Sarah Quigley: Love in a Bookshop (2003)

Jack Ross, ed.: Spin 45 (March 2003)

Sarah Quigley, Love in a Bookstore or Your Money Back. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2003. 88pp. RRP $21.99. ISBN 1-86940-284-7.

People often ask her if there’s a connection between her prose and her poetry but she doesn’t think so. There’s a prose Sarah and a poetry Sarah, and they never get mixed up … as far as inspiration goes, her poems and stories always come from different places.

Alas, having read Sarah Quigley’s first full-length volume of poems, I’m not so sure (Sigmund Freud gives me licence to doubt almost any vociferously asserted statement – he claims it almost always means the person secretly suspects the contrary …) The book begins undemonstratively, with some clever, wry love poems very much in the voice of the “cool contemporary … young woman” delineated on the blurb: “Your voice on the phone / gives a kickstart / to my heart” [3]. There’s turmoil under the surface, though:
– silence is not always golden
– after midnight is a kind of missing [4]

The clumsy phrasing of that last line seems, in retrospect, a promising sign, because in Section Two (“Money Back?”) the book really gets going. The stories begin to come out. There’s the offbeat “Kapinos Equation” [19], set in East Germany before the wall came down; there’s that strange, static portrait-piece “Catching up with family” [25]; there’re scenes of alienation and departure, carefully constructing their atmosphere of dread: “outside trams are hurling / towards the final hour” (“Gallery” [18]); “it is a time for hoarding / there is hunger in the air” (“a green china squirrel in a shop window” [21]); and, in “Floating in the astronaut bar” [31], perhaps the most short-story-like of all these pieces, the realisation that “too much space / is infinitely more disturbing / than too little.”

Quigley provides her own retrospective justification for the tone of these poems towards the end of her book:
we are most ourselves
when we are sad. (“Poetry is the hardest thing” [50])

I was inclined, at first, to curse the editing – the way she’s been allowed to put her worst foot forwards – but then I began to see it as a kind of courage: those first miniatures, like the half-formed phrases at the beginning of a Beethoven symphony, are there to weed out the doubters, the deserters. If you persevere with Quigley’s book you’ll be abundantly rewarded. If not, to hell with you. This is a strange, brilliant, haunted book, but its virtues are surely largely prose virtues (Pound put it best: “poetry must be as well written as prose”). To me, that’s worth any number of skilfully turned lyrics.


Spin 45 (2003): 60-61.

[438 wds]

Spin 45 (2003)

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