Expecting Miracles by Peter Bland.
Wellington: Steele Roberts Aotearoa Ltd (2014).
Reviewed by Elizabeth Coleman.
Peter Bland has published many a poetry book and his latest, Expecting Miracles, delivers the excellence his readers have come to expect. In this beautifully presented small book, 43 poems sit in space, visually and verbally uncluttered. There are four sections with the predominant themes of love and memory, responses to the arts, personal insights and observations, and the ‘other’ voice of Mr Maui.
The entire first section of eleven poems, printed in close sequence, evoke a profound relationship. The first and title poem is dedicated ‘in memory of my wife’. In it, love is expressed in a youthful, fresh way – although we know the writer is an octogenarian; a lover of any age would be enchanted to be addressed in this tender, personal style:
‘… I’m missing the living you/ I took so mercilessly for granted,/ the one who would wake/ to put on beauty/ much as the day puts on dawn.’ (“Expecting miracles”)
‘it was awesome, our passing this way,/ and scary and thrilling and sexy and sad.’ (“Of course …”)
‘… I miss/ that blunt ache/ when I craved your body, and I miss/ the tenderness/ of your knowing this.’ (“I miss your lips”)
‘… Don’t worry,/ I know that love still lives/ somewhere in the distance/ between us.’ (“The distance between us”)
One feels like an eavesdropper; the language is unsentimental, no fantasy is portrayed, nor is there melancholy. Through his words we feel the depth and simple timelessness of love. And although loss is a motif of this section there is no persuading the reader how bad it can be. There’s no sermonising, pontificating or glance of the trite. Instead, small and ordinary things paint a living, loving picture:
‘Mad joy/ was you at home waiting/ at 3 in the morning’ (“Mad joy”)
‘French cricket on/ a scrubby summer/ lawn, that softness/ on the inside of/ your thighs …’ (“Recollections”)
In part two of the collection, Bland focusses on the arts: painting, poetry, music, photography, film and, in horror-cum-documentary style, he includes a fantastical, humorous prose poem “The walking dead” which starts:
‘The only way to kill zombies is to blow their brains out. Otherwise, as we know, they’ll live forever and feed on human flesh. Like vampires and other creatures of the dark, they have a terrifying taste for human blood. But recent research has shown …’
Throughout the book we are never far away from expecting miracles or re-appearances. The last poem in part two, entitled “Beyond”, reminds us of this – as in visions of the dead waving back to us from the beyond: ‘I sensed your absence/ as a tenderness/ lingering just out of reach.’
Part three contains poems based on personal observations and insights and many are humorous. “What’s personal” concludes with:
‘What’s personal is always/close to the heart/but a lot of it’s/ lost in the rush.’
In “Weeping for the world’s ills”: ‘…passing crowds/ with their thumbs on small screens/ seemingly oblivious to the scent of wild roses/ and the cooling charms of a passing breeze’ echoes this sentiment. The ‘rush’ is over in a lot of Bland’s poems in this section. There is a sense of slowing down, watching and reminiscing.
In “Visitors”, a squawk reminds him of some parrots, and: ‘I recall/ that my love and I/ fed them bruised strawberries’.
In “On throwing away an old pair of shoes” we learn: ‘…Everything/ I miss seems associated with those shoes…/ walks with my late love along the Thames/ embankment, mushrooming in the early morning/ on Putney Heath, exploring the dusty roads/ of some Greek island, tapping my foot in an/ Auckland coffee bar while waiting for a poem/ to arrive. Shoes as old and faithful as these/ share the very essence of your being.’
In “Dreaming about brides” the poet opines: ‘…How/ beautiful brides are/ in the early morning/ and more beautiful still/ when all the guests/ have gone home, and they/ stand in the moonlight/ naked and unafraid’ – and in case we become too romantic, we are reminded, comically, that this is a dream – ‘before one of them spots me/ hiding in a corner/ and kicks me out of the room,/ which is how/ these dreams end/ and, utterly exhausted, I immediately go back to sleep.’
There is another delightful prose poem in this part of the collection, “The portable pond”. It is hard to believe parts of it are not autobiographical, given the poet’s love of small ponds, his moving from Britain to New Zealand, and his awareness that ‘warm weightless depths’ in the end, await us all.
Part four contains five poems written, as it were, in Bland’s alter ego of Mr Maui in the form of dramatic monologues. The big picture reduces to small details in “Mr Maui acknowledges a change of view”:
‘It was once horizons/ that got me going…/ distant lands and endless/ ocean views……………. Older, I’m more at home/ in small spaces’.
Mr Maui also ‘confesses’, he is ‘in retreat’, ‘goes walkabout’ and ‘explains his position’ – in which he concludes: ‘There’s a borderless space/ only love learns to cross,/ but I try to live/ without fences. I pray/ to no particular god.’
Peter Bland’s contemporary, evocative poetic voice is energetic and accessible. It beats with life, love, loss, humour, and generosity. He is, as Greg O’Brien says “a beautiful wordsmith”. Expecting Miracles is a fine book, the cover depicting a wistful, expectant scene painted by the poet’s son, Carl.
Elizabeth Coleman lives in Waikanae and has a strong interest in the poetry scene on the Kapiti Coast. She has been published in journals and magazines such as 4th Floor, takahē; in anthologies including Dear to Me, Swings & Roundabouts; has participated in performance poetry entitled Eyes in the Skies and has judged competition poetry.
First published takahe 87