The Yield by Sue Wootton.
Dunedin: OUP (2017).
RRP: $25. Pb, 84pp.
Reviewed by Mary Cresswell.
Sue Wootton’s poems are funny, tender, energetic, and spacious. The Yield is her fifth poetry collection and includes poems which have won a variety of prizes in Australia and New Zealand.
She is part of the world around her, and she gives us felt experience rather than disinterested description. “A day trip to the peninsula” is a vivid five-poem sequence beginning with
The kingfisher doesn’t budge from the wire,
though we kick up gravel dust with our wheels, though
we sound like a thousand buffaloes.
Its one concern is for the water. Tide-filled, serene,
everything is doubled: boatshed, wire and kingfisher
in perfect symmetry. Nothing moves (p 67).
Pūkeko appear ‘[u]nhurried, stately’ and a hawk ‘takes in the fact of us. Hawk/ sweeps on. …’ We walk along the sand, ascending the dune, where ‘The lupins/ are green and winter-soft. They don’t scratch’ as we walk into the sight of the glory of the sea. The five poems are an idyllic South Island pastoral – or is idyllic the right word?
Look at the three birds: they are all serious predators, not fluffy songbirds with angelic voices. We may be passing through safely, but this is a day apart; next time won’t be the same, and somehow we know this. Even the lupins are a hazard, though not ripe enough to scratch (yet) and ‘they have forgotten/ their high-heat pod-snap’ (p 70).
Much of the serenity in these poems is on the surface, and the collection as a whole uses a huge variety of vertical imagery, reminding the reader that there is always something beneath where we are and what we are looking at. From a gondolier’s pole to a sinister cloud canopy, an ice diver, a kite string carrying the tension, a sycamore preparing to drop its last parasols … daffodils lurk under the ground, and any number of wide-open day and night skies remind us how earth-ridden we ourselves are, standing down here looking up at them. … There are many more verticals, especially the wonderful two-sided, two-columned “Under Over”, an ice diver going down to the limits of his breathing and, returning to the surface ‘births himself/ bubble/ by bubble” (p 28).
The “Graveyard poem” plays on words, alliteration to set the scene and for the fun of it, word-sound alone to mimic the sound of rustling leaves:
all the graves on a slope so steep the lids
might slip off like toboggans should it snow;
all the wives adored or endured, corseted or cosseted,
whose costal cartilages smile whitely, deep in the dirt; …
it’s right to be so afraid
of love. …
and the angels dip their wingtips to our occasionally touching palms
and the leaves rustle underfoot: risk it, risk it. (pp 58-9).
Love, friendship and companionship warm these poems. “Wasp” is a fine account of how a superhero handles an unwelcome intrusion:
Man hefts several texts, tests each for best flex,
Man climbs to top of couch. Kiddies gasp.
Man sways. Man aims. Man swings. Man stings.
Man holds Wasp by one wing. Man opens
burner door, drops Wasp in. Brief blaze
briefly pleases. A good wasp is a crisp wasp
says Wife. Once we hustled mammoths off cliffs
says Man, amazed, feeling his blood still up. (p 26).
One of the last poems in the book is “Little shanty” – a two-page love poem, a list poem, which must have been as much fun to write as it is to read:
My hull, my anchor and my sail,
my spinnaker, my mizzen,
my oars and rudder, cyclone, swell –
my ocean, my horizon.
My reach, my catch, my rum, my junk,
ahoy, awash, athwart,
my fore, my aft, my wreck, my keel,
my starboard tack, my list to port. (p 74).
I like the echo of John Donne here, running words through busy fingers for the sheer joy of it, as I also liked the echo of Keats in “Black Lake”, where ‘no bird flies’ (p 62). And Wootton’s lake definitely has depths. The whole book is happily and lovingly crafted – this shows through, and the collection is a great pleasure to read.
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.