South D Poet Lorikeet by Jenny Powell.
Lyttelton Aotearoa New Zealand: Cold Hub Press (2017).
RRP: $29.95. Pb, 87pp.
Reviewed by Patricia Prime.
Jenny Powell’s latest collection, South D Poet Lorikeet, contains poems on her girlhood, difference, displacement and poems that offer a gentle rinsing of the senses. I admire her tremendous observational skills, and my favourite poems are those that capture a specific picture in an arresting way, as in “The Right Alice” (p 12), where she writes:
Pawing his pocket watch the white rabbit pores
over tell-tale signs of time, his whisker twitch
spreads to a facial tic. In his pink-eyed panic
he hops backward and forward. His eyes hurt.
I love the specifics of his ‘whisker twitch’ and ‘facial tic’. Again, in “Pale Girl” (p17), we see Powell’s great gift for description. Here, we see the girl
Sleeping frail through withered time,
night, day, past, now.
Her breath shallow and silent.
And she imagines this terrifying image in “Sing Girl” (p 20):
She is blind.
Her eyes plucked from dainty sockets
blink in the hands of Pale Man;
eater of children who’ve tasted the apple of Eden
he bites through her skin, burns into her flesh.
Another poem “Celia” (p 22) recalls Celia’s dolls, but these are not dolls for small girls to play with, for
The dolls are in pieces
resting and floating on the short
Their smooth bodies
are quiet and comfortable
in the tidal flow.
I find, in this collection, Powell is at her best when fixing on particulars, as in “Man on the Moon” (p. 26), where she writes in couplets:
Inside the classroom radio
men had landed on the moon.
They were just above the blackboard
rubbed clean of greater less than or equals.
And we find this simple writing also in “The Anatomy of Gesture” (p. 30), which begins:
They all wrote about grandparents,
dissecting the anatomy of gesture;
a tapping on the table, a scratching
of the ear or tightening of the lips.
These poems are accomplished and powerful, even with their use of modest writing.
“Pencil Me In” (p 37) is a fine poem, recounting what might happen “in case I should walk / by the bay”. It’s a gentle, reflective poem which says just enough. The poems have compassion, a fine eye and deep sincerity.
There’s a gentle spirit within Powell’s poetry that does not mean it is lacking in bite. Her poetry embraces both the beauty and the cruelty of nature and human nature. Take “Bone Man” (p 41), which contemplates the collector of bones. The poem ends:
Hung skulls grin
through bare teeth, spines tingle.
in wind chime
vertebrae, wings fail in fractured
lines, empty beaks
sing songs of the drowned.
There’s a reverence for the natural world and the place we live in that runs throughout this thoughtful collection, for example, we see in “Perched on a Blue Hydrangea” (p 46) a reference to Homer and his description of the colour of the sea:
Homer, with his wine-dark sea
had not discovered blue.
Black and white were his favourites
as if his world were either or.
The parallelism between the natural world and human inspiration is neatly brought together in an acutely observed poem called “Red Secrets” (p 50), with this wonderful verse:
He signs his body on mine
with a fingerprint press of red,
breaking into purple.
My skin will not quickly
And the human condition is vividly foregrounded in “Loose Leaf Lindy” (p 54), which ends:
Our Loose Leaf Lindy where did she go,
dressed in her beautiful sadness?
She climbed beyond blues with no distress
she climbed without feeling your caress
she climbed beyond blue into blackness.
“Tip Toe Steps down a Wet Path” (p 60) is a lovely descriptive poem, while “Above the Door a Bird” (p 62) is a longer poem that is clever, punchy, highly accessible and has the immediacy one can imagine working well as performance poetry.
Powell’s poems are in a contemporary idiom that makes them ring clearly for the present and creates an enjoyable frisson between the story and the imaginative telling.
Patricia Prime, besides being a regular contributor to takahē, is co-editor of Kokako and assistant editor of Haibun Today. Patricia’s primary interest is Japanese short form poetry: haiku, tanka, haibun and tanka prose and she has published a book of collaborative tanka sequences called Shizuka (2015).