Jack Ross, ed.: Poetry NZ Yearbook 1 [Issue #49] (October 2014)
Books and Magazines in brief:
Alan Brunton. Beyond the Ohlala Mountains: Poems 1968-2002. Ed. Michele Leggott & Martin Edmond. ISBN 978-1-877441-47-9. Auckland: Titus Books, 2013.
Alan Brunton: Beyond the Ohlala Mountains (2013)
The book is, for a start, overwhelmingly beautiful. Who would have anticipated those scruffy old papier-mâché masks from old Red Mole performances could look so striking, photographed as they are against jet-black backgrounds, like Picasso sculptures, or – even better – gaudy folk skulls from the Mexican día de los muertos? In terms of design, then, it’s hard to imagine how it could be bettered. Kudos to Brett Cross, Ellen Portch, and the rest of their team at Titus Books.
But was Brunton really any good simply as a poet? This, after all, is our best chance to find out – a careful selection from the whole body of his work by his old colleague Martin Edmond and the careful conservator of his literary legacy, Michele Leggott. There’s a kind of persistent myth that Brunton was all about performance: the sound of the living voice, the impressiveness of his sheer presence. And, having witnessed some of those readings and performances, I can certainly testify to his skill in this regard. What, after all, could be inside here to merit such packaging? I open the book at random:
People here!Yeah. Fucking lots.
See the game?Yeah. Fucking primo, eh? …
Great game.Yeah. Fuck. Watched it on
TV. I got fucking nutted. …
[“Pindaric – Victory Parade,” p.287]
I don’t know about you, but this kind of cruelly accurate transcript of how we actually speak is something I haven’t heard nearly enough of in Kiwi poetry to date. But that’s only one of his many tones of voice: there’s the tenderness of “the heart is a lover with beautiful hips” [“Guru Hoodoo,” p.270]; the high hieratic of “My father died in December. / With my brothers I carried him / to the low house reserved / for dead soldiers” [“Move,” p.263]; the everydayness of “the Ides of March has found us here / & the dope / has all / given out” [“Black & White Anthology,” p.131]. I just can’t convey all the riches inside here. You’re crazy if you don’t get down on a copy of this collector’s-item-in-the-making while you still can.
Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 1 [Issue #49]. ISSN 0114-5770 (2014): 225.
Poetry NZ 38 (2009)