Jack Ross, ed.: brief 29 (April 2004)
John O’Connor & Eric Mould, Working Voices. Auckland: Hallard Press, 2003. ISBN 0-86477-048-0. 102 pp. RRP $20.00.
I’m not convinced, I’m afraid. I do see the point of the undertaking (though it is, essentially, what Frank Sargeson was trying to do all those years ago: finding a voice for the voiceless), but unfortunately the results don’t live up to the ambitiousness of the experiment. Not for me, at any rate. Eric Mould’s farming vernacular poems seem painfully laboured: “I couldn’t watch it mate! / Even young Lou was in for a nip!” . His other poems, though, the ones where he forgets the whole working-voices schtick and lets himself go, are fine: “Kotuku,” “Invitation,” “Snakes & ladders,” “Surface Effect” – a succession of precisely-delimited, beautifully-achieved effects. Wordiness is his besetting sin, though. The trimmer they become, the stronger the poems are.
John O’Connor’s experiments in public-bar anecdote don’t really work for me either. There are some flashes of insight in poems such as “Jazmin,” but when one compares these poems with the intense hellfire illumination of “The mechanical piano,” more growing-up-catholic-in-South-Christchurch poems to match the ones in A Particular Context, the contrast is just too damning. Almost every one of these childhood poems ticks like a Swiss watch: O’Connor at his very best. The “Six Sketches, I.M.” aren’t far behind them. Whether it was a good idea for two such diverse poets to publish together is another question – what’s certain is that this book includes a lot of excellent poems by each.