The Speak House (2014)

Jack Ross, ed.: Poetry NZ Yearbook 1 [Issue #49] (October 2014)

Books and Magazines in brief:

David Howard. The Speak House: A Poem in Fifty-Seven Pentastichs on the Final Hours in the Life of Robert Louis Stevenson. ISBN 978-0-473-28364-3. Lyttelton: Cold Hub Press, 2014.

David Howard: The Speak House (2014)

This poem was composed while David Howard was the Robert Burns Fellow in 2013 – hence, I suppose, the choice of that other illustrious Scotsman Robert Louis Stevenson as a subject. It’s certainly not the least ambitious technically of his poems, but I can’t help feeling that the biographical minutiae of the Tusitala ménage in Samoa helps to ground it in a kind of agreed-upon reality that gives good scope to Howard’s particular virtues of verbal precision and imaginative projection. “Swollen with details of R. L. S.’s life at Vailima from December 1889 to December 1894, the poem is necessarily shaped by the power plays that divided Samoa then,” as he himself puts in a note on p.25. There’s also a nice weaving of Stevenson’s own fictional self-projections with his final role as chief and arbiter of Samoan society: “Captain Smollett walks with Squire Trelawney / on the leeward side, out of the wind / but the sea is a hacksaw / and its teeth wear the leg of a cook … ‘he’d look remarkably well from a yard-arm, sir.’” All in all, a fascinating book: a world in miniature in one densely packed chapbook poem.


Poetry New Zealand Yearbook 1 [Issue #49]. ISSN 0114-5770 (2014): 232.

[223 wds]

Poetry NZ Yearbook 1 (2014)

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