The Facts by Therese Lloyd.
Wellington: VUP (2018).
RRP: $25. Pb, 78pp.
Reviewed by Brenda Allen.
The Facts, is Therese Lloyd’s second volume of poems and it is likely there will be more to follow. Lloyd, born in Napier, has been writing most of her life. Her recent participation in the 2018 festival in Wellington as well as her current position as Writer in Residence (2018) at Waikato University must mean that many readers will already be familiar with, or curious about, her work.
The Facts is set out in three sections, ‘Time’, ‘Desire’, and ‘Absence’, each beginning with a quotation from the Canadian poet and classicist, Anne Carson who we might think of as Lloyd’s muse. The sections are intricately interactive yet each has the substance to be considered alone, and the entire volume is layered by references and allusions to other works and artists. Most poems contain at least one direct reference to the work of another. For the dedicated, there is Lloyd’s PhD thesis on Anne Carson. Others mentioned (John Cage, Mallarme, Graham Fletcher, to name but a few) can be found on the internet.
In the volume’s opening poem, it is not just time, but “Time” [to begin]: a couplet quoted from Carson’s volume (Knopf, 2000) about the end of daylight saving having the effect of making ‘night [come] earlier – gathering like a garment’(p 9). In “Y2K”, the speaker’s own ‘humanness gives me dark thoughts’ perhaps because ‘I am in the future’ while for the lover ‘in the States’ it is not yet ‘Tuesday’. The importance of thinking of time as stable is captured by the recollection that, ‘people travel from all over the world / to be in Gisborne / for the first sunrise / of the new millennium’ (pp 18-19), a time of anti-climax because expected disasters caused by the widely feared Y2K bug, did not occur. The excitement at the first sunrise seems hyperbolic in comparison to the one-off threat of the non-existent Y2K bug.
“Office at Night”, subtitled “for Edward Hopper”, is a strongly rhythmical piece with just enough metrical lumps to remind the reader that love can be a rocky road. The end of the affair, signalled at the end of the poem, is revealed when, as the speaker looks, ‘you look down / a particular strain of shame’ that neither can break ‘holds us here’ (p 20).
In “Blindsided”, Lloyd opens with a bald statement: ‘Anne Carson says that eros makes her blind’ (p 27) and goes on to explore what that means to a writer and a lover, implying that it is Carson, or one of her speakers, who is the subject. Because Lloyd wrote her PhD thesis on Carson’s work and because she wrote some or all of this poetry while carrying out that work, it is logical to assume there is a close relationship. The poem ends:
And I know her
know when a text is too short
or the air of arbitrary
in her voice down the line (p 27).
In the titular poem, “The Facts”, the theme continues with a more pragmatic attitude:
a broken heart is always accompanied
by the latent understanding that it is not sustainable.
There is untold evidence of life continuing
despite the fractured state of this vital organ. (p 50).
By this time the reader is ready for such reassurance.
While The Facts asks a great deal of the reader, even one not prepared to search for or study the referents will find this volume delightfully expressive. This reviewer, initially unacquainted with Carson’s work, found the reading experience reminiscent of meeting T S Eliot’s The Wasteland for the first time: layers of meaning remained hidden by the art and craft – let’s call it beauty – of the work itself. Without making a direct comparison, it is safe to say that both works invite and reward whatever background knowledge the reader has or is prepared to seek out but that there are rewards for the more casual reader as well.
Brenda Allen studied, taught and published essays about narrative texts (including films) at the University of Auckland Te Whare Wānanga o Tāmaki Makaurau. She retired in 2016 and now lives in Waihi where she reads, gardens and thinks about writing something in the near future.