and left slips, gorges and bogs, roads are blocked
or knotted into loopy shapes, …                      (“Places to avoid”)

In the past there is “The poet who missed his transport”:

He waited at night for a poem
twice as big as a bus
all stripey paint and dazzling
with lights and sirens blazing …

and “The lost children of the 1930s”, clutching their pathetic sacks of broken biscuits: ‘They never hang about to offer explanations: the true tales of those days would terrify us’.

Imposing order – on stacks of papers, balled-up or otherwise – guarantees us at least one result: several very large stacks labelled Miscellaneous. Ireland wanders among the miscellany, comfortable and quite enjoying himself. Two pages commemorate a flight all the way across Australia alongside a passenger who wouldn’t shut up. By the end of the poem – one sentence! – you are reminded yet again of how endless Australia is:

There was so much of the whole place to take in
that whatever may have slipped out of the frame
belonged nowhere else you could think of quickly

and you might even be tempted to add that there was
enough down there to get on with anyway so why
worry about it and who’d argue the point, the drift of

what I am saying possibly being that what glorious
small thought could ever be deemed appropriate…   (“Flying across Australia”)

Much of the Miscellaneous stack drifts around the state of actually feeling miscellaneous: sleep in when you feel like it, the sun’s too hot so what, life’s too short so what, no need to come down on one side or another: “Fine day to get things done? Yeah, right.” (“Great day in paradise?”) Being well-defined isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, and there are better states:

You were reading a book
on the liminal while I felt neither here
nor there. It was a day of blessedness.
It was though we lived on the threshold
of a new existence.   (“A book on the liminal”)

Being laid back is better – liminal, laid-back, maybe even borderline loopy … and it makes for a very enjoyable collection of poems.

… There’s nothing else to be done.
This very second the room and I
are breathless, waiting.      (“Everything of meaning”)

1 For further information, see

Mary CresswellMary 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.

First published takahe 87
August 2016