Wednesday, January 14, 2009

This is not a book review

I am reading Doubtless by Sam Hunt, a New Zealand poet. Apparently, he's been performing his poetry around the country for a long time now. If he were not the opening act for the Leonard Cohen gig I'm going to next week, I would not have picked up his book. I'm glad I did because I love it.

Doubtless is an anthology of both new and previously published poems. My favourite thing about it is his evocative descriptions of the local landscape (the book cover says Hunt lives 'on a far reach of the Kaipara Harbour'), whether it be the people, the weather or man's relationship with nature.

To come here then, to swim,
to beat the heat,
watch Rangitoto do its
Auckland-in-high-summer bit,
its tricks of light. More,
to make some sense of the silences
that have crashed around a man
for too long now.

(From Back Beach, Castor Bay)

And there is this gem of an image from Not In This Weather:

The hand is not a fist
until that hand is clenched.

Like this frostbitten fist of winter
clenched at the windscreen.

...

There is a lot of loss, as in his homages to fellow poets Hone Tuwhare and Frank Sargeson and other loved ones. Meanwhile, the heavier poems are complemented by some light and witty ones, such as That feeling-of-being-in-the-country where he describes a generic small town, using Reporoa as an example, as being a sort of angelic idyll where everyone is good to everyone else:

I never felt less
like wearing dark glasses
than in Reporoa this morning.

Humour of the darker, irreverent sort appears in the opening poem Doubtless:

I said to the newborn
baby in my arms -

hushed, I kept it low
(didn't want to go
upsetting the olds) -

'Welcome to Death Row.'

You can tell why he was chosen to open for Mr Cohen!

Many of the older poems chronicle family life with the mountain as recurring motif, as in A New Plateau Song and Four Plateau Songs (for Tom, turning 11):

I have a son I love
as a father loves a son,
a woman I love
as a man loves a woman -

such love is huge
in its normality:
no one makes any
mention of the mountain

adrift above their town.
...

(from A New Plateau Song)

In fact, there are a lot of recurring motifs, and knowing they show up again and again throughout the years makes this a tight read, impressive for an anthology spanning many decades. As a recent migrant to these beautiful shores, it is comforting to read Hunt's description of my new home through his eyes.

No comments: