Leicester Kyle: Five Anzac Liturgies (2003)

Jack Ross, ed.: brief 27 (July 2003)

Leicester Kyle, Five Anzac Liturgies. Drawings by Philip Trusttum. Auckland: Polygraphia Ltd., 2003. ISBN 1-877332-08-9. 53 pp. RRP $22.50 [+$2 p&p].

Leicester Kyle: Five Anzac Liturgies (2003)

The production of this new book by Leicester Kyle deserves attention, before we get to the poems themselves. It’s A4-sized, with a glossy white stapled cardboard cover, and printed in (I’d guess) ten-point type. The illustrations are of particular interest. They’re photographs of the original Trusttum pieces, incorporating pieces of the wall behind (complete with power-points and skirting boards), often cutting off the head or foot of the panel, and generally not in perfect focus. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this is meant to tell us something.

“El-cheapo,” is one reaction, of course. But, as brief readers, surely we’ve been trained to go deeper than that? The Trusttum drawings are accompanied by small road-maps of each town by Leicester himself, complete with spidery handwriting and carefully ruled lines. There’s something tactile and comfortable about the whole thing, in fact. This is not an art book, though it may be a work of art. It’s not for coffee tables but coffee mornings – to be handed round and read from at the kaffeeklatsch, over buttered scones and Leamingtons.

The subject is, after all, Anzac day – New Zealand’s equivalent to the Mexican Day of the Dead – and Leicester gets his teeth deep into the significance of this iconic event for each of the five small Canterbury plains communities (Hawarden, Waikari, Rotherham, Culverden, Waiau) he memorialises. Each section repeats the same pattern: an initial invocation, more intimate characterisation of one of the inhabitant, a liturgical speech-and-response, a description of their memorial (“The Shrine,” “Lest we Forget” “In Loving Memory Of” …), and finally an address to the townspeople (“To the People of Hawarden say” …)

Does this sound too mechanical? Five parts, each made up of five sections, about five towns? Or is it intended to function like the five taxi-rides in Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth? Repetitiveness can be disarming, enabling one to stop concentrating on it and listen instead …
Your small straight roads …
end where the river flows
and the great wind blows
on the forest rows
when the dust-storms fly.

Then all is quiet as eternity.

Such deceptively simple lyrics alternate with more “daring” passages of internal monologue, echoes of the Anglican prayer-book, of Eliot’s Ash Wednesday and Four Quartets, of botanical and geological manuals (“Eschscholzia on the rocks and apple trees”). This makes it a difficult work to characterise overall. I should perhaps close, then, by acknowledging the ambition inherent in Leicester’s scheme. He wants to reach a “non-poetry-reading” audience, in language they’ll understand and appreciate, without compromising his own standards of precise articulation. This work may offer a way forward for others as well.


brief 27 (2003): 98.
[Available at: Leicester Kyle: Index (2011)]

[459 wds]

brief 27 (2003)

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