Ordinary Time by Anna Livesey.
Wellington: VUP (2017).
RRP: $25. Pb, 55pp.
Reviewed by Liz Breslin.
This is a book about parenthood. But then to call this a book about parenthood is to miss the layers of the absolute, intimate, ordinary connectedness of people and things.
How a family fit snug with each other:
…you are carrying one and I am carrying the other
and our arms are full.
Are full, I said, are surely full.
But I can carry both children
if I need to, or he can.
They tessellate in our arms…
(“I am a person in Love with Nostalgia”, p 22).
How generations pass and shape:
…When my mother died she had spent
a long time in darkness.
When my grandmother died she had spent
a medium time in darkness.
When my daughter was born she had spent
a short time in darkness… (from “ Quotation”, p 34),
and this, from “Lauriston Avenue” (p 19):
There’s so much weight in a great-grandmother
holding a baby. There’s so little.
She arrived early, the body gave way, gave up underway.
I can’t deny her anything.
All a tiny baby wants
is to be held.
Some of the moments of tiny-baby closeness are minutely observed, sketched. There’s a sense of other-worldliness – ‘wrapt in our own salty language’ (“Eleven Days”, p 13).
This is Livesey’s third collection and she tells us:
… In my first book I was desperate not to be confessional.
My poems reached out of myself, pushed myself away.
Now that my mother is dead and my children are born
I seem to have nothing else to speak of.
And also the world appears an angrier, more convoluted place.
I am less certain
what to say.
(“Bay Leaves”, p 30).
This sets us up for the seeming splurge towards confessional, anecdotal, randomly detailed introspection, especially in the many prose poems in the collection. Livesey wears the layers of control lightly, playing with readers and reading and histories / her stories in poems such as “Because I’m Human” (p 32), and “Reading books about the War” (p 38). There is a knowing tension, an awkwardness that simmers underneath “Observational Drawing” (p 45), and works its way, generally, stealthily, through the book. It is a neat trick to start out with ‘we are all equally valuable’ (from “Ordinary Time”, p 11) and then to hold our ordinaries and other realities up to the light and rub on them like this.
And so our bodies and the world helped and betrayed us. And so we
helped and betrayed some earlier, more clear-cut version of ourselves.
(from “Trimester One”, pp 52-53).
Liz Breslin writes poems, plays, stories and a column for the Otago Daily Times. Her first collection of poems, Alzheimer’s and a spoon, will be published by Otago University Press in 2017. www.lizbreslin.com