Big Love Songs by Vaughan Gunson.
Whangarei: Vaughan Gunson (2016). .
Reviewed by Mary Cresswell.
The title says Big Love Songs – but the book is A5 and the poems are short (one per page) – the poems are made up of short lines – and the words are brisk, short, everyday words. So why the title? Because the poems themselves are spacious. They are full of light, a lot of sky, great swoops of cosmic space. Even when the poet decides to use clouds and gloom, this still happens on a large scale; almost all the poems feature the sky and/or the sea.
Vaughan Gunson’s second book, this is a collection which could be read as the rise and fall of love in one person’s life. It’s dedicated ‘to you’ (singular? plural? we’ll never know), and he says:
with my ordinary pen
I trace the lines of your voice
circling the earth
like the lighthouses
that have been left to wander
I’m drifting the tattered oceans (poem 1)
But our world is bigger than both of us, though not always easily comprehensible:
Lost, an empty volume on the sea,
my words roll about, sickened.
You’ve forgotten what they meant,
but they survive, won’t die—no. (p 13)
The universe of words is another layer holding us open and out. A bookstore provides space for distance plus familiarity:
Searching old book spines
for titles and authors
that are familiar
from another aisle
and I know it’s you. (p 23, quoted in full)
The middle of the collection contracts somewhat under the burden of loss – estrangement –
but even then, time (rather than space) keeps the sense of bigness alive ‘these last few thousand years’ (p 31), or ‘I hear the sound of a million feet/ stamping the ancient cobblestones’ (p 26). There are several elegantly placed rocks scattered throughout the collection (including one lichen-covered one); given the capaciousness of most of the images, the rocks are an unobtrusive way of staying grounded, remembering our mortality, actually.
Those crystal moments
are clear out of reach
a furnished memory
you can no longer use.
It’s a virgin taste
we must now discover
in a world that’s falling
like a temple stone. (p 48)
No matter how Gunson tries, he is still looking forward to some sort of openness, ready to try something new:
I’m at the end
of writing it down
I’ll see you tomorrow
at a table in the sun. (p 5)
These poems flow nicely as a group. They are light – not lite, definitely not – and a pleasure to read, combining as they do serious emotion with almost a playful presentation.
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 takahē 90 August, 2017.