t. 91, Joanna Emeney, Family History, Jeffrey Paparoa Holman, Dylan Junkie, and Elizabeth Morton, Wolf

Family History by Johanna Emeney.
Wellington: HOOPLA (series 4), an imprint of Mākaro Press (2017).
RRP: $25.
Pb, 70pp.
ISBN: 9780994137810

Dylan Junkie by Jeffrey Paparoa Holman.
Wellington: HOOPLA (series 4), an imprint of Mākaro Press (2017).
RRP: $25. Pb, 53pp.
ISBN: 9780994137807

 

 

Wolf by Elizabeth Morton,
Wellington: HOOPLA (series 4), an imprint of Mākaro Press (2017).
RRP: $25.
Pb, 88pp.
ISBN: 9780994137821.

 

Reviewed by Liz Breslin.

‘everything is adhesive.’ (“The park”, p 53). So says Elizabeth Morton, the newest of the three poets in the 2017 Mākaro Press Hoopla series. A series can be such a satisfying, stickable thing, whether binge-watched or read, and this one is true to form. For Hoopla newbies, a quick overview: the series has been going since 2014, with a debut, a mid-career and a late-career poet showcased in catchy, matchy, one-word-summed-up jackets. Wolf’s one word is ‘solo’, apt for this very singular collection, populated with dense language and disparate outsiders – the special needs kid, Cerberus, a UFO. The recurrent outsider is Wolf, who unsettles the start of this collection

 

outlawed, Wolf barks

to the terrible yolk

moon, to the clouds

dragged out like turds. (“Wolf is alone”, p 18).

 

Wolf is our entrance into a world unrecognisably our own, with the poet/wolf/world voice in the lower case ‘i’, peppered through poems like “School” – ‘and i am giant squid/that lurks in the picture book,’ and “OCD”, the latter capturing an anxious responsibility –

 

i squeeze out toothpaste and

a car bomb goes off in Pakistan.

i turn the tap carefully

but a woman is gang-raped

in Sydney. a family is incinerated

in Uganda when i spit into the sink.  (“OCD”, p 52).

 

There is sacredness as well as colourful dregs. “Storyteller”, the opening poem, tells a slant Messiah story – ‘and he split the schist into fine wafers/and he shared his waterbottle amongst/a hundred … and on the Sabbath, sentences pooled/around his body, and spilt into the plains.’ Mother Mary and Jesus make other appearances in “The audience” and “Boy”, and “Hine-nui-te-pō” is a dark hymn.

But whether revered or reviled, the same dis-ease permeates the whole. The leaning towards lower-case sentence beginnings and sentences starting with ‘and’ are stylistically noticeable, and help, perhaps, to get into the rhythm of the reading, They’re cracking poems to read aloud. They also emphasise the strangeness of upper case Proper Names.

 

Wolf is a collection that makes you want to use the word ‘fecund’ with a straight, serious face and a smirk on the side. It is strongly, strangely, beautifully profane –

 

the toppled woods were beautiful

but we were not crying. acid rain

tiptoed down our faces like falling stars. (“Wasted”, p 83).

 

Johanna Emeney’s Family History is given the moniker ‘medical’ – shaping the four sections is her mother’s breast cancer diagnosis. Although some of the poems here spell out the story in telling terms, this allows a certainty in providing an easy-to-follow but not so easy to bear narrative. When (spoiler alert!) the reveal is made about Emeney’s mother’s more-premature-than-thought death, the wrench shows how much the writer/reader are invested in this.

This collection (Emeney’s second) started life as the creative component of a thesis studying medicine and the humanities – poems and medicine have much to offer each other in navigating between their spaces. Each section is prefaced with a dandelion, a symbol that Emeney calls ‘little angels of your imprint, your leaving (“Dandelion”, p 66). “Captions”, up first, gives us snapshots, literally. We’re told about a photo of her mother holding up a pair of ‘sappy’ lettuces,

 

… there is so much she’s yet to know

about horticulture …

 

… how to harvest them, while young, before the rot sets in.

 

(“Maureen in a row of lettuces, 1972”, p 18).

 

“Anonymous” ends with the unintentional cruelty of medical language –

 

You can be assured

no one will ever know

who the donor was.          (p 20).

 

 

The other sections, each commencing with a technical medical quote, show verse poems alongside more formal wordplay, such as the haunting pantoum, “Undertaking” (p61). There is dark humour at play around body as commodity – ‘up to his arms in another woman’ (“The surgeon’s secretary is also his wife”, p 28). There are medical reconstructions – samples

 

… grafted

onto the spines

of knockout mice

and grown

into a batch

of tiny mothers.

 

(“Medical miracles”, p 24).

 

It may, or may not be, as Emeney contends (in “One criticism of your novels”, p 50) that ‘Mother is the most powerful word in the English language,’ but this truth is certainly accounted in Family History with much heart – after all, ‘a woman’s heart in a 5’2” frame/ does not reach 325 grammes by accident’, as “How large was your heart” (p 62) tells.

And so we come to the third in the series. Jeffery Paparoa Holman, in his homage/roadtrip/take, makes this thing we call poeming easy. Dylan Junkie is his seventh poem book, along with numerous non-fictions to his name. The one-word summary is, of course, Bob.

These are poems you want to read aloud, to listen to – a musical tribute, apt and bang on. Around half the book is given to poems with titles of songs by the Bob man himself. The years don’t always match to the years the songs were released and/but the poems themselves play biography. Take “World gone wrong, 1993”, (p 23), where Bob is walking, top-hatted, through Camden, (which really happened, thanks Google), while JPH (if he’s playing himself here) is

 

up there in my N7 council flat

 

croaking away to these Akai speakers

with blood in my eyes for you

 

 

Is it permissible in literary company to admit to scant biographical knowledge of Bob Dylan? If so, then some sort of glossary would perhaps be helpful in getting the best out of the jigsaw of this section.

 

“Lines from Hard Rain” takes up the middle fifteen pages of this collection, with some right-on-the-money apt moments of social critique in rhyme and poem prose. From “guns swords hands children” –

 

You go to church and curse them when they pray.

You hate the RSA. You hate yourself.

 

You’re older now and all those guns shoot back. (p 37).

 

The last section of the book is dedicated to a road trip – a Dylan pilgrimage. In the final stanza – ‘by accident I found the road that gave you song.’ By purpose, this collection has much to offer, whether as social commentary or homage.

And there is much to love in the whole idea of Hoopla – showcasing three poets, annually, side-by-side, means our reading eyes are drawn to names and voices we might not have otherwise have known – a current, in series –  and leave us all the more electrified for this.

 

 

 

 


Liz Breslin writes poems, plays, stories and a column for the Otago Daily Times. Her first collection of poems, Alzheimer’s and a spoon, has been published by Otago University Press in 2017. www.lizbreslin.com