In the Supplementary Garden by Diana Bridge.
Lyttelton: Cold Hub Press (2016).
Reviewed by Mary Cresswell.
In the Supplementary Garden, Cold Hub Press’ presentation of work by Diana Bridge1, features 23 new poems and selections from her work over the last twenty years. The selections were made by fellow Cold Hub Press author and Christchurch poet Robert McLean “… to assemble what I consider to be Bridge’s best and most representative poems; and to demonstrate the diversity of her work.” (p xvii)
Wellington poet and critic Janet Hughes writes a brisk “Introduction” referencing Bridge’s scholarship in English and classical Chinese literature, her many years overseas, and her “enduring subject [which] is the business of apprehending the Other.” (p xiii)
The new poems read as a collection on their own, giving a general sense of distance and winding-down:
… Lines manifestly
straight as furrows cross, converge and open. How
is it that they open like the hidden struts of a fan?
She invites you to consider channels. … (the long shot, p 8)
Visibility in the new poems doesn’t involve the relentless focus of the earliest ones. They all seem to have travelled from pinpointing the unique and isolated to incorporating apparently separate individuals into a wholeness. For example, the 1996 poem “Talking to the Songs” gives us a series of bright illustrations and references to different cultures, solid, concrete images you could sit down and sketch:
One hundred and sixty
gum nuts, cocooned in cradles
hard as horn, dark as wood
and thick as a book.
Their young stories
Later images are not veiled or obscured but layered into representations of representations (which is as close as I can get to describing it). “Netsuke” starts out showing a tiny carved hare, one which “…can tell us nothing more. It wears no other aspect now.” The poem ends:
It is the hare’s turn to bow its head,
bring up its forepaws and close on the nuts;
gingerly remaking context, like any
object orphaned from its past. (p 27)
Comparing “Talking to the Songs”, “At the entrance to the Lu Tomb” (2001), and the title poem is an interesting exercise in watching Bridge’s changes in how she uses visibility. The three extracts below have (to me, at any rate) a similarity of content or spirit which is recorded on several, different layers that slide through time and gender, from a precise image through profoundly shifted boundaries which make no sense unless they are seen as one:
The girl with the yellow
lining’s caught the king.
The girl in the bindweed
seems to have lost him.
And the small stars
sing in the sky,
yielding an infinite number
of one-liners. (“Talking to the Songs” p 39)
Let social history clamour on the rim.
Here is ancient memory suggestive
of a more alluring she —one
who would put aside her book,
walk into southern lakes
and islands, court spirits.
Stalks tangle across her bodice.
A strew of open flowers on her head. (“At the entrance to the Lu Tomb” p 103)
Slabs of rock, their faces ground and grooved as any sage
nearing the end of his journey, have made an amphitheatre
of the pool. Plants coat its rocky lip; they trail over it
like children’s hands that reach for water, stopping
just short of the surface. A mat of lotuses that lies
as languorous as a woman on her side is starting its slow
slide into openwork. … (“In the Supplementary Garden” p 28)
I expect it’s dangerous to generalise from a selection of poems, particularly a selection made by an editor rather than the author herself, but the book as a whole reads to me like a progression of the poet’s vision (as well as her craft) from crisp surface brightness to levels building on and depending on other levels, like autumn mists coming and going within an elegantly tended garden.
The book is re-readable as well as readable – an excellent character in poetry – and I recommend it to you as a permanent pleasure.
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.
First published takahe 88