Jack Ross, ed.: Spin 42 (March 2002)
Helen Rickerby, Abstract Internal Furniture. Wellington: HeadworX, 2001. 80pp. RRP $19.95. ISBN 0-473-07857-0.
Helen Rickerby: Abstract Internal Furniture (2001)
Who would have thought that Max Ernst was alive and well and living in Wellington? That was my first impression in leafing through this book, at any rate. Maggie Grant has provided an ingenious set of photographic collages which really make it a thing of beauty. The book design does Mark Pirie credit – lending additional lustre to his HeadworX series.
What about the poems, then? I’ve got to be honest. NINO, they used to call me: Nothing If Not Opinionated. Strangely enough, I find I’m not very opinionated about these. They don’t really speak to me. Take a poem like “Memories of the civil war,” for example: “When the Springboks came / we were six or seven or eight. / I didn’t know much / about that / but I knew all about / the royal wedding.” Consulting her friends, the author finds that they didn’t know much about what was going on either. This is amusing, but slight. Unfortunately, I was of an age (and a temperament?) to know what was going on, and it did seem pretty momentous to me even at the time. The same applies to “Generation Y”: “aided by our extensive / knowledge of pop / psychology we / come to enlightened / conclusions about / ourselves and others” until “exhausted / we crawl to / the nearest movie / theatre and dissolve/ into blackness/ for an hour/ or two …” I mean, it’s witty, and ironic, and I can see it’s a problem, but it’s not my problem exactly.
I’ve seldom felt such a geeky old voyeur, in fact, as in reading through this book of poems. “Life is real, life is earnest, and the grave is not its goal!” I found myself exclaiming (with Longfellow). The Ernst pastiches, too, seem more decorative than earnest (as it were). That’s not to say there aren’t poems here about passion, the “Theodora” series, for instance, but even those seem to be filtered through a mask of ironic detachment.
Trying another tack, though, I guess we read any book for hints on how it feels to inhabit another reality. One can only criticise usefully in terms of the intention of each piece of work (I know that some of you have started to mutter about the “intentional fallacy,” but all I mean is that there’s no point in criticising P. G. Wodehouse for not being more like Dostoevksy. He never wanted to be, nor did he ever try to be. One might claim, as a general critic of culture, that we have a burning need for more Dostoevskys (or more Wodehouses, for that matter), but that’s a different matter entirely). Helen Rickerby has set out to portray the perplexities of “Generation Y,” but also what makes their life, any life, bearable:
Here is a rotting bridge
here a wall
but here is a door
and a place i call home
I suspect she does so very well.