Peter Bland – A fugitive presence


A fugitive presence
by Peter Bland.
Wellington: Steele Roberts Aotearoa (2016).
RRP: $20.
Pb, 61pp.
ISBN: 9780947493288.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Coleman.

Peter Bland
explores his inner self and memories in his latest collection A Fugitive Presence. He continues the thread of the mysterious in the ordinary, the recognition of the sacred in the everyday, as in his previous Expecting Miracles. He does it with acute sensibility and a unique personal voice.

The book comprises forty-eight poems which seamlessly flow one to another as Bland speaks of looking back over a life – its joys and regrets and its present limitations and delights, such as being ‘drunk with the mystery/of what was and is,/ what came and went/or might have been.’ (“Hello and goodbye…” p 61). It is thoughtful yet upbeat, maudlin has no hold here. Talking of life, the poem continues:

‘Remember? Didn’t it
zing with pleasure?
Couldn’t it sometimes
fill with tears? Wasn’t it a wonderful

wood to walk through
… a story told
of a little boat
on a giant sea?’

The little boat/giant sea image permeates, poems about small or personal detail/s facing, comprising, or in contrast with, the larger situation. This is a tension the poet seamlessly negotiates, sometimes with humour, often questioning his readers – using irony, brilliant word choices and plain common sense. Below, in full, is “The pious” illustrating examples of these techniques.

Occasionally the pious
put down their guns.
Then kids run out
to play in bombed streets,
a few old men sell
watermelons, women
rush with their washing
to blood-soaked streams.
Smiles are seen, but only
in passing. There’s no time
for them to settle in
before the pious
return to kill. And yet
how beautiful those
blinks of good living,
how full of hope those
emerging breaths. How
eagerly love leaps
to join those small blessings
and takes its chance
to stare down death’ (p 51).

For me there are many ah-yes moments, and whole poems. I relate to Bland’s Halfie-ness, his growing up in England, his past family dynamic and childhood memories; there’s a lot of wondering going on here. I would suggest this collection will suit mature readers with its aphorisms and nostalgia which are un-soppy and filled with light – a light which is partly the working fugitive presence?

In his conversational title poem, we read:

You don’t know me
and I don’t know you
but there are doors best left open,
borders to cross,
and an imperceptible
molecular sharing
we’d probably feel
should our lives
ever touch…(p 11).

For me, the sharing is a tangible result of reading this poetry which expresses hope, and I thank him sincerely for that.

To make variety A Fugitive Presence includes three delightful prose poems and an unusually long (6-page, 8 verse) narrative poem which describes an evening “At the bar of the Travellers Hotel”. There is a remarkable feeling of place as ‘…we pause at the door/ to down a last pint/ then hit the open road’ (p.41). The old friends who gather there are as robust as the wine: ‘the discussion this evening/ (as on most occasions)/ is unbridled lust. We/ soon strip it down/ to bare essentials. Desire/ it seems, can distance itself/ but never really end/ until we do…’ (pp 41-42). ‘…Soon/ we’re boozed pilgrims/ on the road to Grace,/ while knowing that nothing/ has really changed…’ and ‘…we stagger home/ like a bunch of bedraggled refugees’ (p 43). ‘Perhaps our being here/ comes down to this,/ small separate acts/ of kindness and concern/ among those we’re happy/ to be with. It’s here/ that we share alonenesses/ and give tight minds/ more space’ (p 45). He wonders, ‘…Maybe/ what’s sacred has merely/ moved further off, feeling/ itself under stress…’ (p 46). I think maybe not.

Reviewing this collection has been akin to having an interesting friend to stay. Full of humanity, intelligence and wisdom, with a twinkle in the eye and excellent company. The book cover collage by Joanna Bland is evocative – shadowy and yet full of small details. The book itself is small and easy to slip into a bag or pocket; it’s ideal for dipping into on the run but even better to sit with and enjoy slowly. Steele Roberts’ uncluttered production is exemplary.



Elizabeth ColemanElizabeth 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 MeSwings & Roundabouts; has participated in performance poetry entitled Eyes in the Skies, and has judged competition poetry.

First published takahe 89
April 2017