New Sea Land by Tim Jones.
Wellington: Mākaro Press (Submarine) (2016).
RRP: $25. Pb, 74pp.
Reviewed by Mary Cresswell.
The end is a lot more than nigh: it’s sloshing around our ankles, whether we like it or not. In a new collection by Wellington poet Tim Jones we are taken from ship to spit to cliff to high sea and shown the drowned roads of our memory and of our future.
New Sea Land begins in an identifiable past,
as we criss-crossed Southland in our little Fiat
or Dad’s Skoda Trekka van, proud flagship
of the Fisheries Office fleet,
myself as junior navigator (“The map” p 9).
But even then the mountains (“Aspiring no longer”) saw the trouble:
Eroding, reminiscing, the mountains shake their
heads. Snow falls, forgotten dandruff,
through the swiftly warming air. (“The season” p 11).
We move faster and faster through devastation: ‘The sea has flooded Lambton Quay’ (“The Johnsonville volcano” p 22) and ‘Every city is a hymn to the wind, and the wind is rising’ (“What we built”, p 23). Jones takes us with a good journalist’s scrupulous care through the ruined streets and coasts, pointing out what we need to know and keeping it all in one coherent story.
There are alternative worlds. Grey Parrots – who in our present world are officially more endangered than we are – survive to rule ‘the newly winnowed earth’ (“City of air” p 24), seeking to adapt under new conditions (‘Speak to us, Grey Queen./ Help us find our perches/ in this new and larger cage’ (p 26).
In “The cockroach for its beauty”, some things are recognisable after the fall, and we see places where we might be given a second chance:
delivered minor recommendations for improvement
to be carried out before the next inspection. Everybody
nodded and promised to do better. Nobody thought
to squeeze dead plankton until their tiny bodies yielded oil,
remarked that compressed prehistoric carbon might make
a handy fuel, or suggested that clear-felling every forest
could kick things up a notch or two. (p 31).
The poems cover a lot of territory: Whitby and the Wairarapa, Humberside, Miramar Island and the Wadestown shore, lots of ships, the Tate Hill Sands. The forms of the various poems also cover territory: “The Johnsonville volcano” is a loose ballad style. Quite a few poems are in tercets, or tercets combined with couplets, other are prose poems. Jones uses anaphora effectively in quite a few places:
“Not for me the sunlit uplands” uses four-line stanzas between the repeated phrases: ‘Not for me the broad brush.’, ‘Not for me the grand gesture’ (p 27). Another poem, two pages of ways to die at sea, is a chanted psalm:
Some by drowning
Some by fire
Some by exploding boiler.
Some by starvation
Some by scurvy
Some by madness and thirst. (“Lost” p 46).
The sea land of the title isn’t just a figure of speech. We are taken to old and new sea lands (the latter being us). One of these is the ancient, long-submerged land below the North Sea, now fit only to be crossed by cod fishermen in their doggers:
Ten thousand years ago
we could walk from your England
to your Denmark (“Doggerland” p 40).
And there is Atlantis. Dracula-as-dog coming ashore on the shifting sands. Spitsbergen. The Kraken lying in wait for clever apes. …
The entire collection centres on sea and the land, no longer showing land as a
solid place we comfortably call home – instead, describing the on-again off-again relationship the land and the sea have with each other. The poems are deceptively fluent: comfortable to read, not at all comfortable when the meaning hits.
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.