Rabbit, Rabbit by Kerrin P Sharpe.
Wellington: VUP (2016).
Reviewed by Mary Cresswell.
There was a time when a sea voyage was a leisurely journey to somewhere new, rather than a floating feeding frenzy. A sea voyage took a random collection of people and held them together long enough for patterns to form, stories to be told, and different personalities to surface.
rabbit rabbit – Kerrin P Sharpe’s third book – reads like diary notes from just such a voyage. We stop at different places, from Hawaiʽi/Cape Reinga:
I make a skirt
from a Pacific wave
and name her
I gather her waist
at the Muliwai (“Pacific wave” p 59)
to Russia – Elsinore – Venice – Coventry – Siberia – Ireland – Stockholm:
we bring home different stories
I wish I could have
written this in Swedish (“Stockholm” p 42)
During the voyage, different voices surface, each one with its own take on the action. Sometimes it seems as if a variety of doctors are in charge:
in this space
I hear neurons
talk to neurons
I hear endorphins
control pain (“a neurosurgeon collaborates with his dreams” p 18)
before their open theatre
the surgeons discussed
the clinical anatomy
of the tree then enlisted
acrobats fire-eaters magicians
an audience of strangers (“where the tree was, the air is embalmed” p 29)
Other times we see and hear priests or monks:
in the long shallow moonlight
of the Cistercian barn
his knuckles are pale hard timber
his hips crimson (“translating the apples” p 43)
my mother tamed a rabbit
in a hat she could hide in
they bunny-hopped on the hat’s
dance floor … (“rabbit rabbit” p 9)
Faith and family are two themes which weave themselves into many of the poems. Neither one involves loud trumpeting of its importance, but it’s hard to imagine the book – the poet’s voyage – without the strength of one and the active memories of the other. They surface in different places in different words and are a major contribution to the unity of the book. Sharpe doesn’t try to reassemble these various themes – rather, she stands bemused and fascinated by the scope of it all.
from here the decks
from here passengers wear horse heads
it is said to be a sailor
you only have to tie
your trousers with string (“I never knew a ship could steal so many people” p 63)
When we step ashore at the end of the trip, we think differently about the world around us. We have thought long upon what we have seen and heard throughout the even pace of a long voyage. The wide variety of voices commemorated here is a major appeal of this collection, along with the broad geographical scope and social settings. Sharpe ably demonstrates her skill and command of her craft in this fine book.
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.
First published takahe 88